Sustainable fashion rising in popularity
by Chelsea Brooks
When Carmen Hagan sets off down King Street for some retail therapy, she doesn't head to Urban Outfitters or H&M.
She goes straight to the closest thrift store or to a friend’s clothing sale for items she knows have been used and can be used again - maybe even for a different purpose.
Hagan, a senior at the College of Charleston, is enthusiastic about her ability to shop sustainably with these various Charleston vendors.
“There are also always events going on downtown, so you have to look for these happening on campus. I mean, the College of Charleston hosts so many events,” Hagan explained. “You always see on Instagram different vintage markets and pop-ups around the peninsula. The Sustainable Fashion Club also hosts events almost every week.”
Not only does Charleston offer many greener ways to shop, but the college itself also enables these decisions as Hagan reiterated.
As more attention is paid to sustainability in our economy, fashion is among the primary targets.
In fact, the U.S. Census Bureau found that 62% of Gen Z and millennial consumers look for items secondhand before purchasing an item new. About 46% consider how much the item could be resold for before buying.
In the Charleston area particularly, vintage pop-up shops and second-hand sellers can be seen around the city and on social media.
“84 Flea is really awesome and Red Rose Vintage is another favorite,” Hagan shared. “It’s really nice to support these small brands and locals that are selling upcycled clothes.”
College students in the city and across the country are opting for green tags, but what constitutes sustainability to them?
“Sustainability means to stretch resources out for as long as our world possibly can, and to make sure future generations can use the resources that we use today,” Hagan said. “That can be water, plastic bags, clothes… that can be a lot of different things that you can keep upcycling and passing down to the next generation.”
Genevieve Bushey, another senior at the College of Charleston, explained how she practices sustainability in her own life.
“I opt for brands like Free People and Reformation that are based solely on sustainable practices, like using sustainable warehouses and making sure that they’re not polluting the environment. No Shein, no Princess Polly, and no Fashion Nova for me,” Bushey explained.
Outside of Charleston, individuals are finding new ways to rethink their wardrobes by getting creative with their sustainable efforts.
Kiley Woods, founder and designer of Peaches Clothing, perfectly exemplifies this. Woods redefines sustainable style as a 21-year-old entrepreneur.
For Woods, sustainability is a lifestyle choice. A choice she's decided to make her career.
“I used to cut up my old clothes or my dad’s big sweatshirts and learned how to sew by piecing them back together or making them into something new,” Woods explained. “The business aspect came when I started college and really learned about how to run your own business.”
Starting a clothing label amidst a global pandemic is a feat within itself- so is making the label entirely sustainable.
“There are many ways for larger businesses to remain sustainable but for me, I responsibly source fabric and repurpose clothing that I thrift. I have zero waste and I also contribute a portion of my sales to Next Generation Carbon Removal.”
People like Woods are making sustainable efforts in their own lives, and they're making these choices accessible to others.
Heather Thompson founded her business, Cole House, specifically to make sustainability stylish and readily available.
“I think the inspiration behind Cole House is the idea that something old can be made new again in a really cool and unique way. The constant mix of high and low,” Thompson stated. “Showing people how things can be slightly tweaked to give them a whole new life is what it’s all about for me.”
Outside of her brand, Thompson practices sustainability like other young adults with this increasing interest.
“Sustainability for me is a constant effort, whether it be choosing paper over plastic or not participating in a trend because you think you will only wear that item of clothing once or twice,” Thompson said. “Consumption is probably the biggest way I practice sustainability, by choosing to shop as ethically as I can, not supporting mass-produced fast fashion companies when possible, and supporting smaller brands that I know are made ethically and responsibly.”
People contend that many sustainable clothing lines can get expensive and are intimidated by the prices. For college students specifically, shopping fast fashion mega giants is often the easiest route.
“When you go into H&M, the green tag is always twice the price and that can be a little difficult- especially for college kids,” Hagan argued.
Although this is the case with many clothing lines, sustainable shopping can arguably be made easy as long as the proper resources are readily available.
For instance, Thompson suggested second-hand shopping through apps like Depop and Poshmark that are favored by many and have made shopping online consciously more feasible.
Going thrift shopping and to second-hand events are other, in-person modes of spending in an ethical manner.
“Start joining clubs and ask your friends to join too. Make it a day to go to a secondhand shop together. Go shopping and make it fun to thrift or check out different markets downtown,” Hagain exclaimed. “Sustainable shopping is easy. It’s simple and cheap once you start getting the hang of it- and it’s fun!”