The Atacama Desert in Chile sees 40,000 tons of clothing waste in a single year. Photo courtesy of AFP.
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On Saturday, Feb. 5 from 2 p.m. to 4:30 p.m., EcoReps will be hosting a clothing swap in the Irvington House Large Meeting Room. Students will have the opportunity to exchange used clothing with each other, engaging in more sustainable fashion practices.
“Fast fashion” is the system that dominates the modern fashion industry today: the overproduction and overconsumption of cheap clothing that is manufactured and sold as quickly as possible. Fast fashion generates huge amounts of waste and pollution, both by virtue of producing enormous quantities of goods and as a means to reduce manufacturing costs.
Fabric treatment alone creates about 20% of the world’s wastewater, which contaminates global water systems, and a single pair of new jeans requires 2,000 gallons of water. According to McKinsey research, in 2018, the fashion industry was responsible for 2.1 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions: equivalent to the entire French, German and United Kingdom economies combined.
Fast fashion companies also force workers to labor in dangerous conditions for low pay, and from the consumer side, they encourage a “throw-away” consumer culture. 85% of textiles in the United States — 13 million tons in 2017 — are thrown away.
Issues of environmental exploitation, labor and waste, in particular, impact the Global South. Women of color in Asia encompass the primary exploited labor force for fast fashion brands, and unsold, nonbiodegradable garments are dumped in Latin America: about 40,000 tons a year in the Chilean Atacama Desert alone.
Lillie Michael is a sophomore middle secondary education major and EcoReps’s president. Sustainability in fashion and secondhand clothing is something EcoReps members constantly discuss, but Michael said it was the club’s FEAST Fund Committee, which provides funding for sustainability initiatives across campus, that thought to host a used clothing swap for Butler students.
At the event itself, students will check in with an EcoReps member at the entrance. The EcoReps member will count up how many clothing items the student brought in, which corresponds to how many items they are allowed to “shop” for.
“[Students will] hand off their clothing to a member who’s standing around helping, like on the job basically, and then they’ll go sort it, so they’ll put T-shirts with T-shirts, pants with pants,” Michael said. “And then that student will be able to go and look through all the different clothing, and then if they brought in six pieces of clothing, they get to take six pieces of clothing with them. And then they’ll check out … and then they’ll leave.”
Students have the choice for leftover clothing that is not “shopped” by another student to be donated by EcoReps to Thrifty Threads. Thrifty Threads is a donation center owned by Indianapolis’s Julian Center, an organization that supports survivors of domestic violence.
In order to decrease the risk involved with touching physical items, the group will be implementing several COVID-19 precautions, including hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes and requiring clothes be washed beforehand.
Jenna Hadley, senior strategic communication major, is a lifelong secondhand clothing shopper. She is looking forward to attending the clothing swap.
“I’m really excited because I’m someone who shops secondhand for the most part, unless there’s something that I really wanna buy,” Hadley said. “I would always shop at garage sales with my dad and have gotten so many cool items through that. I’m really excited because I have a lot of clothes to give away, and it’ll be cool that it’s getting another life to live with someone else, and someone else gets to enjoy some clothes that I got to enjoy.”
Maddie Darr — sophomore communication sciences and disorders major and EcoReps’s director of programming/events — hopes that the group’s clothing swap will inspire students to go the extra mile to be more sustainable. She believes the “big takeaway” from the event is that there are so many avenues to be fashionable beyond the convenience of fast fashion.
“Just don’t be shy to look into a sustainable option,” Darr said. “Just because there are convenient firsthand options, and there’s the ‘cool’ stores that everyone usually goes to in a mall and stuff, you don’t have to do those … You don’t have to settle for something just because you don’t think there’s anything close to you, that is convenient for you, because there’s so many convenient, amazing options.”
After the EcoReps Clothing Swap, here are five actionable tips to continue incorporating sustainability into your fashion habits.
1) Used garb doesn’t go in the garbage
Of course, other than simply handing off clothes to loved ones, you can even hold your own clothing swap with friends and family!
Grace Grouzard, junior strategic communication major, is a part of the Kappa Alpha Theta sorority. Her chapter coordinates clothing swaps for special sorority events.
“Within my sorority, we’ll do — before formals — a dress swap, so girls aren’t buying a dress for every occasion [because] that gets super expensive,” Grouzard said. “… So doing those dress swaps are great for financial reasons and for ethical or sustainable reasons.”
Otherwise, clothing that is still wearable can be donated to traditional thrift stores, sold to consignment stores, sold on reselling platforms or donated to shelters and charities. In Indianapolis, the Julian Center and Wheeler Mission both accept clothing donations.
