Sustainability in Style: How UGA organizations are encouraging ethical consumption
Monday, April 5, 2021
Sustainability in style: How UGA organizations are reimagining consumption
A lightly worn pair of Oboz hiking boots — a new pair could retail for more than $100. On Poshmark, a resell website, they sit at around $60.
But in room 278 of the MLC on a Friday between 10:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m., a lucky patron took those boots home for free.
That’s the magic of the Swap Shop. It’s a new initiative at the University of Georgia this semester from students Avery Lumsden and Jenna Franke, funded by a Campus Sustainability Grant. The concept itself has existed at other schools and cities, including right here in Athens. A “Free and Trade Only” Facebook group for Athens and surrounding cities hosts over 8,000 members. The student organization Fair Fashion UGA is also hosting a clothing swap on April 10.
This concept takes the second of the three R’s, reuse, to a new level. It’s encouraging people to reuse on a community level. Instead of buying a new item, you can swap an item you already have for an entirely “new-to-you” item.
“Creating a culture of reusing these items and giving something a second life, whether that be in your own life or someone else’s life through a thrift store or a swap shop — that’s so important,” Lumsden said. “That’s what the core of the Swap Shop is in my eyes.”
Starting the swap
Avery and Jenna joined forces only a weekend before the Campus Sustainability Grant proposal was due.
Avery wanted to incorporate the project into her Office of Sustainability Zero Waste internship while Jenna was inspired by swap shops at other universities. Both knew they couldn’t do it alone, and Tyra Byers, director of the Sustainability Certificate, connected the two.
The Swap Shop held its soft opening on March 5, and they’ve conducted nearly 60 swaps so far. The grant funded the basic infrastructure of the shop, including shelves and clothing racks bought secondhand.
COVID-19 also played an unexpected role in the Swap Shop’s success so far. The room itself, Avery said, was originally supposed to be a recording studio for Grady College, which fell through due to the pandemic. The shop also serves as both a social activity and resource for the UGA community, especially as the pandemic has challenged many financially.
“COVID has hit students a lot harder than people expect,” Jenna said. “We’re providing students with this free service, this free resource where they can go and get things that they need.”
The shop wants to “shift our mindset from being consumers to being owners of the things we bring into our life,” Avery said. Having a sense of ownership, she said, can also dispel the misconceptions that items can be disposed of. Even if an item is thrown away, even if it’s in a recycling bin, the “out of sight, out of mind” mentality does not apply to tangible items we bring into our lives. Whether it ends up in a landfill or at the bottom of the ocean, its environmental footprint still remains.
But giving these products a second life can break this cycle of buying and disposing. It’s a way to add meaning and stories to these items by passing them down, Jenna said.
Jenna said her mom was able to grasp the concept of reusing when she saw a picture of their family’s plates on the Swap Shop Instagram. Jenna’s family has used those places since she was a child, and now another person will use them for their own meals.
Jenna’s mother told her, “It’s continuing on the life of that plate and all the memories of that plate, even if they don’t know it.”
Shoes and kitchenware are just a couple of examples of items people can swap on Fridays. To get swapping, check the Swap Shop’s page for a list of items they accept.
Swapping in style
Fair Fashion UGA is also tackling conscious consumption, with a focus on our closets.
Elaine Garvey, president of Fair Fashion UGA, was exposed to sustainability issues in fashion after watching the documentary “True Cost” in high school. The documentary explores the fast fashion industry, from underpaid garment workers to the pollution caused by clothing waste. In college, Elaine joined her interests at UGA through her fashion merchandising major and the Sustainability Certificate program.
“Everyone wears clothes,” Elaine said. “It’s really a multi-faceted issue. Environment, human rights, waste, pollution — it really just affects everyone.”
The organization raises awareness of the sustainability issues in the fashion industry to “show ways in which shopping sustainably can be accessible to college students,” Elaine said. She recognized the privilege of ethical consumption — many college students may not have the resources to completely change their lifestyles. Their organization, however, focuses on incremental ways people can make a difference.
One of their main events this semester is the Clothing Swap on April 10, from 1-4 p.m. at the Parade Grounds on the Health Sciences Campus. HSC Parade Grounds are located in front of Miller Hall (101 Buck Rd, Athens, GA 30606) and facing Oglethorpe Avenue.
At this event, people can bring their clothes and redeem either 1, 2 or 3 tickets, depending on a few factors: the material, condition, style, quality and brand of the item. With those tickets, people can “purchase” other clothes. This system, Elaine said, was inspired by similar events at other colleges, such as “Owl Swap” at Kennesaw State University. Leftover clothes will be donated to Athens Food for Lives.
When shopping for her own clothes, Elaine focuses on quality over quantity. She looks out for natural and organic materials, such as cotton, wool, hemp, linen and silk. While synthetic fibers might not be of worse quality, Elaine said biodegradability is also a factor she considers when picking clothes.
“Organic and natural fibers are a lot more comfortable, less irritating and will last you what you’re going to need,” Elaine said. “You’re not going to need a garment that’ll last you 1,000 years.”
With ethical consumption gaining traction online through thrift shopping and resell websites, such as Depop and Poshmark, public awareness of these issues has come a long way since Elaine was in high school. Elaine said this awareness can bring some unwanted consequences, such as companies greenwashing to use sustainability as a marketing ploy or “mindless consumption” when thrift shopping.
But the increased attention also has people talking about these issues. Elaine has noticed companies taking more steps to change the industry. Her fashion merchandising professors are also discussing these sustainability issues more in class.
“A lot more people are talking about it, and I am seeing a lot more companies that are doing great things when it comes to sustainability and ethical fashion,” Elaine said. “I’m hoping it doesn’t stay a trend, and it will progress into something that is a part of your everyday life.”