Madelyn Meagher, who at the time was a freshman at Brooklyn College, designed this line. Pictured are Madelyn, Andrew, Richie, Anna, and Shenal (Not pictured is Jessica).
By Angela Chi
First Year In College: Learning Phase
During my first semester as a Macaulay Honors student at Hunter College, I wanted to freshen up my wardrobe. I was entering a chapter of my educational career and it seemed rightful that my wardrobe should reflect that. Living in the heart of New York City means that there isn’t any outlet malls nearby so I quickly realized that the only clothing stores I could really afford were H&M and Forever21. While I was shopping, I stopped dead in my tracks, clutching a fitted baby blue t-shirt. I started thinking to myself: How is it possible that a brand new shirt could cost JUST five dollars? It wasn’t even on sale. I thought back to my high school economics class. Mr. Mooney, my economics teacher, would always remind us: “There is no such thing as a free lunch”. In other words, nothing is truly free —everything comes with a cost. So this got me thinking, if I’m not paying the cost, then who is?
I started scavenging Google for answers. I attended a couple of sustainable fashion events, and watched a documentary called Riverblue. I wanted to learn as much as I could. We, the U.S., outsource almost all of our clothing production to other countries like Bangladesh, China, India, and Vietnam, and then as a result, these countries are left with the environmental, social, and financial burden of fast fashion. According to Levi Strauss & Co.’s own research study in 2015 life cycle assessment, between the water needed for the fiber (cotton), fabric assembly, transporting, packaging, and consumer care (amount of water used to wash a pair of jeans until the end of its life) making one pair of Levi’s jeans consumes around 3,781 liters of water (approximately 1000 gallons of water). Other sources estimate that a pair a jeans intakes upwards of 1,800 gallons of water. Although these numbers may vary, they both tell the same story. One pair of jeans uses a mindblowing abundance of freshwater. Yet surprisingly, that statistic barely scratches the surface of the fast fashion problem.
Change Starts With Yourself
I was overwhelmed and frankly appalled by this new information I learned about the fashion industry. I felt guilty because I was part of the problem. As a consumer, I largely contributed to the unsustainable fashion industry by purchasing so many pieces of clothing from fast fashion stores like H&M and Forever21. While stylish new clothes were nice, albeit sometimes expensive, I didn’t want to continue as a passive consumer anymore. I wanted to be a part of the solution, so I began by changing my own behaviors. I stopped buying new clothes. I realized that with every purchase, I am using money to cast a ballot for who and what company I am supporting. If I really needed more clothes, I decided to get them from thrift stores. However, as the daughter of Asian immigrants, I struggled to convince my parents to let me thrift my new clothes. Not only did they think that I would contract skin diseases, but they also interpreted buying second-hand clothing as an attack on their pride. My parents worked incredibly hard to ensure that our family would never have to resort to buying old clothes. However, I managed to get around to thrifting by telling them that I was designing and upcycling clothes, and that if they bought me new clothes, I would merely cut them up to redesign them. Upcycling clothing is the idea of taking old materials and transforming them into something more stylish and/or wearable hence reducing textile waste. During my freshman year of college, I bought my first sewing machine and learned how to use it through watching Youtube videos and reading through the sewing machine manual. The possibilities are endless with what you could do with just some old clothes.
First Annual Eco Fashion Expo
Back in high school, I was a hardcore STEM student so pursuing fashion was merely a dream for another lifetime. But last year, with all of this newfound knowledge about the fashion industry, I wanted to share and inspire other students to rethink “waste” through a large scale project—an eco-fashion show. Even though I had absolutely no experience with fashion, I still wanted to organize one. Therefore, I started talking to as many students and professionals as I could about how to run a fashion show. I was lucky enough to meet Mike, the former-president of the Hunter Sustainability Project (HSP), who told me about the Green Initiative Fund (TGIF). This grant provides funding for sustainability projects at Hunter College which ended up funding our entire project. Around this same time, I also approached Janette, my next door neighbor at the dorms, about the idea of running a fashion show. She just so happened to love fashion, but never had a real excuse to pursue it. Together, Janette and I built an incredible group of designers, models, and team members in which we now know to be the Eco Fashion Expo.
Since Hunter College isn’t an arts and design school, many of our designers have never even touched a sewing machine before. However, over the course of three months we taught each other what we knew, and our 11 designers each created a line of 5 to 7 pieces for the show. All of the designs were made from old materials, ranging from old curtains to second hand clothes to garbage bags. As for myself, I co-designed a line of clothes with my incredibly talented friend Soon-hee. Our clothing line incorporated the styles of Chinese characters, street-wear, and business wear. After 7 months of planning, filling out paperwork, finding vendors, designing, and many many late-nights, we put on a sold-out fashion show. I am truly blessed to be a part of such an incredible team and have so much support from my friends.
#efe Moving Forward
After getting a taste of last year’s show, we wanted to make this year’s show even better by reaching a larger audience. This year, our team not only consists of Hunter students, but also students from Brooklyn College, Baruch College, City College, NYU, Parsons, and FIT. We are going to start offering more resources to students that want to create their own upcycling projects but don’t know where to even begin. Most importantly, a major change this year is that we are going to self-fund the fashion show, so look out for our GoFundMe page which will help support our second annual Eco Fashion Expo fashion show during mid-April of 2019.
What You Can Do to Get Involved
You can follow us through our journey on our Instagram @ecofashionexpo. We also have a Facebook page, Linkedin page, and Youtube channel all under the name Eco Fashion Expo! If you have any upcycling projects you are working on, feel free to tag us, we would love to feature your work on our page. Also if you have questions on how to get started on a project, we are just a message away! We are currently recruiting designers, so if you are interested in designing email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or fill out our application on www.ecofashionexpo.com!