The thoughtful thrifter
On Aug. 27, 2012, Macklemore released his hit single, “Thrift Shop.” In it, the Seattle-raised rapper lists the gems he’s discovered at his local thrift store, from a leopard-print mink to a flannel button-up donated by someone’s grandpa. He pities all the jerks who waste money on designer clothes and flexes by telling us how little his pre-worn pieces cost (“I’m gonna pop some tags / Only got $20 in my pocket”). Bragging about saving money was a massive lyrical departure for the mainstream rap of 2012 — the year’s other chart-topping songs included Drake’s “Started From the Bottom,” an anthem for getting rich or dying trying. Still, “Thrift Shop” soared high, spending six weeks at the number-one spot on the Billboard Hot 100.
“Thrift Shop” didn’t do well in spite of its anti-mass market messaging; it did well because of it. Just two years into the second decade of the millennium, the youth of America were ready to embrace a new form of conspicuous consumption, one that finds more allure in a pair of old gator shoes than a $50 T-shirt.
The 2010s introduced the U.S. to a wave of conscious consumerism. National media warned us to watch out for greenwashing, or misguided marketing schemes from corporations hoping to appear eco-friendly. Once a burden to mass production, sustainability became the focus of a new generation of Instagram-friendly clothing brands like Reformation and Girlfriend Collective. Perhaps the most accessible sustainable practice to gain traction during the decade? Secondhand shopping.
From 2010 to 2019, my wardrobe has transformed from a collection of mall-purchased clothes to a mish-mash of mostly preowned pieces. If my estimates are right, I’ve purchased no more than 30 new garments in the decade, which isn’t a lot considering I went through puberty during that time frame. In my 10 years shopping at predominantly vintage and thrift establishments, I’ve come to the conclusion that there are three kinds of secondhand shoppers: those who know it’s the most sustainable way to shop, those who want to save money and those who, like Macklemore, just want to wear your grandad’s clothes. All are valid reasons to choose used over new clothing, and they’re not mutually exclusive. You can thrift because you fear climate change and because you’re tight on funds and because you love the look of an ’80s windbreaker.
As the 2010s draw to a close and the impacts of climate change become more dire, I realize that no motive for secondhand shopping is more dignified than the next. If you’re doing it, you’re hurting the earth a little bit less than you could be. It doesn’t matter why.
— Tess Garcia, Daily Style Writer
The cosmetic connoisseur
The past decade has witnessed a shift in consumer preferences to beauty products that are better for the environment and society. The 2010s saw us moving toward brands that contain more ethically sourced, natural ingredients that provide sustainable packaging. The decade started off with companies prioritizing performance above all else, characterized by color cosmetics and pop looks. However, the beauty industry shifted gears some time in the past few years, and the spotlight shifted to clean ingredients, “no-makeup” looks and more positive associations with concepts like the aging of the body. This is reflected by the changing popularity of brands, as shown by companies like Glossier and Philosophy gaining traction while demand for traditional industry leaders like Olay and Estée Lauder has slowed down. Additionally, terms such as “sustainable,” “ethical” and “vegan” are now more commonplace than ever, with a 175 percent increase in the launch of vegan products between 2013 and 2018. However, the impact of these shifts has been restricted by a single factor: the price tag. Even in 2019, the most popular products that meet the golden trifecta of being clean, ethical and sustainable tend to be way out of the price range for an ordinary college student. When I step into a Sephora, the products I buy are primarily determined by their affordability despite wanting to use products that are also socially responsible. Even basic skincare products like cleansers that hit all the desired check marks can end up being priced upwards of $40, which, by default, eliminates a large portion of society. I acknowledge that part of the high price is due to the increased cost of ethically sourced ingredients. Consequently, the cost of production tends to be higher and some might even argue that we should be willing to spend more to ensure that labor across the world is better treated and products are cruelty free. However, the truth is that not everyone has the economic freedom to do so, and unreasonably high prices also stem from the appearance of prestige that is associated with some of these brands like Tata Harper.
