Students need to thrift, shop sustainably for new clothes

Alyssa Jingling

A new school year brings fresh new looks to show off. These looks, however, often use a lot of harmful plastic that fill our landfills and pollute our water. As we shop for new clothes this year, it is important that we ensure our fashion is sustainable.

“The majority of the fashion business uses a linear production model: make, use, dispose,” Peggy Blum, textiles and apparel lecturer and a sustainable-fashion consultant, said in an email.

According to Blum, 98 million tons of nonrenewable resources go into the textile industry annually. Less than 1 percent of the material used to make our clothing is recycled, and 87 percent is sent to landfills or incinerated.

Almost all of our clothing is nonrenewable. It’s up to us to reuse our clothes whenever possible before we toss them.

Cory Skuldt, sustainability consultant at FWD Impact, suggested in an email to shop your own closet first. After you figure out a way to rewear some old pieces, Skuldt says to “use the money you’ve saved to invest in a quality piece you’ll wear for a long time.” According to Skuldt, we never wear 80 percent of our wardrobe. Try layering new items together, or mixing prints that you normally wouldn’t. You can also cut down old jeans into shorts, or old shirts into muscle tees or crop tops.

If you’ve already gone through your old clothes and still need something new, try thrifting. Not only is it cheaper, but you can also find quirky and vintage stuff that feels right at home in Austin. “One of the best, easiest and most affordable ways to be sustainable is to shop second-hand, keeping existing clothes in use rather than producing more,” Skuldt wrote. There are plenty of cool thrift shops for students to visit in Austin, such as Treasure City and Buffalo Exchange, in addition to online stores such as ThredUp.

But even if you buy secondhand, clothes eventually need to be thrown out once they become worn down or damaged. When buying new clothes, consider the eventual end of their life by choosing more natural fabrics.

“You may have heard about plastic — especially micro plastics — polluting our ocean,” Skuldt wrote, “but did you know that polyester clothing may be the biggest source of that pollution? Skuldt explains that when we produce and wash polyester, “it sheds plastic fibers that get into our water supply, and eventually our food supply.”

Blum encourages students to read clothing labels for natural materials, such as cotton, linen, silk, wool, hemp and bamboo. Because these are natural textiles that come from plants, the fibers won’t break down into harmful chemicals when they enter our landfills and water systems.

Eventually, you will need to start building up a professional wardrobe for your post-college career. By investing in timeless, classy pieces, you will shop less, purchase more natural fabrics and build a mature wardrobe.

Sometimes the responsible option is not the fun one. However, thrift shopping can be a blast. By buying secondhand, you can hunt for the most fun and unique pieces while also saving money and helping the planet. You can also shop sustainably by investing in long-lasting natural pieces. Next time you revamp your wardrobe, be conscious of your choices and look for sustainable pieces. 

Jingling is an English junior from Georgetown.