Los Altos High School sophomore Angelina Lue uses her passion for fashion to help raise awareness of the elephant poaching crisis. As an eighth grader at the project-based Khan Lab school in Mountain View, she started an online clothing business, Ivory Tees, and donates 20 percent of its profits to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (DSWT).
Lue said the Netflix documentary "Ivory Game" piqued her interest in helping elephants. Since then, she has been promoting and growing her business. Proceeds from Ivory Tees has helped foster two elephants in Kenya so far, Lue said.
"When I first started, I was a lost person," Lue said. "I'd just be Googling every possible thing on the internet. I first started designing the shirts on my bed. My bed was not made; I was in my pajamas."
She said she spent a significant amount of time searching on the internet and calling people until she could find a manufacturer to produce Ivory Tees' shirts and accessories. Once she found a reliable manufacturer and a few friends willing to model her clothing, her business started coming together.
Currently, Lue is working to spread awareness of her company and the cause. Eighty percent of her profits -- what isn't donated to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (DSWT) -- are reinvested back into the company to keep it alive, pay for social media ads and ask influencers to promote her products.
"Anyone can have a product..." she said. "It's about being able to sell that product, being able to convince someone that your product is worth their money or worth what you're offering."
Fostering baby elephants is key for the survival of the next generation of elephants, but one of Lue's goals for Ivory Tees this year is to be more proactive in effecting change in the anti-poaching movement.
She has attended conservation conventions and has learned about new technologies to help monitor elephants and track poachers. She said she also understands the complexity of this crisis the smuggling and poverty behind it all.
"There are these big poaching lords who exploit (people in poverty)..." she said. "(The people) need to find a way to feed their family, so they'll do literally anything. To them, it's not about the ivory, it's about getting money for their families. One thing that would help is being able to help ... lift them out of poverty so that they don't have to rely on poaching."
China banned ivory trade in late 2017, which was a significant step. But smuggling in various Asian countries, including Japan, Vietnam, Malaysia, Myanmar is still pervasive, said Lue. Ivory has played an important part of many countries' cultures, both for medicinal purposes and as a symbol of wealth.
"We need to prioritize the lives of these elephants," Lue said. "If we view ourselves as a part of nature, then it's really about saving yourself if we're trying to save nature."
Lue juggles this passion project and academics at Los Altos High School. She said that it's challenging at times, but she's committed to the development of her business.
"If there's something that I love, I will make time, whether it's less sleep, putting off time to hang out with friends," she said. "I'll put Ivory Tees first if I need to."
More information about Lue's business and mission are online at ivorytees.com.