WLG | impact '23: Does the Earth Need to Suffer for Fashion?

When thinking about sustainability, there are obvious ways people know they can make a difference on a daily basis— recycling plastic and glass, using energy-efficient light bulbs, walking instead of driving, etc. One of the less talked about industries that has a negative impact on the environment is the fashion industry. Globally, it produces approximately 10% of all greenhouse gas emissions and 20% of all wastewater! The production of natural materials requires a lot of water and synthetic counterparts use harmful chemicals. A complex supply chain involves transporting materials and clothing products all over the globe. Add to that the fact that people generally have more clothes and keep them for a shorter period of time than previous generations. The US Environmental Protection Agency estimates that in 2018, 11.3 million tons of textiles ended up in landfills and another 2.9 million tons were burned. In that same year, only 2.5 million of the 17 million tons produced were recycled.

While thinking about my WLG | impact project, I just happened upon two recent notices in my town that led me to focus on what I could do to address this problem more thoughtfully than I have in the past. The first was a post in my social media feed introducing the new owner of a local consignment shop for women's clothing, [HS1] shoes, and accessories that said she purchased the business, in part, because of her interest in sustainability. The second was a flyer I happened to see at a collection site for a shoe drive called "Soles with a Purpose."

I reached out to the consignment shop's new owner to see if she could take some time to talk to me about sustainability and how she saw her store making a difference. I hit the jackpot. During my conversation with Lenna Storm, owner of Persimmon Consignment Boutique, I learned that she has extensive knowledge and experience in sustainability. After obtaining an undergraduate degree from Carnegie Mellon, she worked at GE, the US Department of Energy, and for a consulting firm on a project for the US Environmental Protection Agency. She felt a calling to lean more into the sustainability field and went back to school to earn a Master's Degree in Environmental Science and Policy from GMU prior to becoming the first Sustainability Director at George Mason University (GMU).

Lenna and her husband had a desire for a more rural lifestyle, which led her to my area and away from the university of 36,000+ students. While her new career endeavor may be on a smaller scale than what she left and she is new to the retail industry, she is already thinking about the bigger picture. She is considering how she can further integrate into and educate the community, recruit locals to repurpose items for sale in her store, and find new ways to increase the sustainability of the product lifecycle for items that leave her store unsold. (Currently, she donates them to a local thrift store that uses its profits to fund many local non-profits, but she wants to learn more about what they do with items that don't sell at their store.)

In addition to consigning items through and shopping at her store, to put some action into my WLG | impact project, I decided to participate in the local shoe drive organized by a local church that will repurpose gently used shoes that could benefit those in the community who need them. I'll be collecting shoes from family and friends to contribute toward this drive. I'm off to a good start just sorting through the shoes of my family of six!

For years, I've frequented brick-and-mortar and online resale shops to find used products from clothes to cars to sports equipment for my family. In addition to the sustainability aspect, these products are less expensive, and you can resell the items through the same channels once you're done with them. I also think it's fun to find clothes at resale shops that others may not have since you can't buy them new in the big box stores. My meeting with Lenna and my participation in the shoe drive have reinvigorated my desire to have my family make a continual impact by lessening our consumption of and increasing the lifespan we get out of high-polluting fashion products and accessories.

Author: Best Castro, World Law Group