By Tessa Dufore, Lann Nguyen and Kristine Pascual, May 9, 2023
Large machines whirred as students from Cal Poly Pomona’s Apparel Merchandising and Management program worked on their final projects of the semester.
In what AMM calls the “workshop” are lines of industrial sewing machines free for students to use for school or personal projects. Reflecting the program curriculum, these projects consider global supply chains and the ethical and environmental effects of the garment industry.
In the back of the room lies a huge bin exploding with colorful scraps nearby stores donate. Students are encouraged to salvage all types of fabric in the bin such as Jacquard tapestry or satin, utilizing existing materials created by fast fashion and otherwise.
AMM Professor Chitra Dabas spoke about the dangers of throwing away fabric. She urged consumers to be more aware of their purchases and where the pieces eventually end up post consumption.
“We have increasing textile waste in landfills in the U.S.,” Dabas said. “In the past years, the U.S. has added so much that other countries have accepted it in return for some trade favors.”
AMM Lecturer Nichole Dwyer explained why fast fashion has become as big as it is.
“I personally wish it (fast fashion) wasn’t introduced to the level it has become,” Dwyer said. “We’ve definitely exploited a lot of people and cultures around the world, unfortunately, as a result of capitalism. It’s this level of immediacy, and it’s cultural, societal conditioning that has been perpetrated to create that motivation.”
Along with post-consumption effects on the planet, garment workers are affected as well.
“Sustainability can impact garment workers and the ethical environment in which we are producing and sourcing from an actual worker, giving them a living wage, a safe environment to work in, not exploiting them,” Dwyer said.
Purchasing staple pieces rather than trendy items is one ethical way to engage with the garment industry.
For Dwyer, this list of staple pieces includes cardigans, blazers, denim, classic cocktail dress, leather motorcycle jacket, classic pumps, stiletto pumps and pearls.
Navigating fast fashion and trends can be difficult and overwhelming, but Los Angeles is a convenient place to live in as it is the home to the fashion district as well as many thrift stores and flea markets.
“Los Angeles is the hub of the fashion industry, one of the major cities, it’s in our backyard,” Dwyer said. “So there’s more access to trendy, fashionable merchandise.”
Secondhand shopping has popularized in the last few years. Dabas noted it appears younger generations are educating themselves on the issue and doing their part in shopping more sustainably.
“I love the fact that the younger generation is very active in thrifting and that may or may not have to do with their need to be sustainable necessarily, maybe just the resources of money because students have less money,” Dabas said.
Consumers find that sustainable businesses are hard to come by amid fast fashion tycoons, green washing and the tens of thousands of tons of garments which are filling landfills day by day and devastating the environment.
AMM professors are teaching the garment industry’s next generation about sustainability, a lesson which students are taking to heart.
One such AMM student, Isaiah Wallis, is preparing to make a career out of sustainable fashion and running his own business, From Zay W/ Love.
Wallis has been customizing clothes for years. He started his journey by making a jacket out of pants. A year into school, his skills advanced, and he challenged himself to do more detailed hand sewing.
“I wanted to challenge myself to create more clothes sustainably and reduce the environmental impacts of the fashion industry through upcycling and making alterations to existing clothes instead of buying new pieces,” Wallis said.
He wants to find a way to run a business successfully through implementing better practices like altered dyes and better treatment for garment workers. Some of his garments are even zero waste.
Wallis shared eco-friendly tips like washing clothes in cold water, using detergents safe for the skin, air drying clothes instead of using a tumble dryer and more.
“Steaming clothes is a good alternative for clothing items such as jackets that don’t need to be washed as often because they don’t touch your skin so they can stay fresh without throwing them in the washer after every wear,” Wallis added.
Thrifting is a more sustainable option according to Wallis. Secondhand clothes, especially quality and high-end brands that will last longer, can be an alternative to supporting fast fashion even though it may be tempting due to the cheap prices.
AMM program students like Wallis are learning how to turn their passion for fashion into the next generation of more sustainable practices while also keeping in mind the bottom line of a business.
While AMM gives students existing tools to save the world, Dwyer said it is important to make room for ethical innovation.
“I don’t think the fast fashion industry is definitely going to go away,” Dwyer said. “I think we need to figure out new processes, new formulas, new ways of working so that we’re doing it in a less compromising way.”
Feature image courtesy of Kristine Pascual
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