More relevant than ever is the burning question in Macklemore’s 2012 hit Thrift Shop: “Hey, Macklemore. Can we go thrift shopping?”
Loyola students find that their desire to shop sustainably often clashes with the harsh reality of being a college student on a budget. With sustainable brands raising prices and fast fashion becoming amazingly affordable, it can be difficult to choose the right path – but why should young adults have to choose between saving the planet and buying a new outfit?
Professor Sarah Ku, Assistant Professor of Sustainable Business Management, spoke about the economic, social and environmental components of sustainability in business. Sustainability often comes with a price point, Ku said, which can make shopping ethical for students on a budget.
“It’s a real social justice issue, if the only products that are in socio-economic reach are non-renewable, come from bad energy sources or bad labor practices, that’s really unfair,” Ku said. “But what are you supposed to do as an individual consumer?”
Consumers tend to prioritize budget-friendly options for clothing, Ku said. Dean Morgan, freshman theater major, said fast fashion is the easiest alternative for those on lower incomes.
“Fashion isn’t the most accessible thing,” said Morgan, 18. “Sometimes fast fashion is what you can afford.”
Looking for pieces to add to his closet, Morgan said he prefers to buy from companies that have an ethical, sustainable background. The fashion major recently started learning how to recycle old clothes sparingly. He’s not the only student beginning to see the importance of sustainability in fashion.
Students in Brother Jose Martin Montoya Dura’s environmental sustainability class have recently begun learning about the ins and outs of the fashion industry. Montoya, an environmental sustainability instructor at Loyola, said he teaches his students to question where and how their clothes are made.
Montoya’s student Dasha Musil, a senior international business major, said her eyes were opened by an Alex James film Slowing Down Fast Fashion that the class saw during a class session about the fashion industry’s unethical practices.
The students saw the people behind the clothes: the faces of men, women and children who had to work in terrible conditions for little money.
After showing this harsh reality, the film presents a wealth of sustainable options for not supporting the corrupt fast fashion business. Thrifting is among the most popular alternatives featured in the film, something some Loyola students have already participated heavily in.
“We often associate sustainability with [being] expensive, but it doesn’t have to be that way,” said Ku.
Thrifting and upcycling are inexpensive alternatives to buying new items to add to your closet.
Upcycling is the creative reuse of garments, such as hand-painting new designs onto old jeans. Thrifting means buying used clothes and giving them a new life. Sustainable fashion practices like these allow students to express themselves through their clothing without breaking the bank.
Sydney Shimizu, a freshman public health student, enjoys sifting through Goodwill trash cans to rescue shipwrecked people. Her eclectic style can be attributed to her open-mindedness when it comes to finding clothes in stores not found on Michigan Avenue.
There are no limits to Shimizu’s creativity when choosing her next outfit.
“The way I dress is constantly changing,” says the 18-year-old. “I ask myself, ‘Who am I? Who am I calling right now? How am I today?’ It could be anything, that’s the fun.”
Shimizu isn’t the only Loyola student experimenting with fashion. First grader Stella Jensen said she tends to shop used rather than new because of the environmental benefits and the ability to find clothes that aren’t mainstream.
The ability to save and find unique pieces is something Jenson really enjoys. The communications scholar said her approach to her personal style is less trend-driven than others.
“I try to think of fashion more as an art project than trying to keep up with trends,” Jensen said.
Both Shimizu and Jensen use second-hand shopping and thrift shopping as a creative outlet to reuse clothes and make their styles distinctive.
Creativity like this, according to Ku, will be key to unlocking untapped potential in materials considered “waste.” Loyola’s own Paul Schnell, a senior advertising and PR major, has a creative solution to an annual problem – the Halloween costume.
Schnell said he wanted to leverage the reach of social media and launch a campaign to end the habit of single-use clothing through a Halloween challenge in Loyola.
“I want to raise awareness of fast fashion and our own consumption while developing campaigns across our campus,” said Schnell. “By the end of October, at a time of year when you’re buying a lot of clothes and costumes, people will be more inclined to minimize that consumption,” Schnell said.
Sustainable shopping requires a change in culture and habits. Creating a world where minimizing consumption, making garments durable and making clothes ethical is key to a sustainable future. From the classroom to thrift to campus-wide initiatives, Loyola students are creating a world where sustainable fashion is the only answer.
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