Saving Our Planet One Outfit at a Time

One writer looks into how students choose to align their values with their clothing choices.

by Gianna Totani | 1/26/22 2:05am

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by Julia Siegel / The Dartmouth

Fashion trends change on a daily basis. Our TikTok For-You-Pages are filled with “SHEIN hauls” and nearly every Instagram ad promotes the 700 to 1,000 new items SHEIN and other fast fashion brands release everyday. Now don’t get me wrong, these pieces are cute, trendy and affordable, and there is no shame in getting wrapped up in the latest trends; even I am guilty of buying an entire outfit I saw on Instagram. But what is the true cost of fast fashion?

In general, the goal of fast fashion is simple: to produce clothing that reflects the ever-changing trends at a cheap price, allowing for multiple retailers to provide consumers with the latest trends at a quicker rate than ever before. Low-income individuals, students and youth are the target audiences for fast fashion because they can enjoy shopping without spending a whole paycheck on an outfit. But don’t be fooled by the affordable prices; these pieces are mass-produced, do not have the greatest quality, and for that reason, are not meant to be worn more than a couple times. This leads to the darkest sides of fast fashion: waste and exploited labor. 

According to the UN Alliance for Sustainable Fashion, the clothing and textile industry is responsible for 2% to 8% of the entire world’s greenhouse gas emissions. Virgin polyester plays a huge role in these numbers, as its production releases the same amount of CO2 as 180 coal-fired power plants, according to a recent article by Ferrer of Euro News. In an article by Emma Ross of the International Law and Policy Brief, the fast fashion industry employs over 75 million workers, and of those workers, less than 2% of them make a living wage. These workers live below the poverty line, working up to 16 hours a day around 8,000 synthetic chemicals. 

Chithra Singareddy ’22 believes that fashion is a person’s form of self-expression, and people should not be criticized for wanting to express themselves through buying clothes from fast fashion sites. 

“I think you should be encouraged to develop your own sense of style,” Singareddy said. “However, [shopping sustainably] is really difficult to expect from a teenager who is still exploring [their style].” 

Singareddy also stressed that fast fashion is not simply the fault of greedy companies, or individual buyers, but a function of our society’s culture. 

“[Fast fashion] is about overconsuming in order to be trendy and own something new,” Singareddy said. 

Divya Chunduru ’23, director of operations and a founding member of the Fashion et cetera club, is passionate about sustainable fashion, but also understands why some people might opt for fast fashion because it is more attainable for low income consumers and some of the clothes are just too cute to pass up. Above all, Chunduru believes that you should wear whatever makes you feel good. 

“I feel like we always feel this pressure to wear what other people are wearing,” Chunduru said. “You should think about what makes you happy when trying on clothes. If it’s what everyone else is wearing, but you don’t feel happy and comfortable in it, don’t keep wearing it. Instead, go for outfits that make you feel confident.” 

Many people do not know the harmful effects of fast fashion companies or perhaps cannot afford the more expensive and sustainable alternatives. Personally, I had no idea that everytime I bought a “going-out” top from SHEIN and only wore it to the sweaty frats a few times, I was contributing to the ever-growing environmental problems in our world. Rest assured, there are ways to become more mindful with your shopping habits while still looking cute and trendy on a budget. 

Singareddy is a mindful shopper who enjoys “shopping in her own closet” when she gets the urge to buy something new or feels like she has nothing to wear. Singareddy has found that taking time to really think about why she wants to purchase something new and writing down outfit outfit ideas with her existing wardrobe can help her decide if there is a valid reason to buy something new. 

Chunduru said her passion for sustainability was sparked in her high school’s sustainability club, where she realized the opportunity to make an impact on the environment by being more mindful when purchasing clothing. Chunduru has since then become a huge proponent of thrifting and “thrift-flipping,” embellishing her already unique finds. 

If you are looking to become a thrifter, Chunduru has a few tips and encourages first-time thrifters not to get discouraged if they don’t find anything to buy. Chunduru recalled some of her own experiences when she was excited to find something to wear and came out with nothing new. 

“When you’re going into a thrift store, look through everything,” Chunduru said. “Be open to the possibility that [a piece] might look like something you might not wear, but once you try it on, it might actually be something that you’ll end up wearing a lot.”

Although the prices at a thrift store are often affordable, and you have access to hundreds of one-of-a-kind items, it’s important to still be a sustainable shopper. Chunduru adopted the “thirty times” rule into her shopping habits. 

“When you go into a store and you find an item you like, you’re going to say, ‘Am I going to wear this more than thirty times?’,” Chunduru said. “If you answer yes, buy the item. But if you say no, put it back and keep looking.”

Recently Lawson Greene ’25 completely changed his shopping habits in an effort to become a more conscious and sustainable consumer.   

“One year, I decided as my New Year’s Resolution, that I wanted my clothing to be more sustainable,” Greene said. “I looked at my closet and thought about what I have enough of and what I have too much of.” 

Greene decided that for one year, he would not buy any new pants because he already had enough that he wore regularly. 

“If I really needed pants, I would buy them from a thrift store,” Lawson said. “You can find one-of-a-kind pieces every day and it’s more sustainable than buying brand new.” 

Sustainable shopping is a life-style change; it takes time to transform your shopping habits and nobody can be completely mindful all the time. While the students interviewed seem to be flawless sustainable shoppers, nobody is perfect. Greene bought a new pair of Blundstone boots this year, and Singareddy bought something new right before our interview. But, it’s completely acceptable to buy new clothes if you’re going to wear them often, and they make you feel confident. Sustainability is about creating a balance and becoming more conscientious of your levels of consumption. One outfit at a time, we can all do our part to save the planet.

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