While fashion design may not be the most commonly studied field at the University of Alaska, it is one of the leaders in sustainable design. Last April the school had its second annual EcoChic Sustainability Fashion Show. This unique fashion show features clothes made from recycled materials or second hand clothing. Categories ranged from casual through business and black tie, with a special award for most sustainable. One design featured an evening gown with a skirt made from a boat tarp.
Sustainability is a priority at the University of Alaska. It began taking steps toward a sustainable future in 2003 and many other institutions took notice; many followed suit.Why have a fashion show with recycled clothes? Many people don’t realize the true costs of the clothing industry. Your cute character t-shirt is was probably produced in an overseas sweat shop. Conditions in these factories are often deplorable. Look at the horrific death toll in the collapse of the eight storey factory building in Mumbai, India. Over 1000 people lost their life.
Fiber production impacts the environment in different ways. Nylon and polyester are made from petroleum products. They are not biodegradable, and vast amounts of energy are used to make them. Rayon is often made from eucalyptus, whose ability to suck up vast amounts of water can disrupt the habitat in areas that it is not native to. Cotton, although a natural product, it the crop that uses more pesticide than any other. Many people are sickened or killed by these chemicals every year. Any of these fibers may then be treated with dyes, bleached and treated with toxic chemicals to reduce wrinkling.
The most environmentally friendly way to reduce the impact of clothing is to use the three R’s- reduce, reuse and recycle. A Cambridge University Study found that women have four times as many clothes today as they did in 1980. A similar amount is discarded each year. The EPA Office of Solid Waste found that Americans throw out an average 68 pounds of clothing a year, most of which ends up in landfills.
The first way to green your wardrobe is to reduce your purchases of clothing. Reusing what you have is the second R. Do you really need a new winter coat every year? Why not hold a clothing swap with a group of friends? This way you can have “new to you” outfits without impacting the environment. It’s a good way to save money, too.
Recycling is the third R. Cutting up and recombining thrift shop finds is an up and coming trend. Check out the refashion boards on Pinterest or the Etsy fashion shops where upcycled sweaters go for upwards of $400.00. Your wardrobe doesn’t have to be an environmental disaster. Think before you purchase, and assess the impact your clothing dollars are making.