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Making environmentally conscious fashion choices in our culture of overconsumption

Throughout my years in college, as I’ve become more financially self-sufficient, I’ve been focused more on purchasing items of clothing that I’d consider to be investments. I’m in the fortunate position where I have a job and housing security and some assistance from my parents so I am able to save up for “nicer” pieces that are created in a more sustainable manner and will likely last me longer both in the fashion cycles and through many wears. 

Not everyone is able to turn to purchase sustainable clothing options, and what makes clothing “sustainable” to begin with? How is shipping and production and waste management all factored into these everyday purchases, and how can we as college students be responsible with where our money goes? In short, we can’t, because we have so little power and so little money, but I am here to inform you on how to buy clothing from an environmentally conscious perspective.

Everyone knows that purchasing from brands like Shein, Princess Polly, H&M, Forever 21, Fashion Nova, Zara, Uniqlo and ASOS is harmful for our world, but it’s very difficult to get out of the habit of purchasing new wardrobes each trend cycle, especially when you have limited funds to put into said wardrobe. With a turn to thrifting and upcycling being seen as “trendy” and environmentalism being a fashion statement in itself, there are many opportunities for college students to purchase new clothing without giving money to fast fashion brands that overproduce and pollute. In 2018, only 14.7% of textiles were recycled in some way, despite about 17 million tons being produced in that same year. In our culture of overconsumption, college students must fight the urge to consume. I suggest thrifting, going to second-hand stores like Plato’s Closet and Global Thrift (both in Waltham!) instead of searching for a new specific item on Amazon Closet or Princess Polly. 

Additionally, at the end of each year when students move out, many many students leave behind clothing in common areas. If you see this, see what you can recycle or upcycle for yourself, and attempt to donate the rest. In Massachusetts, a state with notoriously brutal winters, nearly 20,000 people are homeless on any given day. Instead of throwing out your sweaters and sweatshirts for new ones, consider donating them to vulnerable populations, both for the earth and its people. There are clothing donation boxes both behind Global Thrift on Moody Street in downtown Waltham and near the Foster Mods residence halls on campus— there may even be more around that I just haven’t seen.* 

For another way to get a whole new wardrobe without spending a cent and without feeding into the wasteful cycle, arrange a clothing swap with friends if you have similar sizes. What’s old for one of your friends may be the cute top you’ve been eyeing since freshman year, and the jeans you think fit you weird may fit your roommate perfectly! 

If you, like me, are able to invest in more sustainable pieces and still have the urge to purchase new items every once in a while, I suggest doing independent research into the brands you support. Many companies are very good at hiding their reliance on unsustainable practices—and human rights violations! For outdoor wear and cozy sweaters to last you a lifetime I suggest Patagonia. For workout wear that’s size-inclusive and stylish, I suggest Girlfriend Collective. For classy and trendy everyday clothing I suggest Reformation and Everlane. It’s extremely difficult to get to this point where you only purchase sustainably, and it’s easy to start blaming people for still buying from places like Shein. We must remain kind to each other in our environmentalist journeys, as issues with the environment correlate closely with issues of poverty and the widening wealth gap. 

I am not telling readers to stop purchasing for the trend cycles, and I am certainly not policing how and where people spend their own money, I just hope more people purchase with awareness about the impact fashion companies have on our environment. 

*Editor’s note: There is another clothing drop box in south lot and one by Grad, here is a newsletter about them.

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