One great thing about studying fashion at Dominican University is the multitude of opportunities to take classes in which you can give back.
For my cultural perspective of dress class this semester, we were required to volunteer at a variety of resale shops and projects such as the Glace Slipper Project and New to You resale.
By volunteering 6 hours at New to You resale, an upscale resale shop that benefits Chicago Westside Christian Schools, I have become curious about the ethics of clothing production and consumption. Americans are unaware of who is making their clothing, how those people are treated, and how well they are paid. We also consume so much fast-fashion clothing that we give away millions of clothes to our local thrift stores, who cannot handle the mass amount of merchandise. They can only choose the clothing that will sell and send of the rest for pennies to large companies that deliver the clothing to be sold in underdeveloped countries. This creates a market for cheap second-hand clothing, ruining the countries existing textile industries.
While volunteering at New to You, I was asked to sort donated clothing into giveaway piles or onto hangers to be put into the store. I also had the chance to put quality garments on the floor and press them to look alluring. In this process it was clear that Americans believe that even the worst-stained garment can be donated and put into a thrift store. These garments were immediately put into a bag to be sent off; only the best looking garments were kept to be placed into displays.
I learned that the thrift store was seasonal, and only garments that fit the season would be placed on the floor. Also, by seeing the piles of clothing that was donated and turned away to be sent elsewhere everyday, I have decided to do my best to not contribute to this cycle and keep my clothing for as long as possible by fixing and changing the garments myself.
This experience has changed my attitude about the expected trajectory for second-hand clothing. From reading about how clothing is expendable in mainstream American culture, I have decided to avoid fast-fashion products and purchase garments of great quality that will last me a lifetime. I also hope eventually to purchase only American-made products, to be guaranteed that the workers were paid well in the process.
This Lent season, I also made a pledge to wear only six items of my wardrobe: a sweater, a white button up shirt, a teal tank top, a pair of jeans and two skirts. I did so to see if I could still be fashionable by living with less clothing of better quality. I found this idea reading about The Six Items Challenge, a UK-based campaign by Labour Behind the Label, that challenges participants to only wear six articles of clothing for six weeks. The goal of the campaign is to raise awareness of the dangers of fast fashion and give us the chance to change our relationship with the garment industry.
I am so grateful that Dominican University takes the time to make students aware of social issues even when it pertains to the fashion students. This educational experience is something I could not have received anywhere else.