Jo Gopinath: Eco-Fashion Design and Self-Empowerment
Jo Gopinath is a senior bioengineering student at Santa Clara, and she specializes in eco-fashion design. Jo has designed dresses, wallets, jackets and much more. She will be attending grad school to get a Ph.D. in Textile Engineering and Fiber Science after graduating. Jo spent a summer designing for a company called AHA Bolivia through Global Fellows, and we discuss this life-changing experience on the episode.
I was really impressed with Jo’s ability to connect the dots between her passions and global issues, and I think you’ll be inspired to rethink the clothes you wear everyday.
Gavin Cosgrave: What does your daily routine look like?
Jo Gopinath: I wake up every morning at 5:30, then I run and lift. It just makes me happy waking up while the sun is waking up. I’m very much a morning person. I go to class. I have a lot of jobs on campus. I run our ambassadors staff for the school of engineering. Because of the new building, there has been a big shift. I go to labs. I’m on our senior Bollywood dance team, so I have practice at night.
It’s mostly running around. But I firmly believe that if you’re busy, you should be busy doing things you love. It doesn’t always feel like I’m fully busy, just that I’m doing a lot of things I like to do. You don’t really feel tired until you hit your head on the pillow at the end of the day.
GC: How do you balance classes with creative projects? Listen at 3:45
JG: I do have a lot of mental health struggles that I’ve struggled with for a long time. It’s important to be there for myself as much as I’m there for others and my commitments. I realized that if I don’t have energy to be there for others, then the real problem is that I haven’t been feeding the flame. It’s the analogy of the car. A car can drive forever once you fill up the gas, but you need to fill up the tank. In Bolivia, I realized that my career will take me all over the place, and my support system won’t always be there physically. I need to be my biggest cheerleader.
GC: Why did you go to Bolivia?
JG: For Global Fellows, I was placed in Cochabamba Bolivia, and I fell in love with that city. I learned French in school, but I didn’t know any Spanish so that was very nerve-wracking. I was there for two months with an awesome host mom. It was overall an incredible experience because I realized that for the rest of my life there are always going to be people rooting for me, but I have to lead the pack.
I was designing for a company there called AHA Bolivia, designing a line of accessories. I also worked on meeting the world fair trade organization expectations for their knitting co-op. I spent mornings sitting with the knitters and asking them about their schedules. I learned a lot of Spanish pretty quickly.
It changed the course of my career because I realized I don’t just want to design with materials, I want to make the eco-friendly materials myself. That’s what propelled me to look into Textile Engineering and Fiber Science programs, which is what I’m doing for my Ph.D. It changed not only my career, but it changed me a lot. It showed me how I could be proud of myself.
GC: Why eco-fashion?
JG: When you feel like something has grown old, we tend to throw it out, whether that be emotional or actual physical things. I think there’s something so powerful about turning something unused and forgotten into something brand new and beautiful. I started doing that at a time that was really difficult for me, and it was my creative outlet that made me feel like I had worth, value and talent. It made me see the amount of beautiful things I could create. And maybe if I can create beautiful things, then maybe I too am beautiful.
GC: To so many people, clothes are something you just buy and wear. How do you see eco-fashion differently?
JG: There are two layers to that. As a woman, what you wear and look like is very much dictated by what society tells you to look like. That’s something I’ve struggled with for a long time. The truth is that you are judged by what you look like. Why not use that to your advantage. Why not use that to your advantage? Why not use it to show something about yourself?
When you’re wearing pieces that have a consciousness, that’s what style is. A trend comes and goes, but a style stays. You are wearing you, that’s what style is. I believe that style is you being true to yourself and wearing what makes you feel good. You can be you without even explaining yourself.
True style is being knowledgeable, sustainable and conscious of how your decisions affect others. Style extends past what you wear, it’s a way of being. To have that poise, grace and understanding… it’s a way of thinking.
GC: What advice would you give to a first-year student?
JG: What you come in thinking you want is not going to be what you end up wanting. Expectations set you up for disappointment, but open-mindedness allows you to benefit from everything that comes your way.