Sustainability is always in fashion

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Erin Kuepfer
Communications Assistant
Wed, 10/09/2019 - 16:15

"How often do you make an active decision to choose to live sustainably every day? Sustainable fashion isn't a trend, it's a mindset and a lifestyle."
- Unknown

What is it and why does it matter?

"Fast-fashion" and "sustainable fashion." We hear these terms thrown around every now and then, but how many of us actually know what they mean? More importantly, how many of us know the magnitude to which these industries, most notably the former one, impact our everyday lives?

Ever heard someone say, "that outfit is so last season?" Well, fast-fashion embodies this exact mentality; clothing goes out of style making people feel like they need to buy new. Keeping true to its name, fast-fashion is a term used to describe clothing that is produced by mass-market retailers quickly and inexpensively, in response to the constantly changing trends in the fashion industry. With your extra cash you can buy that cute top you saw on TV, wear it once (because you likely didn’t pay that much for it to begin with), and then throw it away when the next best thing comes along the following fashion season.

I, like many others I’m sure, love clothes. However, because fast-fashion is so readily accessible and affordable, and is constantly enticing us with new trends, we often overlook the social and environmental implications of the industry.

Fast fashion
Fast-fashion companies are often directly involved in employee exploitation overseas – everything from low wages (like… ten cents per hour low), abuse, and forced overtime. In the name of selling a shirt for $5, someone is making an extremely low wage, well below their cost of living. Meanwhile, with the world now consuming roughly 80 BILLION pieces of new clothing each year, fast-fashion promotes a cycle of waste and over-consumption.

Chances are you own at least one item in your closet that is fast-fashion. Fast-fashion brands are plentiful, but some big names include: H&M, Zara, Joe Fresh, Fashion Nova and Walmart.

On the opposite end of the fashion spectrum, sustainable fashion aims to rethink the global fashion industry through a focus on clothing that promotes ecological integrity and social justice. "Sustainable" can mean ensuring workers are treated to a fair standard, through things like fair-trade clothing, or reducing waste input and output, through thrift shop clothing.

Feeling a bit of a guilt-trip at this point? Well, you shouldn’t. Nobody is perfect by any means (as I sit here writing this, wearing fast fashion myself). However, there is a clear lack of awareness on the issue of over-relying on the fast-fashion industry. As students, we also tend to view sustainable fashion as a) too expensive or b) unattractive and not "trendy."

However, a UW club by the name of Project Trashion [external link] aims to change this mentality through their second-annual eco-fashion show: Paragon [external link].  

Project Trashion Presents: Paragon

Project Trashion is a WUSA nonprofit club that aims to foster a culture of sustainability through art, fashion and community activism. Most notably this community engagement comes from their much-anticipated eco-fashion shows. Last year, Project Trashion launched their first-ever eco-fashion show, Union, and this year I had the privilege of attending their second show, Paragon.

This past Sunday, I headed to Federation Hall for their 12:30 p.m. show (which they followed with another at 4 p.m.). I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. As an avid thrifter, I was just excited to see how the enjoyment of thrifting could be brought to life onstage. However, by the end of the show, I was completely blown away by the amount of education Project Trashion was able to provide in a two-hour timeframe.

Paragon was sectioned into three segments: sustainable businesses, thrift designs, and waste designs. Each segment offered a new lens through which the topic of sustainable fashion could be viewed, and helped me (and hopefully others) to realize that a life away from fast-fashion is totally doable.

1.) Sustainable Businesses

“Consume consciously, consume sustainably.”

Sustainable businessesOne of the stereotypes of sustainable fashion is that it’s all thrifted, outdated clothing from Goodwill. As a thrift store fanatic there’s nothing wrong with that, however this segment featured the intertwining of high-fashion and sustainability with businesses that offer the best of both worlds. Models for four different sustainable businesses walked the runaway in unique and high-fashion ensembles:

Monk Clothing

The Oddity Co. [external link] - pop-up shop that enables young adults to explore the realm of secondhand fashion and upcoming upcycling designers in an effective manner, while also serving as a resource to sell your pre-loved clothing

B.A.D. Closet [external link] – women’s one-of-a-kind streetwear that upcycles popular brands, such as Nike, into designer pieces. (A model walked the runway in a pair of shorts that had been converted from a Nike duffle bag!)

House of Bamboo [external link]– bamboo or hemp-based clothing, with locations in Cambridge and Uptown Waterloo.

2.) Thrift Designs

"Inspire students on a budget."

Thrift designsDid someone say budget? Speaking from my experiences, thrifting has become increasingly appealing to me as a student who doesn’t want to spend $50 on a t-shirt (*Macklemore’s thrift shop starts playing in background*). It’s also a more environmentally-sustainable option when shopping!

For this segment of the show, Project Trashion presented looks from five different designers to help break the stigma that thrift shopping and being fashionable don’t go hand in hand. The outfits were creative and had I not known they were entirely thrifted, I would have never guessed.

Shoutout to the five designers, Sebastian, Sierra, Trisha, Nish and Batoul, who put their time and effort into giving us audience members some killer thrifted outfits to look at!

3.) Waste Designs

"Illustrate a statement."

Waste designsAs Project Trashion has highlighted, fashion is about making a statement. For this year’s fashion show the theme was "plastic" and every outfit featured on the runway for this segment reflected this; the models were wearing literal plastic on their bodies!

This segment was my favourite (though they’re all pretty much tied for first place) because it told a story; a story about how our plastic consumption is jeopardizing the environmental integrity of our planet; a story about how our actions leave lasting footprints; and a story about how we can use creativity to reinvent the clothing industry to integrate sustainability.

Whether or not you were able to attend the event, the main takeaway is that sustainable fashion is very doable. Project Trashion is not expecting you to parade around campus in a dress made out of plastic bags. Through Paragon, they are simply highlighting the power individuals have to change the way they shop to reflect a more environmentally and socially just world. Small changes can have big impacts.

Feeling inspired? Sad that you missed out on Paragon and want to make sure you don’t miss next year’s show? Stay up to date with Project Trashion and their pursuit for sustainable fashion by liking their Facebook page