The $20 designer knockoff you wore once and then threw away. The flimsy t-shirt you knew wouldn’t last, but you bought it for his Instagram-worthy catchphrase.
Such “fast fads”—cheap, poor-quality clothes often meant to be worn individually and produced for near-nightly delivery to stores—mean big trouble for all of us.
So say a FIU professor and a growing number of students. The cost is there, they explain: in the carbon emitted in manufacturing and shipping the often synthetic (not natural fiber) items, in the waste created as it is rapidly discarded, and in the social injustice inherent in the low wages paid to workers, mostly abroad, to churn out the trendy threads that entice impulse purchases.
The move away from fast fashion and sustainable clothing is gaining momentum on campus with clothing exchanges, a new sustainability center, and professors raising awareness of the issue in the classroom.
Jesse Blanchard, an environmental science professor, teaches the dangers of fast fashion, calling it one of the biggest environmental offenders out there.
“When you wear clothes once and throw them away, it becomes a solid waste problem that we don’t currently have a real solution for. We just pile them up, and that’s pretty much it,” Blanchard said, as he himself donned a sports jacket made from recycled plastic bottles.
The apparel industry is known as one of the worst polluting industries, generating a huge amount of greenhouse gases and accounting for 10% of all carbon emissions every year.
But Blanchard looks to the future with hope and thinks things are moving in the right direction towards reducing fast fashion emissions with the latest wave of awareness and support from young people.
“The middle economic class in the United States is the world’s most powerful consumer, and our students are part of that,” Blanchard said. “If they make a decision about something that needs to happen, it will happen. It’s just a matter of, can they be loud enough to make that happen?
Genevieve Lafrinere and Natalie Concepcion collaborated with other students to launch the Panther Sustainability Hub as part of a scholarship promoting positive change on campus. The hub it is located on the northwest side of MMC near the 112th Ave. and 8th Street entrance, across from the Ziff Education Building.
Concepcion and Lafinere were particularly interested in reducing clothing waste among students, so they opened a closet at the hub.
“The closet is basically like a thrift store on campus,” said Lafrinere, who studies marine biology. “We accept donations of clothes, shoes or accessories from anyone.”
Students, faculty and staff are welcome to donate or take clothes from the closet, absolutely free. The hub is open for a few hours each day of the week.
“We don’t have any closet restrictions because not everyone has something to give,” said Concepcion, who studies political science. “You can take what you need.”
They opened the closet to encourage students to change their clothes shopping habits.
“I seem to see a lot of people who are unaware of this issue, especially college students,” Concepcion said. “If we can educate people more about this, that’s a win for me.”
Another student group on campus, the Society of Sustainable Souls, hosts monthly dress swaps in the breeze at Green Library to spread awareness and give used clothes a second life. For each item donated, a student can choose from those offered.
“I want to be part of the shift towards sustainability,” said Stephanie Uviovo, club vice president and secretary. “I study international relations myself, so I deal with sustainable development. I want to be able to develop the environment and have a major and lasting impact in any society or community I am in.”