Threads of Change, the Intersection of Fashion and Sustainability

Juliet Oswald models their outfit, a trendy blend of textures and patterns. Photo Credit: Sophie Goble

 As we step into the new year, January not only marks the beginning of a new semester in the rainy Pacific Northwest, but it also sets the stage for renewed aspirations and resolutions. For those looking to reinvent themselves and find new ways to express their personalities, trends in fashion have come sharply into focus. Predictions about what will become ‘in’ are already well on their way. British Vogue reports that the essence of “minimalism” and “quiet luxury” will become trendy in 2024, accompanied by pieces such as short shorts, long white dresses, polo shirts, transparent skirts, and the re-emergence of high-waisted trousers (sorry low-rise fans!) Trends come and go, but one growing fashion movement is (hopefully) here to stay: sustainability.

  Sustainability in fashion is a hot-button issue, as clothing consumption is continually increasing alongside a demand for new and evolving styles. According to environmental news website earth.org, there are 92 million tons of textile-related waste produced per year, with increasing microplastic waste and CO2 emissions. These statistics may seem dismal and may cramp your style…literally. However, it’s crucial for us to fully understand the impact we have on the wider world. Juliet Oswald (‘26) says that it’s “definitely important” to think about the sustainability of sourcing clothes, “especially in the world that we’re in today where everything is so fast paced and trends go out really quickly.” 

  If you’re into fashion, there are a multitude of ways to continue to evolve your style sustainably, whether you’re focusing on trends or not. Lexi Brewer, the Director of Sustainability, gives valuable insight into dressing sustainably. Brewer describes her style as “classic with a twist,” and she’s a big fan of Selena Gomez’s outfits on the show “Only Murders in the Building”. Instead of copying the attire directly, she takes inspiration from it and finds pieces already in her closet that allude to the original design. Maybe a skirt with a similar silhouette or a top in the same pattern. “It’s not going to look exactly the same, but it’s with things that I already have and just styled slightly differently, and that can make things feel fresh.” 

  Oswald describes her style as “early 2000’s with a little bit of Molly Ringwald thrown in,” and says they take a lot of their fashion ideas from Pinterest. Similar to Brewer, Oswald states that they recommend looking at what specifically attracts you about a style in media, such as color palettes and cuts of clothing.  Similar to Brewer, Oswald says, “I personally pull a lot from movies and media that I watched from when I was younger.” 

  Many look towards sustainably sourcing clothes from thrift stores, and buying items second hand to give them a ‘new life’ rather than buying directly from the retailer. Brewer and Oswald also suggest searching thrift stores before hitting the mall or online marketplaces. However, “unfortunately with sustainability and fashion, I really think the number one thing is that consumption piece,” Brewer explains. Overconsumption cannot be cured by shopping from the thrift store, as customers can just donate back any unwanted clothing; this does not keep clothes out of landfills. A paradigm shift in customer tendencies must occur to target the problem’s root truly. Brewer encourages each of us to begin by asking ourselves, “Is this a momentary want, or is this something that is going to remain something that I will cherish?” Oswald also reinforced this idea and encourages shoppers to stray away from “thrift mind” in which one may want to buy everything found at the thrift store because it’s cheap, regardless of whether it will be used or worn.

  Shopping sustainably comes with a high price tag, but Brewer endorses purchasing two higher quality $30 T-shirts instead of six $10 ones. When purchasing new items, Brewer recommends researching the company’s environmental policies. Greenwashing – the act of a company making a product appear less environmentally damaging than it really is, or even outright lying about their sustainability practices – is highly prevalent, especially on the internet. Utilizing websites like goodonyou.eco, which researches and rates thousands of clothing brands based on their sustainability approach, is an excellent way to avoid greenwashing scams and ensure you support companies that value the environment.

  However, shopping sustainably can also be inexpensive, exciting, and fashionable. Ana Shinal (‘23) considers herself a follower of Puget Sound fashion trends, like quirky sweaters and overalls. She explains how her style has evolved since moving to Tacoma from Berkeley, California. “I feel like I dress more like myself now.” She describes her style as “crunchy, comfy, and a little bit of flair.” That certainly manifests in her current outfit, as she rocks a well-loved Monterey Bay Aquarium crewneck and adorns her ears with an eclectic collection of earrings. Her one rule? No sweatpants. 

  Shinal clarifies that she felt less comfortable sourcing her pieces from thrift or vintage stores a couple of years ago. “My friends and I didn’t shop vintage or thrift as much as we should have in high school, and I feel like there’s just a lot of weird social pressures about having new clothes and that kind of thing that I grew up around,” she says. Now, Shinal’s default shopping destination is the Goodwill Bins, as it is economically and environmentally friendly. 

  While re-wearing clothes may have been destigmatized on campus, it is essential to note this is not the global norm. “I think it’s very on trend in the bubble we are in,” Shinal states. She recalled a story from her friend studying abroad. “My best friend who was abroad, someone in her cohort, in her program, who was from somewhere else, was like, ‘I think thrifting is gross. I don’t know why everyone’s so obsessed with it right now.’” Reusing and repurposing are certainly in the limelight, but the movement has yet to garner complete acceptance. Shinal echoes a sentiment similar to Lexi Brewer’s: “If you’re buying something new, think about why you’re buying it. Do you need it?”

  Oswald says that accessories are the key if you’re into fashion trends, emphasizing the fact that many trends are focused on the small things and that there is no need to buy a whole new wardrobe. However, trends aren’t everything and don’t ‘make’ fashion. Oswald points out the value of creating your own style and encourages people to “wear what’s fun, and what you want to wear.”

  Additionally, Oswald says one thing they would like to see in the next year in regards to fashion is the act of customizing clothes, such as adding piercings, ink stamps, and other artistic touches on t-shirts and tank tops. Not only is this practice sustainable, as you can thrift tops, it adds a unique piece of clothing that you will most likely wear over and over again. 

  Whether you’re an avid New York Fashion Week follower, exclusively wearing Patagonia, or sourcing all your clothes from your grandmother’s closet, there are always ways to live more sustainably. Thrifting, mending, and attending clothing swaps are top-notch ways to level up your outfit’s eccentricity and lower your closet’s climate footprint. Outside of fashion, there are myriad ways to lessen your negative environmental impact, from bringing a reusable cup to Divs to using all the ingredients you buy and reducing food waste. So, while revamping your closet for 2024, consider some sustainable approaches to incorporating trends and finding your style.