The NDSU Innovation Challenge helped NDSU junior Mariah Billadeau meet interested collaborators for EcoTex, an environmentally-friendly textile concept.

Billadeau will present at 1 Million Cups Fargo on Wednesday, April 24. Her idea for EcoTex took second place in the Innovation Challenge’s social impact track.

The roots of the concept trace to a study abroad trip Billadeau took to Australia, where she remembers having conversations about how plastics and microplastics commonly used in the fashion industry are environmentally harmful.

“It was just so mind-blowing how the fashion industry is the second most harmful industry on the planet,” Billadeau said.

Later, Billadeau learned about an Australian rainforest where indigenous people are able to keep dry because the leaves of the canopy trees were coated in a naturally waterproof wax.

“I was like, well, what if there’s a way to use the wax off the leaves?” Billadeau said. The idea is to create water-resistant fibers using the wax.

For a while, Billadeau’s idea has remained just that—a good idea. She wasn’t sure it would work and wasn’t sure how to test.

“I would need a manufacturer to see if it would work,” Billadeau said. Most are overseas.

Billadeau heard about the NDSU Innovation Challenge through a friend. She was initially hesitant to enter her idea in the challenge, however; she worried about her lack of engineering experience, and whether her majors were appropriate to the task. However, once she entered her senior year, she felt differently.

“It was definitely like, why don’t you,” Billadeau said. “Why don’t you show them what a fashion major can do?”

The next steps for EcoTex are discovering if it can work, finding out what fibers would work with it, and eventually bringing it into production.

One of the judges for the NDSU Innovation Challenge was the CEO of CleanTech, who Billadeau said has shown interest for EcoTex’s concept.

“We’ve been working on different ways on how we can see if this even works,” Billadeau said.

Although she’s now drummed up some interest in EcoTex, Billadeau is being thoughtful about her next moves. She has college to finish, and she won’t be pursuing EcoTex as a full-time job out of the gate, although she didn’t rule it out in the future if the idea succeeds.

“I don’t want to rush anything,” Billadeau said.

1 Million Cups Fargo takes place each Wednesday from 9:15 – 10:15 a.m. at The Stage at Island Park. For more information on EcoTex and other ideas that placed in the NDSU Innovation Challenge, visit

Austin Gerth