Kathryn Hendry feels no pressure to buy clothes for everyday class outfits, but feels the need to update her closet annually when it comes to “night out tops”.
“I bought new dress clothes for freshman year and again this year,” says Hendry, a sophomore with a major in marketing and advertising at Syracuse University. “I feel like as tops go out, the trend cycle is speeding up and showing more publicly.”
There seems to be an unspoken pressure on students on SU campus to constantly buy new clothes, especially at the beginning of the school year. Students often wear a trendy piece of clothing once before throwing it away, contributing to the 11.3 million tons of textiles the US wastes each year.
“There’s a certain pressure to wear something different every time you go out. It’s stupid, but it’s a real thing,” said Michela Galego, a sophomore communications designer.
As a result of store closures during the pandemic, consumers swapped fast-fashion staples like Zara and H&M for Shein, a privately owned Chinese e-commerce site known for affordable and on-trend clothing.
Galego said she feels guilty about shopping at fast fashion giants like Shein and Cider. She loves keeping up with trends and wearing new pieces, but can’t afford to spend $60 on an Urban Outfitters top that she might only wear once.
Shein is valued at $100 billion, higher than the combined value of H&M and Zara. Every day, Shein updates its website with an average of 6,000 new styles.
“Syracuse is very excessive in shopping, with everyone wearing the latest branded drops. It’s very competitive to keep up,” said Filipa Alloul, an undecided student in the College of Arts and Sciences.
Alloul shared that she used to shop at Shein during the pandemic but stopped because of the quality of the clothes and the backlash she saw online about the company’s ethics.
It has been reported that Shein employees work 75 hours a week in unsafe and unsanitary factories, barely earning a living. Around 95% of Shein models are made of plastic-based materials such as polyester, nylon, acrylic or elastane. These materials make recycling textile waste extremely difficult and represent the largest source of microplastic pollution in the world’s oceans.
But college students continue to shop at Shein because of the wide range of sizes and extremely affordable prices.
“It makes more sense to me to buy a $6 Shein top. My parents don’t fund shopping sprees,” Galego said.
To change the one-way relationship with clothing, Abigail Minicozzi, a junior major in fashion design, said it was important to educate people about the ethical and environmental impacts of fast fashion.
“Consumers often don’t think about how much effort it took to make the product, what materials were used, what the working conditions were like and what the pay was,” Minicozzi said.
In 2021, Minicozzi and two others opened The Cherry Pit, a curated vintage thrift store in the basement of the Wildflower Armory. The Cherry Pit offers both women’s and unisex clothing options with lower prices across the board.
As a fashion student, Minicozzi spoke about her love for unique vintage textiles and the appreciation she feels when a garment has accompanied her for years. She loves being able to sell clothes she finds at thrift stores that may not be her style or fit.
“It’s nice to give people clothes in a closed system that doesn’t harm the environment,” Minicozzi said. “When people buy something from certain stores in the mall, they don’t think about how quickly the item was made and how harmful the fabrics are to the environment.”
To keep The Cherry Pit up to date with the ever-changing trends, Minicozzi uses her walk to class to get inspiration from what other SU students are wearing. She spoke about the importance of timeless pieces that never go out of style and can be kept for longer, like waistcoats and belts for fall and chunky sweaters for winter.
Louisa Friedman, a sophomore in communications and public speaking, said she often rejects cheap and trendy fast-fashion brands in favor of investing in more expensive, more sustainable, and higher-quality pieces.
“If I want to spend money on clothes, I might as well invest in pieces that will last a while and fit me well,” Freedman said. “I wish I had saved more, but sometimes it’s very hard to find my size.”
Paul Sausville, a junior studying paper and chemical engineering at SUNY ESF, said finding specific sizes at a massive thrift store like Goodwill or Salvation Army can be overwhelming and difficult. Thrift stores at corporate locations require time and patience, and the consumer is often unlikely to know where the thrift store is donating the money, Sausville said.
Sausville decided to end the ransacking of unwanted clothing with his company, The Pits Vintage.
Sausville runs The Pits Vintage on Instagram and hosts pop-ups at student shows, where he showcases used and vintage clothing items curated for the styles he sees SU and ESF students sporting on campus.
His clothing ranges from $10 to $25 for shirts and pants and $20 to $40 for heavy winter coats.
“Buying vintage clothing is just win, win, win for everyone,” Sausville said. “It’s cheaper than buying new, more durable than any fashionable piece of clothing, and also saves what is often only worn once from the landfill.”
Sausville said he can’t even remember the last time he bought a new piece of clothing. By the time he finds a vintage piece he loves, it’s already a bit worn and has proven to last for years to come.
“It’s amazing that Shein clothes don’t fall apart in shipping,” Sausville said, immediately associating the term fast fashion with Shein, a company he sees his older sister ordering in bulk from.
Sausville likes to think about the person behind each stitch and wishes there were more like-minded people on campus who value the environment and corporate ethics more than a poorly made $8 Shein sweater.
Curbing the compulsive buying of cheap clothes is entirely in the hands of students, Minicozzi said. Understanding the disconnect between the product and the consumer will slow the cycle of trends coming in and out of the closet, she said.
“Clothes used to be made at a level where consumers bought items when they outgrew something or there was a seasonal change,” Minicozzi said. “I continue to see students consuming too much clothing instead of prioritizing quality materials, craftsmanship and ethics.”
Published September 21, 2022 at 10:35 p.m