2) Upcycle or recycle what can’t be worn
The possibility of donation should not be used as a cop-out to mindlessly consume, and sometimes clothing is simply not donatable to somebody else — rendering it destined to just take up space and remain unworn.
When this is the case, clothes can be upcycled or recycled. Upcycling repurposes the item into something else still usable, e.g. to rags or reusable food wraps. Recycling degrades the product to transform the material into a new product. This is more energy-intensive than upcycling but helps promote a “circular fashion economy” rather than a linear one: a system of production where materials are reused rather than trashed.
3) Buy less and shop your own closet
In the old adage of “reduce, reuse and recycle,” there is a reason that “reduce” comes first. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, “the most effective way to reduce waste is to not create it in the first place.”
At the end of the day, any form of consumption — whether it is “sustainable” or not — utilizes resources. Sewing machines still require electricity, transporting a Depop package across the country burns nonrenewable fossil fuels, etc.
In the internet age, social media accelerates the trend cycle, so what is considered “trendy” moves in and out more quickly than ever. TikTok is particularly guilty of this, with its plethora of content — particularly fast fashion hauls.
“I see so many people on TikTok buying from brands like Shein,” Hadley said. “… Because just so many clothes are being made, and the way that clothes go in and out of fashion so quickly is very harmful because people buy something off of perhaps Shein, and they’re like, ‘Super cute, I’m gonna wear it for what — three months? — and then get rid of it.’”
To fight this consumerist mentality, Hadley is working on fully enjoying the clothes she already owns.
“It’s great having cute clothes, but yeah, that’s my big thing for me is trying to wear what I own,” Hadley said. “Because there’s oftentimes I get caught up in like, ‘Oh, this is a cute shirt, I’m just gonna buy it because I can,’ [when] I don’t really need to contribute any more money to capitalism.”
While fast fashion has made fashion much more accessible, it has also promoted much more overconsumption. One survey found that Americans on average only wear 18% of their closet. If you feel the urge to buy something new, try “shopping” from your own closet!
4) When necessary, buy secondhand
Secondhand shopping helps prevent clothing from ending up in landfills, and it reduces the resource usage associated with producing and selling new, firsthand clothing. It can also be a way to save some money.
The Indianapolis area has a variety of thrift stores, and Grouzard enjoys thrifting as a social activity with friends.
“By where I live back home, there isn’t a ton of great thrift shops,” Grouzard said. “But around here, it’s super fun, and because your friends are around, how I like to do it is just get a bunch of friends together, go thrifting on the weekends and see what we can find — and it’s kind of like a treasure hunt, too, so it’s really fun.”
5) Invest in pieces that will last longer
Firsthand “ethical” clothing has a reputation for being expensive. However, for Grouzard, that initial investment in something pricier is worth it by ultimately saving money over multiple fast fashion purchases.
“I might buy this $12 shirt from Zara, but in the long run, that’s only gonna last me a few months,” Grouzard said. “It’s not going to be in trend anymore, or it’s not going to hold up how it’s made; basically, it’ll fall apart … And I’m going to have to end up buying another $12 dollar shirt in the next couple of months — versus thinking about it like, ‘Okay, I’m gonna buy a $40 shirt from a store that, as you know, supports the Earth, it’s sustainably made, it’s gonna last me a lot longer. So, in the long run, might as well invest into a better produced shirt than a kind of, for lack of a better word, crappy shirt.”
Good on You is a database that evaluates the ethicalness of clothing brands based on environmental, human and animal impact. Brands can be searched in their directory, which includes alternatives to brands. The site also has articles that give more in-depth information on fashion sustainability, such as alternatives to Shein and the sustainability of different types of fabric.
“A small step”
While systemic changes beyond a single individual must be made in order to truly “solve” the crisis of fast fashion, people can still be empowered to take their own actions to make a positive impact in their own lives. By taking the effort to understand the impacts of fashion consumption, you can make small, smart changes to actively become a better global citizen of this Earth.
“Odds are, if I ask somebody, ‘Are you against fast fashion?’, I’m sure they would be like, ‘Yes, I’m totally against the idea of it,’” Grouzard said. “However, they don’t take a stand like against it … If you’re passionate about something, you don’t have to, you know, be guns ablazing, never go shopping at any mall ever again. I think people can kind of get that idea twisted — I would say, start by making a small step of just stop shopping at Shein or any fast fashion store: just one store.”
After all, there is no planet B.