One step at a time, I spiral up the carpeted staircase making my way up to the third floor. I pass by glass windows looking down carpeted hallways as my hand slides up the stair railing. Looking side to side, a paper sign with handwritten directions guides me to a wooden door of Suite 303. As I knock, the wood reverberates and I hear it click open, unveiling the cozy space that is the Orange St. Collective. Its name automatically makes the idea of a space with just energy and ideas coming together bubble up in my mind. As I step inside, I find this to be reality with diagrams drawn on whiteboards, cheery posters about upcoming projects scattered on tables, and an expansive, handcrafted diagram of the feminine economy that spans from the floor to the ceiling on a back wall.
Wearing a beautiful, deep navy dress with stitches of white embroidery is Daria, with her unwaveringly calm but enthusiastic energy. This energy and passion for her work has taken her far as she is the founder of The Durham Originals and a board member for Keep Durham Beautiful. Behind her on a shelf are a few pieces of her work, organic cotton shirts that she has designed. The colors are light, mossy greens, soft creams, and gentle blues with smooth, rounded letters spelling “The Durham Originals” in a loose cursive.
As we move towards a back room to talk, the coziness of the dimly lit sitting space gives way to the eclectic as we take a seat at a worktable made from an upcycled white door. I try to shift myself so that I don’t bump into the faded golden doorknob near my elbow.
Daria has brought a cutting board and X-Acto knife with her so she can continue her work while we talk. While busy, she loves her work and was inspired to become an entrepreneur after being a bartender and going back to school for graphic design. She united these skills with her desire to take action as she learned more and more about humanity’s effect on the environment.
“This was at a time when climate change was being able to be talked about more,” she tells me. “And so I started watching all these Netflix documentaries and realizing what is actually happening in the world.”
Prior to this self-education, she felt like most of us do as we move through our daily lives. We use plastic water bottles or partake in “fast fashion” without thinking or even knowing about the consequences of those actions. These unknown facts can be staggering, though. It is not often that we think about how 13.1 million tons of textiles are trashed each year or that nearly half of that said trash is completely reusable. It was through her awareness of these issues that The Durham Originals was born.
“Durham Originals is a way to connect with people and promote sustainable living, a sustainable lifestyle, and to show people there are very easy, simple steps that make a huge difference,” Daria explains to me. “Fashion is one of the most wasteful industries and is overproducing cheap stuff that’s single-use. Having organic cotton benefits everything: who wears it, who makes it, etcetera.”
While it can be overwhelming to think about the sourcing of every piece of your clothing, and sometimes you may not have the option to be selective, there are plenty of other ways that small actions can add up. I asked Daria what people should focus on in their daily lives if they want to make a shift. Her answer boiled down to fashion, food, and single-use plastic.
In regards to fashion, buying secondhand comes before buying new. By stepping into a thrift store and browsing the racks you are saving 7 lbs. of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere for every 1 lb. of cotton reused. Otherwise, invest in brands such as Durham Originals that are committed to sustainable production to feel sound about your clothing choices.
Food is another part of your daily life where small changes add up to make a impact. “If we can reduce the amount of animal products we consume then we can really make moves and change the course of climate change,” Daria explains to me as she slices her X-Acto knife through some cream cardstock. But she understands that even this can sometimes be daunting, “Just trying to reduce is helpful, it’s definitely a process, nobody can change overnight.”
Aside from just the food you eat, how you are eating it is something that being mindful can be helpful. A lot of to-go packaging is “single-use waste that is petroleum based that produces copious amounts of stuff that’s good for five to ten minutes,” she tells me. Instead, try to be mindful about carrying a reusable mug, your own silverware, or a reusable straw. Even just bringing your own reusable mug for coffee on the go instead of using a disposable coffee cup can make a huge difference. One cup doesn’t seem significant at the moment, but think of all the times you’ve gotten coffee on the go. More and more shops are starting to get used to people bringing their reusable options, such as filling reusable mugs for coffee or tea or people asking for no straw with their beverage.
Each of these pillars of The Durham Originals is what attracted her to become involved with Keep Durham Beautiful, as well. “I grew up with them,” she says with a smile, stacking the cut outs she has been working on. “That was back when they were just Keep America Beautiful, though.” She explains to me that working on The Durham Originals just instantly connected her to organizations with similar initiatives, such as Keep Durham Beautiful. Not only has she worked alongside with Keep Durham Beautiful, but is one of our board members continuously helping us brainstorm and accomplish projects.
When I ask her what the most rewarding part of her work with Keep Durham Beautiful has been, she replies with a smile, “Connecting with the community and being part of the community has been one of the most rewarding things.”