Kathleen Blehl

Global Citizen of the Year Award • 2017 Finalist

IES Abroad ProgramMilan - Business Studies

College/University: Villanova University

Major: Marketing

Hometown: Oradell, New Jersey

Kathleen's Story

As a student passionate about sustainability as demonstrated by the following achievements, I believe I am the next Global Citizen of the Year. While studying abroad for nine months in Milan, I became fervently passionate about sustainability and transitioned my lifestyle accordingly. Through this transition, I switched my diet to veganism, boycotted fast fashion brands such as H&M and Zara, and expressed my newfound creativity.

Foremost, I became vegan after being inspired by the abundance of fresh produce at farmers’ markets, and the importance of high quality food to the Italian culture. By being vegan, I began fueling my body with the highest quality food from farmers’ markets and farm-to-table restaurants, rather than typical junk food filled with preservatives. This allowed me to lose nearly 15 pounds and regain my health. In doing so, I also gained energy, and was able to put my best foot forward in my studies, work, and travels. Additionally, I learned the importance of supporting small farmers at markets because, on average, our food travels nearly 1,500 miles to the point of where we purchase it. I realized I could avoid this gas and emission pollution by buying local produce, something I proudly did every week in Milan alongside the locals.  

Secondly, I had the opportunity to intern at a fashion company called Front Row Tribe, a company similar to Rent the Runway. The business model of this company revolved around renting the same 20-30 designer dresses to customers. This concept introduced me to the idea of sustainable fashion, rather than introducing new items into the fashion cycle. While interning here, I had the opportunity to model one of the outfits and create Instagram content for the company. After this shoot, I realized I could adopt this idea of sustainable fashion to my personal wardrobe. Thus, I boycotted “fast fashion” companies, such as H&M and Zara, which are major contributors to pollution and climate change. Instead, I began shopping at thrift stores and flea markets, like East Market Milano, in order to reduce my carbon footprint and buy what was already in the market.

Aside from making the previously mentioned changes, I also learned how to express my creativity through new styles of clothing, photography, and writing. Between classes and my internship, I would sit in a café or a park and observe the fashion styles of the locals. I would write down my favorite details and pieces, and try to incorporate them into my style. This allowed me to broaden my style and differentiate myself in the blogging industry by reaching over 30,000 page views. Additionally, I had the opportunity to take a photography class at IES Abroad which allowed me to strengthen my photography skills. These skills are demonstrated on my blog, as well as my experience as an IES Abroad Photo Correspondent. Likewise, I connected with photographers on my program who continued to challenge my creative side. Together, we were able to collaborate and have photoshoots in professional photography studios, and around the city. Lastly, I learned how to express my creativity through writing by taking a creative writing course at the local university, Università Cattolica. These creative expressions allowed me to further formulate my brand of A Newer Kat in Town.

Upon my arrival back to the United States, I continued this sustainability journey by interning at a sustainable company, transitioning my blog to a sustainable fashion and lifestyle blog, and becoming zero-waste. Just three days after my arrival back home, I began interning at a sustainable water bottle company in New York City called S’well Bottle. While interning at S’well, I worked in Sales to promote the bottle to sustainable fashion companies. In doing so, I continued to learn of the horrors of the “fast fashion” fashion industry and made the decision to transition my existing fashion blog, A Newer Kat in Town, to a sustainable fashion and lifestyle blog. I no longer wanted to promote and collaborate with “fast fashion” brands as I had done in the past. Rather, I began collaborating and creating campaigns with eco-friendly brands such as Matter Prints, Empire Street Style, and Swap Consignment.

Aside from collaborating with these brands, I also connected with like-minded bloggers by attending my first official fashion show during New York Fashion Week, a dream I had since experiencing Milan Fashion Week. During this period, I simultaneously began to evaluate my other lifestyle practices, most notably the amount of trash I produced. While in Milan, my apartment was required to compost and recycle, having five different bins in our kitchen for glass, metal, plastic, compost, and trash. With this in mind, our apartment of seven girls only produced about one bag of trash per week. This starkly contrasted with the one bag of trash I alone was producing each week back home. I realized that I had to change in order to align my values of sustainability with my daily actions. Therefore, I decided to become zero-waste. That’s right, I produce zero waste! I made this change by using reusable bags and jars, shopping in bulk, buying unpackaged food, and adjusting all of my purchases so that I could produce zero waste. I now incorporate these practices into my blog, and inspire others to make these simple switches as well.

As the year progresses, I am continuing to learn new sustainable practices, and inspiring others to do the same through my blog and social media platforms. In the upcoming weeks, I will be launching a sustainable, vintage fashion company which will be showcased at Villanova University’s annual fashion show in February, as well as writing my first e-book. I look forward to inspiring others to find newer, more sustainable ways of doing things, changing the way we look at fashion, and creating a world with more creativity and less pollution.