From Argentina to Milan
April 11, 2022
Maria Paz Marengo
Bachelor of Management
Okanagan (Kelowna, BC)
Rio Cuarto, Argentina
“After this experience, I think that helping integrate more sustainability into the industry is something I could help with.”
GROWING UP IN THE SMALL ARGENTINIAN CITY OF RIO CUARTO, Maria Paz Marengo has had a passion for fashion for as long as she can remember.
“I’ve always loved it,” shares the fourth-year Bachelor of Management student. “The city I’m from is small—about twice the size of Kelowna—but everyone there looks really put together all the time. I used to binge watch all the red carpet shows like the Oscars and the Grammys just to see the fashion. I couldn’t care less about the award ceremony itself,” she laughs.
As Marengo’s understanding of the luxury fashion industry grew, so did her curiosity about its strange, almost illogical appeal. “What first caught my eye was the beauty of it, but I soon began to wonder why people buy it. Why would you spend an extra $500 on an item you can get from a fast fashion retailer? What’s the intention of the buyer?”
It was with an eye to exploring a career in marketing and consumer research for the luxury fashion industry that Marengo arrived at UBC Okanagan. “Growing up where I did, everyone knows each other, which is why I chose UBCO,” she says. “Kelowna has a small-town feel. I didn’t want to go straight into a big city.”
“I remember moving out in my first year, and I saw people throwing out their clothes. That was a shock. In Argentina, we don’t throw out our stuff, even if it’s cheap. If we couldn’t wear it again, we would either donate it or cut it up for rags. I’ve never thrown anything out.”
Awakening to fashion waste
While Marengo easily adapted to life in the Okanagan, one thing took her by surprise. “I remember moving out in my first year, and I saw people throwing out their clothes. That was a shock,” she says. “In Argentina, we don’t throw out our stuff, even if it’s cheap. If we couldn’t wear it again, we would either donate it or cut it up for rags. I’ve never thrown anything out.”
That was the beginning of Marengo’s awareness around waste and sustainability in the fashion industry. When she landed in Dr. Annamma Joy’s course on brands, culture and marketing, Marengo was thrilled to discover her passions were starting to intersect. “I looked at the syllabus and noticed that one of our projects was all about luxury brands. I thought, ‘Okay, I’m really excited!’”
Hoping to do research during her last summer as an undergraduate student, Marengo reached out to Dr. Joy. The management professor, who is writing a book on the future of luxury brands and sustainability, suggested Marengo apply for an International Undergraduate Research Award for a project tied to that topic. When the award was approved Marengo dived right in, first examining her own purchasing decisions, and then exploring circularity—the entire life cycle of the product—in the luxury market.
Reflecting on the Sustainability and Business (MGMT 380) course she took as part of the Bachelor of Management program, Marengo points out that sustainability is no longer optional in business. “That course taught me that sustainability is not just about greenwashing or just about being ethical. If you want to succeed in the long-term, you have to be sustainable,” she says. “The investment in sustainable initiatives actually ends up paying for itself. That was a big realization for me—that it’s not that you have to be ethical and environmentally friendly for the sake of it. There’s profit in this. This is the future; this is business.”
Designing a more sustainable future
Today, Marengo says the research skills she learned over the summer are being put to good use in the final, research-intensive year of her undergraduate studies. “I feel like I know where to look for information now, and how to find reputable sources that are useful,” she says. “I don’t lose time by looking at information that isn’t usable.”
Her summer experience has also changed her perspective on the world, and how she interacts with the planet. “I used to be someone that was like, ‘Yeah, I care about sustainability.’ Obviously, I believe in climate change. I believe that we have to change something to save the planet. But when I started looking at what I bought, the only thing I was concerned with was whether it was sweatshop-free. I wasn’t considering the environmental aspect of sustainability.”
These days, Marengo is making more conscious decisions to find sustainable alternatives to the fast fashion she’s used to purchasing, and actively seeks out brands whose business model is rooted in sustainability. With graduation on the horizon, Marengo is also more focused than ever on the business of luxury fashion, contemplating a move to the fashion capital of the world, Milan, with the hopes of pursuing a master’s degree in luxury management.
Working in the luxury fashion business has always been a dream, she says—only now, she has added a passion for sustainability into the mix. “I think a lot of luxury fashion companies are more advanced, in a way, than conventional fast fashion companies, but there’s still a long way to go,” she says. “After this experience, I think that helping integrate more sustainability into the industry is something I could help with.”