Each of the thirty freshman girls that I live with orders between four and ten new articles of clothing online each month. As their senior dorm leader, the girls expect me to zip up the back of dresses, watch them model shoes down the hallway, and ultimately decide if the new item is a keeper or not. Of course, I tell them that they look stunning in their Lily Pulitzer dresses or Urban Outfitter sweaters, but I always hint at something along the lines of, “don’t you already have a white knit sweater?” or “do you think these skirts will fit in your closet?”
As a dorm leader, I have had to do a lot of difficult things; I have stayed up until 2:00 am to comfort broken hearts and I have told girls that they cannot keep pet fish in their desk drawers. However, one of the hardest things I have had to do is watch girls’ closets overflow with clothes they do not need. It pains me deeply that these wonderful girls who make me Valentine’s day cards, do my makeup for dances, and burst into my room unannounced with chocolate croissants are the naïve proponents of fast fashion.
Eventually this distress turned to guilt. I realized that I had the responsibility to redirect the fashion-future of thirty girls. I figured all change begins with asking a question, so at one of our nightly dorm meetings I asked the simple question, “do any of you know what sustainable, ethical, or slow fashion is?” The usually rambunctious group of girls fell silent. After describing the horrific circumstances of Rana Plaza, the immoral wages of sweatshop workers, and the toxic waste that clothes eventually become, the girls’ mouths dropped. Most of their immediate reactions were, “why didn’t I know about this?” I did not know how to convey to a group of Catholic prep-school girls that this capitalistic world in which we live does not put ethics first; the media and clothing companies prioritize capital over human lives.
As moments passed and I urged the girls to respond with more reactions, many listed common ethical fashion misconceptions. It was their first time hearing about slow fashion, and yet, they already jumped to conclusions such as, “There aren’t that many brands that make sustainable clothes,” “Ethical companies can’t make cute clothes,” “Sustainable clothes are probably expensive,” “It’s hard to find sustainable clothing companies,” etc. I cannot understand what I said that lead the girls to such ideas. Maybe they were justifying why they do not buy sustainably or why their favorite companies like Zara and H&M continue to exist.
Finally, I begged each girl to try and buy sustainably. Every girl responded with two points, “Only if I can find cute clothes” and “I will if my friends do.” I was surprised by the latter response having always assumed that peer-influenced trends were a subconscious reality that linked back to our evolutionary instincts to be a part of a herd or group. I admired how self-aware and articulate these fourteen year-olds could be. But with my proud delight in my girls came a rude awakening; the end of fast fashion must be predicated on a successful, global social movement. What better way to begin a movement than asking simple questions to thirty loquacious yet lovable girls?