UT sisters start sustainable clothing business, Split Shirt

Emma Williams, Life and Arts Reporter

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared as part of the July 6 flipbook.

Helena Sampayo decided to pass the time one quarantine day by sewing two of her dad’s old button-downs together. She shoved the shirt in her closet, forgetting all about it, until her younger sister, Gisele, wore it outside.

After the abundance of compliments Gisele received, she called Helena.

“Helena,” said international business junior Gisele, “You’re going to think I’m crazy, but I want to start a business. I want to sell these shirts.”

The Sampayo sisters released their first line on Instagram in October 2020 and sold out of shirts in less than 10 minutes. Immediately, they recognized the potential of the product of Helena’s boredom and decided to pursue Split Shirt as a legitimate business.

“It didn’t start off as my passion, but it has truly become my passion,” said UT alumna Helena.

Helena said though Split Shirts are made from thrifted, donated or pre-loved button-downs, they didn’t plan to focus on sustainability until they began researching their production and shipping methods.

Gisele and Helena said they were shocked by how much fast fashion ends up in landfills, affecting our entire ecosystem. The sisters said sustainability quickly became a priority and passion. Helena even wrote her senior thesis on sustainable apparel and included Split Shirt in a research study certified by the Institutional Review Board.

In her research, Helena said she realized many consumers want to buy sustainable clothing, but high prices, inavailability and inconvenience often sends them back to their previous fast-fashion choices. The Sampayo sisters aimed to thwart this behavior and give consumers a product that is authentic, trendy and accessible.

“Our selling point and the reason that consumers value our clothing is that every single item is unique,” Helena said.

Mara Ramos, Split Shirt customer and UT alumna, praises the individuality of Split Shirts.

“I think it’s definitely shown that sustainable fashion does not equal boring clothing,” Ramos said. “I view it now as a way of making use of what’s available and creating something new, chic and unique to the person.”

The Sampayo sisters decided to use Split Shirt as a platform to show their customers how amazing upcycled clothing can be and encourage their customers to blend it into their closets.

“(Split Shirt) is a stepping stone,” Helena said. “You can integrate your Zara jeans with a Split Shirt, and hey, maybe tomorrow you’ll shop at the thrift store instead.”

Gisele said they also made it a company goal to educate their customers on sustainability. Madeline Brentlinger, a Split Shirt customer and UT alumna, said reading statistics on the Split Shirt Instagram shocked her.

“The average person throws away 70 pounds of clothing every year,” Brentlinger said.
“That blew my mind.”

What was once a quarantine project is now a passion for both sisters. Helena said they want to continue Split Shirt for as long as they can and intend to grow their role as sustainability educators by hiring a sustainability consultant to decrease their environmental footprint.

“We want to be able to teach our customers, hey, it’s not that hard to shop secondhand,” Helena said. “We want to serve as a stepping stone for our consumers to start shopping secondhand.”