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Sustainable Fashion: Ethical Ways to Wear—Even On a Budget

Fair Fashion UGA hosts popups for vendors to sell and swap fashion goods. Credit: Elaine Garvey

Terms like “sustainable fashion” and “fast fashion” have grown in popularity over the past decade, but the movements and ideals behind them are far from new. It’s likely that you already participate in sustainable fashion without actively intending to or being aware of it. However, starting the conversation is important to make consumers more mindful of their fashion choices and how these choices affect not only the environment, but social and economic issues.

The clothing and textile industry is responsible for an annual material loss of $100 billion worldwide due to underutilization, according to the United Nations Alliance for Sustainable Fashion. The organization highlights how sustainability encompasses a range of issues from improving the working conditions of laborers to decreasing water pollution and contributions to greenhouse gas emissions. Being an eco-friendly consumer, even in fashion, comes down to the 3 Rs—reduce, reuse and recycle.

What this looks like in the fashion world varies from using Earth-friendly materials to thrifting and upcycling. In Athens, the local boutique Community is a crossroads of sustainable fashion practices, including redesigned vintage clothing, selling products made by local designers, making clothing repairs and alterations and teaching sewing classes open to the public.

“When I first opened Community, which was about 12 years ago, I was actually not familiar with the term sustainable fashion yet—that was really new. I think that for me, it more naturally developed out of being always interested in vintage and loving digging around in the flea markets, even in Germany where I’m from,” says owner Sanni Baumgärtner.

Baumgärtner curates high-quality vintage clothing that can be redesigned or modernized to sell under the shop’s clothing line Community Service. Prolonging the life of these pieces saves them from piling up at the landfill or sitting in the thrift store, where Baumgärtner says they are only able to sell about 20% of their donations. Other clothing at Community is made from scratch, from sustainable textiles or leftover materials from redesigns.

By offering alterations and repairs, the store helps people to take care of what they already own. There are currently limitations in the ability to completely recycle clothing into new materials, says Baumgärtner, but when clothing reaches the point of no further use, it is much better to donate the items to ACC’s Center for Hard to Recycle Materials than throw them away. 

“I made a conscious decision when I opened the store to have the sewing area be part of the retail space rather than it being a separate space, because I really wanted to have that visible so that the customers can see the process, and they can see people making clothing,” says Baumgärtner. “I think that the issues of overconsumption or that workers aren’t treated very fairly or the environmental impact of clothing production that we don’t see are because it’s happening in faraway countries.”

Elaine Garvey Fair Fashion UGA Pop-Up

Graduating UGA student Elaine Garvey is a sales associate at Community and the president of the student-led organization Fair Fashion UGA, which aims to teach students how to consume fashion through a more ethical and sustainable means. It is impossible to be a perfect sustainable shopper, says Garvey, but being mindful just means making intentional purchases of clothing that will be reworn or of a quality that lasts.

“I feel like there’s this big misconception that to participate in sustainable fashion, you have to be really well-off to pay for all these like organic, sustainably, ethically made pieces,” says Garvey. “It’s definitely true that sustainable fashion can be expensive, and it can be inaccessible. However, it’s also very true that the best way to get involved with the sustainable fashion movement is also the cheapest and most successful way. That’s just to care for what you already have and to shop used, borrowed or upcycled before buying something else.”

Community and Fair Fashion will host a clothing swap event at Community on Apr. 24 from 4–8 p.m. Participants will pay an $8 fee to bring and swap gently used clothing.

Simply not being able to afford new clothes or specific styles is what drives many creators to begin upcycling, altering and thrifting—proving that sustainability doesn’t have to break the bank. Local designer Isabella Beaudoin, owner of Lizzardbelly’s Lair, sells repurposed hand-me-downs and thrifted clothing with the mentality of not turning a potential buyer away if the sticker price isn’t in their budget. 

Isabella Beaudoin Isabella Beaudoin of Lizzardbelly’s Lair

“My inspiration at the time, when I picked [sewing] back up recently, was just wanting nicer things but not having the money to purchase them. And realizing a lot of my friends are probably in a similar situation,” says Beaudoin. “I think that having affordable, locally made options does still keep people from using fast fashion as often.”

Similarly, designer and musician Brandon Garrett—owner of BYV_Trubb Rockstar Jackets streetwear, vocalist of punk rock band Hollowbody and rapper under the stage name BYV_Trubb—started redesigning and upcycling clothing as a pre-teen growing up in a low-income neighborhood. Before he was even aware of a culture around punk fashion, he was cutting fabric and adding safety pins, studs and chains to accessorize his clothing from head to toe. The unmistakable look that first set him apart became something those around him requested.

Salathiel Saldana BYV_Trubb Rockstar Jackets

“I am big on recycling, upcycling, second hand stuff. Once again, coming from a poor background, I had no choice at first,” says Garrett. “You can use whatever words you want, but I had to make this with my hands, and you bought yours [new].”

Garrett organized his first fashion show with Brasher Media last fall to showcase Georgia fashion designers using local models. The fashion show returns as the Spring Fling Fashion Thing at Paloma Park on Friday, Apr. 22 at 9 p.m. There are 14 designers and over 30 models involved with most of the runway looks featuring sustainable fashion practices. Live performances from Hollowbody, Wobble Haus, Convict Julie, Trvy & The Enemy and Tyl3r Davis will set the background for a night illuminating the reach of local creativity.