Mariah Billadeau made a striking gown from a variety of plastic bags, straws and plastic lids. She displayed it on a mannequin at NDSU’s student innovation showcase. People gathered around the dress.
She told the audience her idea: a new, water-resistant fabric that uses natural fibers and waxes to reduce pollutants that end up in our bodies and the world’s oceans. The plastic dress also helped make her point: “If we don’t clean up our act, this is what we’ll be wearing in the future.”
Billadeau has become an inventor. That’s not what she expected on her first day of college, but that’s where her interests and experiences led.
She loves fashion, nature and sustainable brands. She started as a geology major and later switched to apparel, retail merchandising and design, which introduced her to the inner workings of the fashion industry, product development and the science of textiles. Many of her NDSU friends study science and engineering. Conversations with them got her thinking about how she could make a eco-friendly fabric that is comfortable and practical to wear.
Then she traveled to Australia for an internship. She visited a rainforest and the tour guide spoke of how people who live there stay dry. Billadeau found the solution to a problem she had been mulling. “It all just made sense that wax from leaves is the perfect way to make natural fibers water resistant while staying breathable.”
She further developed her idea in Innovation Challenge, NDSU’s student innovation competition, where she was a top finisher.
Professors inside and outside her area of study have supported her dream, providing guidance on a project that relies on knowledge of many fields, including engineering and physics. Billadeau’s curiosity, ambition and experiences led the way to developing an innovative new textile that helps save the planet.
Billadeau graduated in May 2019 with degrees in apparel, retail, merchandising and design, and international studies. She plans to move to Spain to continue her Spanish education and to intern with Madrid’s globally recognized Fashion Week. Learn more about her NDSU experience.