Madelyn Hadel has been a fashion aficionado for as long as she can remember. From gluing together paper dresses for her Barbie dolls while growing up in Aurora to starting a hand-painted T-shirt brand with her mom in middle school—the 29-year-old has always been creating. Yet after watching the 2015 documentary The True Cost, which highlighted the exploitative human labor and negative environmental impact of “fast fashion” manufacturing, she saw the grave dilemmas looming over the clothing industry.
That same year, Hadel bought herself a used sewing machine off of Craigslist. Armed with only a minor expertise in professional clothing production, but a strong sense of will, she created Rebellelion. The Denver-based brand focuses on creating ethically sourced and eco-friendly clothing, and is largely known in the local fashion scene for its standout custom denim designs.
Now, Hadel’s embarking on a new venture: personalized athletic wear. The new line, which launched in July, offers custom high-waisted biker shorts ($64) and leggings ($76), each made-to-order: Customers can choose from four different lengths, and each leg- and waistband can also be customized with your favorite of several playful pattern options. The best part? The fabric is made from recycled water bottles, and the bottoms come in sizes ranging from XXS-8X, all priced the same regardless of size or customizations.
“I know and love people who wear extended sizes, and I know it’s so frustrating for them when a brand only serves up to XL,” Hadel says. “It can be really limiting for people to have to custom order sizes and then pay a huge price tag for the same product.”
Hadel hired a pattern maker for the project, who helped her grade each design to ensure they’d look just as chic in every size. She also brought in a number of models who participated in fit tests to preview how the products looked on different body types.
The majority of the materials used to create Rebellelion’s products are either recycled or donated. Sometimes, Hadel will come across scraps leftover from other textile manufacturers, or she’ll even source materials from thrift stores. If all else fails, Hadel turns to buying materials from other small businesses online. (Amazon begone!)
Still, being eco-conscious as a small business is far from easy. Certain materials are nearly impossible to find with a sustainable mindset, such as velvet and fringe. Not only that, but the price tag that comes with shopping ethically is a tough pill to swallow for many consumers.
“People sometimes get sticker shock when they see my prices,” Hadel says. “That’s when I take the opportunity to educate. When you’re investing in sustainable clothing, you’re investing in the ethical treatment of workers and a product that’s not going to harm the environment.”
As for the future of Rebellelion, Hadel intends to collaborate with local artists for print designs. She’s also eyeing bell bottom pants and loungewear as next frontiers. She says her ultimate goal is to hire fellow fashion lovers who will help sew her line, so that Hadel can devote her time to custom designs.
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After overcoming the numerous challenges that come with making a small brand eco-friendly and size-inclusive, however, Hadel’s focus remains first and foremost on educating consumers about the detrimental impacts of fast fashion, and their power to make a difference starting with what they purchase. In fact, it’s a mission baked into the brand, as Rebellelion’s name was born out of Hadel’s dedication to being a rebel for good in the industry.
“If I can do it as a small brand,” Hadel says, “then I don’t see how larger brands with more capital can’t do it as well.”