Thus, I believe that as we step into the next decade, the beauty industry’s new focus should be accessibility and inclusivity. There are many brands already working on this mission such as “The Ordinary” that uses very few ingredients and is super affordable while mass companies such as Dove have moved to 100 percent recycled packaging. However, there are so many companies entering the field like ‘Captain Blankenship’ that are unheard of or are unable to thrive. The latter could be due to a combination of factors such as lack of awareness and inability to compete against some of the beauty giants, which plays into the lack of inclusive options. The beauty industry is not saved from the basic laws of business, so if we were to continue demanding accessibility as well as better standards from all brands, change will materialize.
— Priydarshini Gouthi, Daily Style Writer
The recycling repairwoman
Sustainable clothing is not merely a fad used to make high-class people feel less elitist. Repurposing clothing is not an activity Social Justice Warriors do for fun to make themselves feel better among their Twitter posse. The carbon footprint of the 2010s grew alongside its increase in clothing production. The clothing industry is the second largest polluter in the world, coming only after oil. The primary culprit behind this is a seemingly innocent commodity: cotton. The production of one kilogram of cotton requires 20,000 liters of water and an immense number of pesticides and insecticides. To make matters worse, millions of trees are cut down in the farming lands of Australia, Mexico and Central Asia to create space for the increased demand of clothing. And this is just cotton. The fashion industry’s relationship with the environment only gets more toxic.
The dyes that are used to give clothing its vibrant colors take up an incredible amount of water and then are incorrectly discarded, causing approximately “40,000 pounds of dye to enter the water system each year.”
How did fashion’s impact on the environment get so much worse in the 2010s? The demand for affordable “fast fashion” increased, and instead of producing two collections a year, brands produced five or more. Zara stands out with its 24 collections produced this year. Producing more clothing to meet increasing demands often results in the supply surpassing the demand. The fate of this extra supply? It goes to the ever-growing dump. The question begs, why does the fashion industry continue to increase its supply exponentially each year when the primary recipient of this clothing is the garbage?
The central cause of climate change is the ever-growing CO2 emissions that our industries produce. The fashion industry takes blame for this as well. According to the Pulse of Fashion report, the clothing industry emitted 1,715 million tonnes of CO2 in 2015 alone.
The primary culprit behind these harmful practices are fast fashion companies. According to Vox, this includes companies that we all know and love such as Zara, H&M, Forever 21, Fashion Nova and Boohoo. These companies are notorious producing a massive amount of clothing using cheap fabrics, like cotton, to knock down their prices. To top it off, these companies are not only toxic to the environment but also subject their laborers to poor working conditions.
It’s no exaggeration to say that sustainable clothing quite literally gives Mother Earth a hug. As opposed to harmful cotton, sustainable fabrics like bamboo and hemp result in less carbon being emitted and water and pesticides being used. Furthermore, it’s more durable, so it’s not contributing to that terrifying and ever-growing dump.
One of the most popular sustainable brands is Patagonia. Not only does this company produce clothing with sustainable fabrics and methods, but it also sells worn wear. ‘Worn wear’ refers to used Patagonia products from either customers or the company’s own distribution website that are now being resold. To clean the clothing, the company uses a liquified CO2 technology that reclaims 98 percent of the emissions and uses no water. Furthermore, Patagonia emphasizes the process of “repairing” their clothing instead of throwing it out and gives step by step tutorials on how to do so.
Yes, sustainable clothing is more expensive, but the benefits outweigh the price. In case you haven’t noticed, we’re in the midst of a climate emergency: do your part.
And if that doesn’t convince you; that fast fashion T-shirt you just bought for 10 bucks is going to last you one year while slightly more expensive, sustainable shirts will last ten.
— Sophia Hughes, Daily Style Writer
The mindful materialist
In 2010, there were feathers, there were prints and let us never forget the true star of the year: Jeggings, aka, jeans with just enough elastic, yet the finish of denim — barely acceptable for public wear.
Leggings, a modern staple for layering and integrating bold colors and patterns into everyday looks, took off early in 2010. From clothing lines for children and youth to the ready-to-wear runway, these fitted polyester pieces were a versatile, comfortable alternative to traditional denim or khakis and have since integrated into everyday fashion and athleisure. When thinking of the evolution of leggings and the fashion industry as a whole since 2010 — painful, I know — there were unthinkable prints, fits and the underlying truth that these polyester, nylon and cotton blended garments would ultimately end up ripped, shoved in the back of a drawer or, as the age of consumption flourished, replaced by a new pair as trends and personal tastes evolved.
What’s the point? you ask. Your 2010, fifth grade self bought your first leggings at Justice or Target, and as a real adult, you matured to bigger and better stretchy endeavors thanks to Lululemon. But another difference between the leggings of 2010 and 2019 rests in sustainability, a movement practically unheard of in 2010 — one that currently saturates almost every conversation of fashion consumption.
Brands, many of them athletic, are influencing consumers to buy consciously from the ethically and sustainably managed companies that produce environmentally friendly garments. Thanks to Girlfriend Collective, you can look chic during your workout while also saving plastic bottles from the ocean, then recycle your bottle-made leggings when you’re done with them through ReGirlfriend — all of this and a rainbow of to-die-for colors.
Outdoor Voices is taking the same sporty approach to sustainability, inspiring the masses to start #DoingThings, while wearing recycled and ethically sourced leggings, sweatshirts, joggers and sports bras.
While the above examples are both for athletic wear, the sustainability movement does not stop there. In fact, today in 2019, sustainable fashion brands run the gamut from Reformation to Target’s Universal Thread line, with even Zara committing to using 100 percent sustainable fabrics by 2025. Copenhagen-based clothing brand Mads Norgaard buys 50 percent more carbon credits than used and recently teamed with Herman Miller’s textile sector, Kvadrat Maharam, to upcycle old denim into a new textile collection called Really.
Choosing sustainable brands doesn’t mean sacrificing your style or breaking the bank. Unlike in 2010, the trend is knowing where the clothes we put on our backs are coming from, and how we can keep these materials within a circular, reusable, cycle. Knowing a material’s effect on the Earth and thinking critically about where a garment is sourced and what it is made of is an act of fashion in and of itself. So, if you must shop, shop smarter: Why drink from plastic bottles when you could wear them instead?
— Margaret Sheridan, Style Beat Editor
The big picture
It comes as no surprise that millenials and members of Generation Z have been socialized into a sort of sartorial growth orientation. While we’re the most environmentally conscious class of consumers, we still operate under the same more-is-more capitalistic mindset that reigns supreme, and we’re subjected to increasing amounts of stimuli with the passing of each day. Online marketplaces become exponentially easier to navigate the more we use them, which also means that we consume more and more while expecting to spend within our stagnating means and the debt structures that they can support. What we wear is always going to be a massive part of our identity because it’s always going to be the most easily recognizable and accessible means of taking up space in one’s environment: I wear x to communicate y in the hopes that z. New sustainable technologies will continue to develop in response to the increasingly evident threat that our world may become uninhabitable in the relatively near future, but consumer behavior has to change in order for any real progress to take place.
It can be hard to believe that sustainability is anything more than a word that gets thrown around as a co-opted marketing strategy used by corporate behemoths, or an ideology that you can align yourself with, only to find out that thrifting doesn’t help when the vast majority of donated clothes wind up in a landfill. The persistent fervor for the new and various could very well turn what was once breathable air into a designer knockoff inferno, and it would be everyone’s fault. Fire and brimstone aside, there are shifts that can still happen, even on an individual level. Obviously, not everyone can afford to buy ethically made clothing that’s been produced in small batches. In fact, that’s barely manageable for the vast majority of people, but we can define ourselves through our clothing in a way that isn’t wasteful. We can look at our purchases, often vital expressions of self during a time in our lives when resources are so finite, as building blocks of the people we’ve become. If we can stop evolving through trial and error, but rather by appreciating and viewing bringing new things into our wardrobe as actions with real permanence, then maybe there’s hope for us after all.
— Sam Kremke, Daily Style Writer