Dress to Help the Earth

Photo Courtesy of Grace O. ‘19

Photo Courtesy of Grace O. ‘19

by Jingjing X.

The dictionary defines sustainable fashion as “clothing and other goods made from recycled materials or otherwise produced by methods that are not harmful to the environment.” Sustainable fashion, however, involves a lot more than this definition suggests. ECo Representative, Kaitlyn L. ’22, describes sustainable fashion as “the combining of ethics, the environment, and the economy.” When it comes to fashion, many Bryn Mawr students grapple with the difficulty of keeping up with popular trends while also practicing environmental conservation. According to Kaitlyn’s ECo workshop, this is due in part to the fact that popular clothing brands like Forever 21 and Urban Outfitters promote environmentally-unsustainable forms of  “fast fashion,” where companies swap out clothes every four to six weeks to meet ever-transforming fashion demands. This results in cheaper materials and a greater demand for low-wage labor sweatshops in third-world countries that perpetuates worker exploitation. These clothing brands also mass produce non-biodegradable synthetic materials and microplastics that pollute our oceans and harm our sea-life. Knowing this, how can we work to become more sustainable clothing consumers?

  1. Do your research. The website “Good On You” gives clothing brands a rating on how eco-friendly they are. Researching about the brands you purchase will give you greater insight into how you can consistently shop in a way that is both ethically and environmentally sustainable.

  2. Try to shop vintage or at thrift stores. As the saying goes, “one man’s trash is another’s treasure.” Instead of sending your unused clothes to a landfill, they can be recycled into another person’s wardrobe. Kaitlyn recommends the store Changed My Mind in Hampden, where you can find high-quality clothes for a good price. The greatest benefit of stores like these is that they divert the route used clothes take from the landfill to another person’s closet, effectively extending their lifetime.

  3. Upcycle. Upcycling, also known as creative reuse, is another way to think sustainably when it comes to fashion. Just like shopping vintage, upcycling prevents clothes from piling up in a landfill. Other clothes can be made into your own style or used for an alternate purpose. Examples of creative reuse could be stuffing pet beds with old shirts or turning an oversized shirt into a skirt.

  4. Check clothing labels. Clothing labels can give you plenty of information on which materials were used during manufacture. Avoid clothing with materials like acrylic, polyester, rayon, nylon, and teflon. These are low quality and non-biodegradable. Also, avoid materials that use animal products since they usually suggest unethical hunting practices that lead to ecosystem denigration and other adverse environmental impacts.

  5. Avoid fast fashion.  Fast fashion includes brands like Forever 21, Shein, Romwe, H&M, and Charlotte Russe. Clothes from these companies do not last long and are low quality.

  6. Go closet-shopping. A common conflict that students run into while shopping eco-friendly is keeping up with trends. Fast fashion encourages trends because new clothes come in often. Since many modern day fashion trends derive inspiration from the clothing popular in previous generations, going into your mom’s old stuff might help you discover some awesome new clothes for your closet.

  7. Shop local. Even though online shopping is convenient, the carbon footprint produced in packaging and shipping is responsible for large-scale environmental denigration. By shopping locally, you can help support both the environment and local businesses. Only buy something if you know you will love it. If you know you will only wear a piece of clothing once or twice, you set a limit of its lifetime. ” If you buy something with a true intention of wearing it consistently, you get your money’s worth out of it.

It’s important now more than ever to keep sustainability in mind and make lifestyle changes. By taking these small steps, we can eventually reach our shared goal, a better, greener, and lasting planet.