Kathryn Hendry doesn’t feel pressure to buy clothes for everyday class outfits, but feels the need to update her closet yearly when it comes to “going out” tops.
“I bought new going out clothes freshman year and then again this year,” Hendry, a sophomore majoring in marketing and advertising at Syracuse University. “I feel like the cycle of trends happens faster with going out tops and it’s displayed in a more public way.”
There seems to be an unspoken pressure for students on SU’s campus to continuously buy new pieces of clothing, especially at the beginning of the school year. Students will often wear a trendy piece once before throwing it away and contributing to the 11.3 million tons of textiles the U.S. wastes each year.
“There’s a certain pressure to wear something different every time you go out. It’s stupid, but it’s a real thing,” said Michela Galego, a sophomore communications design major.
As a result of store closures during the pandemic, consumers swapped fast fashion staples like Zara and H&M for Shein, a privately owned, Chinese e-commerce site that is known for low-priced and trendy clothing.
Galego said she feels guilty for shopping at fast-fashion giants like Shein and Cider. She loves keeping up with trends and wearing new pieces out, but can’t afford to spend $60 on an Urban Outfitters top she may wear only once.
Shein is valued at $100 billion, higher than the combined worth of H&M and Zara. Each day, Shein updates their website with an average of 6,000 new styles.
“At Syracuse the shopping is very excessive, everyone is wearing the newest drops of certain brands. It’s very competitive to keep up,” said Filipa Alloul, a sophomore undecided in the College of Arts and Sciences.
Alloul shared that she used to shop at Shein during the pandemic, but stopped because of the quality of the clothing and backlash she saw across the internet about the company’s ethics.
Shein employees have been reported to work 75 hours per week in unsafe and unsanitary factories while barely making a living wage. Around 95% of Shein styles are made with some plastic-based material like polyester, nylon, acrylic or elastane. These materials make the process of recycling textile waste extremely hard and amount to the largest source of microplastic pollution in the world’s oceans.
But college students continue to shop at Shein because of the range of sizes and extremely cheap prices.
“It makes more sense for me to buy a $6 Shein top. My parents don’t fund shopping sprees,” Galego said.
In order to change the single-use relationship with clothing, Abigail Minicozzi, a junior majoring in fashion design, said it’s important to educate people on fast fashion’s ethical and environmental impact.
“Consumers often don’t think about what effort it took to make the product, what materials were used, what the working conditions were and what the pay was,” Minicozzi said.
In 2021, Minicozzi and two others opened The Cherry Pit, a curated vintage thrift store located in the basement of Wildflower Armory. The Cherry Pit has both women and unisex clothing options with lower prices across the board.
As a fashion major, Minicozzi spoke about her love for unique vintage textiles and the appreciation she feels when an item of clothing has lasted her for years on end. She loves being able to sell clothing she finds at thrift stores that may not be her style or fit.
“It’s nice to give clothes to people in a closed loop system that isn’t harmful to the environment,” Minicozzi said. “When people buy things from certain stores in the mall, they aren’t thinking about how quickly the item was made and how harmful the textiles are to the environment.”
In order to keep The Cherry Pit up to date with ever-changing trends, Minicozzi uses her walk to class as a way to gain inspiration about what other SU students are wearing. She spoke about the importance of timeless pieces that will never go out of style and can be kept for longer, like vests and belts for the fall and chunky sweaters for winter.
Louisa Friedman, a sophomore communications and rhetorical studies major, said she often rejects cheap and trendy fast-fashion brands to invest in more expensive, sustainable and higher quality pieces.
“If I am going to spend money on clothes, I might as well invest in pieces that will last me a while and actually fit me well,” Freedman said. “I wish I thrifted more, but sometimes it is very hard to find my size.”
Paul Sausville, a junior studying paper and chemical engineering at SUNY ESF, said it can be overwhelming and difficult to find specific sizes at a massive thrift store like Goodwill or Salvation Army. Thrifting at corporate locations takes time, patience and it’s often unlikely that the consumer knows where the thrift store is donating the money, Sausville said.
Sausville decided to cut out the process of rifling through unwanted clothing with his company, The Pits Vintage.
Sausville runs The Pits Vintage on Instagram and hosts pop-ups at student shows where he features pre-owned and vintage clothing pieces curated for the styles he sees SU and ESF students sport on campus.
His clothing ranges from $10 to $25 for shirts and pants and $20 to $40 for heavy winter coats.
“Buying vintage clothing is just a win, win, win for everyone,” Sausville said. “It’s cheaper than buying something new, it’s more durable than any article of fast-fashion clothing, and it’s also saving something from going to the landfill that is oftentimes only worn once.”
Sausville said he can’t even remember the last time he bought a new article of clothing. When he finds a vintage piece he loves, it is already a little worn in and has proven that it will last for years to come.
“It’s amazing that Shein clothing doesn’t fall apart when it’s being shipped,” Sausville said, immediately connecting the term fast fashion to Shein, a company from which he sees his older sister order massive hauls.
Sausville likes to think about the person behind each stitch, and wishes there were more like-minded people on campus who value the environment and ethics of a company over an $8 poorly-made sweater from Shein.
Curbing the compulsive purchasing of cheap clothing is solely in the hands of students, Minicozzi said. Understanding the disconnect between the product and consumer will slow down the cycle of trends coming in and out of closets, she said.
“Clothing used to be produced at a level where consumers bought items when they grew out of something or there was a change in season,” Minicozzi said. “I continue to see students overconsuming clothes instead of prioritizing quality materials, craftsmanship and ethics.”
Published on September 21, 2022 at 10:35 pm