The Student News Site of Ithaca College

Ithaca Week

Ithaca Week

Ithaca Week

Fast Fashion, the Environment & Upcycling

Reduce, reuse and recycle when it comes to clothing.

Trendy styles are widely available to most consumers through online shopping. But what does this mean for the fashion cycle and the environment? What can college students do instead of buying into trends?

A student and workshop leader lining up the pants of a romper before placing pins for sewing
Fennessy helps a student align the pants of her oversized romper to place pins before sewing. Image via Makayla Carozzolo

The upcycling alternative 

It cannot be expected for everyone who wants to participate in trends to buy environmentally friendly clothing. This is because of the price tag associated with shopping eco-responsibly. Aidan Fennessy, Ithaca College Creative Technology Specialist, held a workshop at the college with the goal of helping people learn to sew, mend or make something new.

Fennessy held her first workshop in the Makerspace Sept. 30 called “Sewing Workshop: Up-cycling and Updating.” Fennessy describes upcycling as, “taking a piece of clothing and making something new or very different with it, as opposed to altering it, you’re really creating a new piece with whatever you had before.”

Ithaca College students can use resources provided by the college to upcycle their old clothing. The Makerspace, located in Friends 102, is equipt with the tools students may need to update their wardrobe.

This was Fennessy’s first time leading a workshop and she said she would like to do it again multiple times this year. She said it was nice to see what sewing techniques people already knew and what students are interested in. Fennessy said just knowing how to mend clothing makes life easier.  

As someone who likes to sew, Fennessy finds thrifting and upcycling clothing a good way to participate in fashion without spending a lot of money.

Fennessy said she tries to thrift and it makes her feel better about what she is wearing. She said the majority of her closet is thrifted and trends still impact what she chooses to buy or how she upcycles it to some extent.

“It’s good for the environment, it’s better for the environment, at least, and there’s really no shortage of secondhand clothing,” Fennessy said. “It’s crazy how much secondhand clothing there is.”

What is fast fashion?

Oxford Languages defines fast fashion as, “inexpensive clothing produced rapidly by mass-market retailers in response to the latest trends.”

Which can generally be interpreted as, using the cheapest quality materials, lowest wages, worst working conditions and used for the shortest amount of time.

The fashion cycle typically has been geared toward the four seasons, hence why the big fashion names have fashion weeks for the two main cycles, Fall/Winter and Spring/Summer, where they debut their styles coming for the following season.

Fashion trends are “trendy” until everyone is wearing it. Then it’s time for something new and different. With the ever increasing number of online consumers, the trend cycles have accelerated.

Online retailers know this.

A chart showing the increase in online shoppers from 2016 to 2021. 209.6 million in 2016 to 230.5 million in 2021
The amount of online consumers in the U.S. has steadily increased from 2016 to 2021. Image via OBERLO

The acceleration of trend cycles has caused what is called “micro-trends.” Micro-trends are clothing items that quickly rise in popularity and then abruptly stop and become unwanted styles.

Fennessy said she tries to avoid buying anything considered to be super trendy because she feels super fast fashion cycles are the worst contributor to consumer culture.

How does this impact the environment? 

Each year, it is estimated that the fashion industry uses 93 billion cubic meters of water to produce clothing. According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the second largest industrial cause for water pollution is textile dyeing.

Once the garments have been produced, sold and worn, the pollution continues.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reported in 2018 that 11,300 million tons of textile waste was landfilled. 11,300 million tons. While it is important to note that this report does not specify what type of textile waste these items were, there may be a correlation with the amount of garments mass produced and the massive increase in waste.

Piles of garbage bags filled with discarded textiles

“Waste cloths segregated at the sanitation park, Ambikapur” by India Water Portal is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

“I watched this documentary once … I’ve watched many documentaries because [the fashion industry] is something that I am interested in, it was about the garment workers and I just remember one of them saying, `I can’t believe that people are paying pennies for things that I am bleeding over, I don’t want anyone to be wearing these clothes,’” Fennessy said. “But then, on the other hand, it’s impossible to not [consume fast-fashion] for many people.”

Leave a Comment
Donate to Ithaca Week

Your donation will support the student journalists of Ithaca College. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment and cover our annual website hosting costs.

More to Discover
Donate to Ithaca Week

Comments (0)

All Ithaca Week Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *