Towle: Conscious Consumption

Dartmouth needs a permanent thrift store.

by Sydney Towle | 5/18/20 2:00am

From 2000 to 2014, worldwide clothing production doubled. This trend has continued to accelerate, with a 21 percent increase in production from 2016 to 2019, as globalization, internet usage and social media have come to dominate consumer behavior. Meanwhile, people are wearing garments for only half as long as they did at the beginning of the century. With new fashion trends emerging at faster rates and consumers looking for cheap alternatives to keep up, fast fashion retailers have stepped in to meet demand. These retailers, such as Boohoo, Zara and Revolve, emphasize making fashion trends quickly and cheaply available to consumers, primarily through their online platforms.

The growth of the fast fashion industry has come with myriad problems. The carbon emissions, water consumption and pollution generated by the production of these garments, which do not often last for more than a few uses, have done significant damage to the environment.

To keep pace with consumer demand, retailers have intensified production in order to pump out basic garments in bulk. And this increased industrial turnout has gone hand-in-hand with increased carbon emissions. According to the World Bank, the fashion industry produces approximately 10 percent of global carbon emissions. Moreover, in a world increasingly constrained by the availability of freshwater, the fashion industry is the second-largest consumer of water worldwide, accounting for nearly 1.3 trillion gallons of water annually. Fast fashion also contributes greatly to global pollution — dyeing textiles contributes to 20 percent of global industrial water pollution. 

As consumers, we have the power to change our consumption habits, push companies to examine their environmental impact and advocate for more sustainable alternatives. But this is hard to do at Dartmouth — our only local options for clothing are high-end retailers, such as J. Crew and Talbots. These stores do not cater to the needs of Dartmouth students, who are often in the market for event-specific garments and “flair,” or cheap costume attire. This limited selection of stores incentivizes purchasing from stores that churn out fast fashion and that can offer a cheap selection of themed apparel. 

Dartmouth can do its part to reduce the waste and consumption of fast fashion and increase the life of garments by making space for a permanent thrift store on campus. 

Establishing a thrift store on campus would not only allow greater access for students who cannot afford to spend money on high-end retailers, but could also help others who wish to reduce their environmental impact. In addition, it would offer a more convenient alternative to online shopping for themed apparel and flair. Dartmouth should prioritize finding a space on campus to host a permanent thrift store and provide the necessary financial support to help fund this initiative. Student interns from the Sustainability Office, as well as any other student volunteers, can then begin to plan and implement the store. Once this option is present, students will no longer feel as pressured to resort to online fast fashion retailers. 

A thrift store would also allow students to donate old flair or costume garments that are no longer needed. Students in need could then easily find these items at the thrift store, extending the life cycle of these single-use purchases. A thrift store would offer quicker service and, most likely, cheaper items than online stores, maximizing consumer convenience. 

The next fashion trend needs to revolve around the health of our planet and reducing our ecological footprint. Both producers and consumers need to radically change the way we prioritize fashion. As consumers, it is our responsibility to push for more sustainable practices and alter our consumption habits to force producers to comply with environmental standards. Dartmouth can do its part by providing funding and allocating a space for a thrift store, which the Sustainability Office and other student volunteers can then organize and develop.