Sustainable Fashion's Impact in Ithaca


Video Package on Sew Green, a reuse store in Downtown Ithaca

When people stroll through the mall, in and out of stores like H&M or Forever 21, they're focused on getting as much as they can for a low price — the last thing on their mind is how their clothes are produced or why they are so cheap.

What is fast fashion?

Fast fashion is when brands create cheaply made clothing and sell it at low prices to target consumers. Consumers justify these purchases due to the low prices, with the mindset, “Oh, how can I pass this up? I’ll definitely wear it at least once,” but due to the low quality, end up getting rid of the item.

Stores like H&M are famous for fast fashion practices. They take designer trends from the runway and create them cheaply in factories so that they are more accessible for the everyday consumer. While this may seem appealing to the consumer at first, it is actually incredibly damaging to the environment.

According to Emerging Designers Get Exposed (EDGE), an organization that works to give a voice to designers, the fashion industry worldwide is valued at over three trillion dollars and accounts for two percent of the world’s overall gross domestic product, and they are one of the largest polluters, second only to oil.

What can we do?

Companies like Patagonia have been advocates of a practice called sustainable fashion since the 1990s. They work to produce clothing from recycled materials, and counteract fast fashion with a practice fittingly named, slow fashion. Clothes are ideally produced ethically and ideally in the U.S., where labor practices are better than those in third world countries.

What are people in the Ithaca community doing?

Cornell University’s fashion department has done work to ensure that their students understand the importance of sustainable practices in the industry and have applied for grants through the Environmental Protection Agency to fund research.

Susan Ashdown, professor fiber science and apparel design at Cornell, has worked with her students and colleagues to make more people aware of the issue of fast fashion.

“Just as with fast food where we crave sugar, fat, and ridiculously low prices due to our physiological makeup, we crave novel fashion due to our psychological makeup as humans,” Ashdown said.

Stores in downtown Ithaca have been pioneering sustainable practices as well. Sew Green is a reuse fabric and clothing store downtown that also offers classes teaching youth how to make their own clothes. They focus on keeping materials that are donated to them out of landfills, and in 2015 were able to save 20 tons

of materials from going to waste.

Willow Boutique, another store downtown that is owned by Laura Bishop, focuses on goods that are made sustainably and are for a social good. Brands like Live Lokai, which donates 10 percent of their net profits to a chosen charity.

“But just as we can recognize that a diet of cheap sugar and fat is not good for us and can find happiness in local, healthy food, we can recognize that cheap fast fashion constructed overseas is not good for the planet or our own psychological health." -- Susan Ashdown

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© 2016 by Tara Stacy