As the temperatures rise, retailers rush to line their shelves with the latest spring and summer fashion trends. But before you hit the mall, Laurier students Kloe Moore, Kristina Iaccino and Rachel Bingham ask that you consider the long-term impact of your potential purchases.
The senior students investigated the socio-environmental dangers of the so-called fast-fashion industry the capstone course of Laurier’s Community Engagement Option. A newer segment of the apparel industry, fast-fashion brands manufacture runway-inspired looks quickly and for much less than the designer labels. While lower price points may be attractive, the actual costs of the cheap goods are dangerously high.
Infringing on human rights, working conditions in garment factories in developing countries are poor – and in some cases, fatal – as seen in the 2013 collapse of a garment factory in Bangladesh. More than 1,100 workers were killed at the factory that produced clothing for fast fashion brands, including pants for a popular Canadian clothier.
“I’ve made the connection between situations like a garment factory collapsing and knowing I’ve purchased that clothing brand,” said Iaccino. “I’m far more mindful of what I buy now.”
Environmental issues can also be overlooked by the fast-fashion industry. The student group found the textile industry to be the second largest global polluter, next to oil, as it creates a massive carbon footprint for products that are ultimately discarded. Moore and Bingham reported that Canadians produce enough textile waste to fill the Rogers Centre stadium in Toronto three times over. Clothing in landfills leaches methane, breeds mould or doesn’t break down at all – as in the case of synthetic materials.
And while donating clothing to developing countries seems like a socially responsible idea, it’s a practice that can infringe on their economies and cultural identities, say the students.
“The impact of fast fashion and over-production is a global problem,” said Moore. “Conveying the benefits of reusing items and not needing to buy new all the time is so important.”
Moore, Iaccino and Bingham presented their research findings to students at Resurrection Catholic Secondary School in Kitchener, where they led a workshop on textile repurposing. The group aimed to inspire high school students, a target market of the fast-fashion industry, to consider repurposing before purchasing new.
In true Golden Hawk fashion (no pun intended), more Laurier students are working to address the effects of excess textile waste.
Two student groups have partnered with Laurier’s Sustainability Office to divert unwanted clothing and household items from landfills through the university’s Move Out program. Launched in 2016, the program provides students with a responsible recycling outlet for items no longer needed as they leave campus for the summer.
The EcoHawks, a green-minded student group at Laurier’s Waterloo and Brantford campuses, and the student Sustainability Council, collect clothing and other goods for three potential destinations:
“The fashion industry isn’t top of mind when people think of key sustainability issues,” said Claire Bennett, manager of Laurier’s Sustainability Office. “We applaud the work our students do to shed light on this issue and reduce their carbon footprint.”
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