The environmental footprint of our clothing is substantial. Materials can be environmentally toxic and manufacturing processes are costly, requiring much water and energy. Americans are now buying and discarding more clothes than ever. Most fashion experts view this as the effects of “fast fashion” that stores like Zara, Forever 21 and H&M provide. Fashionistas know that imitations of favorite looks from the runway can be found on Forever 21 hangers with a lower price tag just weeks after they are first introduced. With so many tempting ways to accumulate new attire, we need to keep in mind the large number of eco-friendly ways to remain stylish.
Last weekend, the annual ABC Clothing Sale reminded us that it is possible to minimize our ecological footprint, support our local community and shop all at once. All funds from the ABC Sale support Greylock ABC, Inc., the mission of which is to provide educational opportunities for underrepresented youth in America.
Carolyn Behr, a member of the First Congregational Church and the lead organizer of the ABC Clothing sale, believes in the sale because it serves a three-fold purpose: “First, [it] support[s] the Greylock ABC Chapter; second, it recycles clothing; and finally, it provides wonderful clothing at rock-bottom prices,” Behr said. She shared the joys of thrifting with me, emphasizing the positive environmentally impact it has on our communities. “I raised my kids wearing recycled clothing, and now most – if not all – of my clothing comes from the ABC Clothing Sale,” she said.
My conversation with Behr forced me to think of my own environmental impact on our world as a consumer of fashion. After much reflection, I’m now convinced that I need to examine my own fashion shopping decisions more closely and buy pre-owned garments whenever possible.
Shopping at secondhand stores does not deny us of any of normal retail shopping experiences. In fact, it only heightens the shopping experience. The atmosphere of the ABC Clothing Sale was very festive, fun and warm. For that, we have Behr’s team of dozens upon dozens of volunteers to thank. As a consumer, I’ve never had so much fun shopping in my life. So too, for the very fashionable Harry Gilbert ’14, is the experience of thrifting unmatched. “Thrifted garments and markets are storied in ways that a graphic tee from Urban Outfitters cannot be – the racks a stack, the clothes a book,” he said. “Abstraction has blurred their context, but impressions remain in the holes in the sleeve, the stains along the body, the lone threads along the hem.”
The next time you have the urge to update your wardrobe, why not skip the retail store, grab a friend and head to a consignment or thrift store? It’s important, even as we shop for clothing, to think of the impact we have on our environment and the support we can give to our local communities. Tirhakah Love ’15, whose family is committed to supporting clothing donations in Houston, Texas, has advice for those new to thrifting. “Thrifting is about patience,” Love said. “Don’t rush the process. Also, don’t go into a thrift store looking for something specific. The hidden gems that you find in a thrift store are probably the best part of the experience.”
If thrifting is not for you, there are numerous other ways to join the cause of recycling clothing. “I try to salvage all clothing in my possession,” Gilbert said. “Turn those too-short jeans into cut-offs and use the extra material for a headband. If a piece is completely unsalvageable, I usually donate to Goodwill.”
I hope that you too can be inspired to stay stylish and recycle clothing.