Buying items that are second-hand helps reduce the amount of clothing that ends up in landfills. Vanessa Villarreal, a 21-year-old UF sociology alumna, combines her passion for art and thrifting in her business, Lion’s Den Creative.

Vanessa Villarreal and Kayla Wheatley, two women of color entrepreneurs, continue to grow their eco-friendly brands amid the pandemic. 

Both women originally planned to attend pop-up markets in Gainesville to sell their work, but with a stay-at-home order in place, all non-essential events have come to a halt– leaving them to find other ways to showcase their work, they said. 

Villarreal, a 21-year-old UF sociology alumna, founded Lion’s Den Creative in September to combine her passions for sustainable fashion and art. Since the start of her college career, she’s been fascinated with thrifting vintage clothes, because it’s been a creative outlet for her that also promotes environmental awareness, she said. 

In recent years, the increase in fast fashion companies has become a contributor to climate change, according to Villarreal. 60 percent of fabric fibers are synthetics derived from fossil fuels that won’t decay when they end up in landfills, according to the New York Times


“After learning that, I wanted to be more conscious because I don’t want to continue to feed into the negative implications that the fast fashion industry has on our society,” Villarreal said. 

 She explained that the idea to create a virtual pop-up shop came after brainstorming ways she could make her work available to others after the Gainesville Indie Flea Pop-up market she anticipated attending in March was canceled. 

“I was more upset with that being canceled than graduation, honestly, because I find a lot of joy participating in those markets, and it’s just really nice to be able to see who’s supporting me,” she said. 

On Friday, she hosted her first virtual pop-up through the brand’s Instagram account. The pop-up featured over 20 hand-painted designs on denim and tote bags along with other items she thrifted in the past. 


With the same vision to create an eco-friendly business, Wheatley, a 20-year-old UF botany junior founded Naturesdye in January after taking a mycology class that introduced her to the idea of dying with lichen, a composite organism consisting of a fungus and an alga, she said. 

Unlike synthetic dyes that are created from chemicals, natural dyes created from resources like avocado seeds or onion skins are biodegradable, according to Vogue


Inspired by the class, Wheatley eco-prints, a process that binds leaves and flowers onto the fabric to create original designs and naturally dyes items like handmade produce bags and bandanas to sell through her Instagram account. 

For Wheatley, the first step to promote sustainable practices within her business is to acknowledge the idea that there are sustainable alternatives to things we use in our everyday lives, she said. 

“Integrating that with something like natural dyeing, or plants in general, kind of cultivates a deeper connection with plants around you, and it makes you more aware of the things they can offer you,” she said. 

Contact Valentina Botero at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @lvbotero_.

Avenue Staff Writer

Valentina Botero is a UF journalism senior. She started at The Alligator in January as a general assignment reporter, but now she's a staff writer for The Avenue. She loves photography, drinking cafecito and baking chocolate croissants.