Made in Madagascar: Navy veteran, international business major, fashion designer to study coral reefs

Michael Acid

After studying at French universities on a Benjamin A. Gilman scholarship and pursuing fashion design in Los Angeles, Michael Acid came to UMSL to earn a degree in international business. (Photo by August Jennewein)

Last summer Michael Acid suited up in scuba gear and dove down to a depth of 100 feet in San Diego’s Mission Bay.

The recently graduated international business major described the experience as “very dark, very cold and very exhilarating.”

While Acid found himself surrounded by seahorses, octopuses and other intriguing sights, his excursion was not for sheer leisure. Rather, it was the first step in continuing the conservation work he started at the University of Missouri–St. Louis.

“Getting hands-on with environmental work started for me when I went on an UMSL trip to Guyana with Dr. Godfrey Bourne and a group of entomologists,” said Acid. “I learned a lot there. And particularly, it was great seeing the research they did to help the giant river otter, which is native to the area. I saw people there being passionate about something they love, and I knew I had to do something to give back.”

With that sentiment in mind, Acid plans on traveling to Nosy Be, Madagascar, where he will participate in coral reef conservation efforts with Frontier, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving biodiversity and protecting vulnerable ecosystems.

Beginning in January, he will volunteer two months of his time by charting extensive coastal areas and surveying marine life in efforts to better understand how pollution has affected the reefs.

“With increases in pollution, climate change and rising CO2 levels, we have depleted 50 percent of the reefs over the last 30 years. Once they calcify, that’s it. They’re dead,” said Acid. “Those beautiful reefs are more than decoration. They’re a living environment for living creatures, and we need to start using more methods to preserve them. New York City is even dumping old subway cars into the ocean, so that marine life can use them as shelter. That’s a cool and creative way of making a difference.”

Acid first heeded the call to environmentalism while studying fashion in Los Angeles at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising. At first, Acid’s only goal was to push aesthetics and create the most avant-garde clothing possible, but that quickly changed after he watched “The True Cost,” a documentary exploring how destructive the fashion industry can be to sensitive ecosystems.

“I had this dream of making couture and high fashion and just really beautiful things, but the more I learned about the industry, the more I learned about how harmful it can be to the environment,” said Acid. “Fashion is the second most polluting industry in the world, and a lot of the things we’re doing just to look nice and be beautiful forces the earth to pay a terrible price.”

Acid decided to start his own line of sustainable clothing as a solution to the problem of fashion industry pollution. He came to UMSL in 2014 because the international business program has consistently ranked in the top 20 of IB programs in the nation, and he knew he could build the skill set to become a responsible chief executive officer.

“You just see so many of these CEOs of high-fashion companies who make so much money, and they don’t put it back into the community, and they just don’t have any regard for the consequences of their production methods,” Acid said. “I want to be a part of changing those trends because I might have kids some day, and I want them to inhabit a livable earth.”

By traveling to Madagascar, Acid intends to go beyond the documentaries he has seen and gain firsthand knowledge of the damage industry can cause to environments. He hopes this experience will help him make better ethical decisions when he has his own business one day.

“I want to have as much well-rounded experience and knowledge as I can and work up to that sustainable clothing line,” Acid said. “I know how to make clothes from sketches on paper. Draping it. Sewing it. Complete garment construction. There’s still a lot about sustainability I need to know.”

The UMSL Experience

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