Girl Scout Celia wants her fashion to be anything but fast. In fact, she prefers it to be sustainable.
When it came time to begin her Gold Award project, Celia decided to address the effects the fashion industry has on the environment. Her starting place: learning that 17 million tons of textile waste end up in landfills annually (according to the Environmental Protection Agency in 2018).
“The textile decomposition rate is slow—often taking more than 200 years to decompose—which leads textiles to inhabit landfills for a long time,” she says. “Meanwhile, clothing has developed a shorter life span in regard to how long a consumer wears items they purchase, and this leads to landfills being filled at a faster rate.”
Celia’s Gold Award was carried out in two parts: A website and an event. Her website, clothingswapgs.com, was her space to share everything she learned about the practices of the fashion industry and their negative impacts on the environment.
She researched and wrote articles about greenwashing, a practice where companies market that they’re environmentally conscious but, in reality, aren’t making any notable sustainability efforts. Celia also wrote how-to guides for donating clothes you no longer wear, and how to check whether or not the brands you shop for are sustainable.
One topic Celia found she was particularly passionate about educating her peers on was social media’s impact on fashion. It is trendy to share “hauls” of clothing ordered from large companies which often have unsustainable and unethical methods of production.
“Trends are changing more rapidly than ever because of social media,” says Celia. “This leads to an industry that is driven heavily by aesthetics. Because unsustainable businesses are continually being supported by customers, they are able to expand and produce more clothing without their production practices being challenged.”
Sharing her knowledge online and marketing her website to teens and environmental scientists across the country allowed many to learn more about this issue. But Celia wanted to take things one step further, so she organized a clothing swap in her town where people could bring clothes they no longer wore and trade them for something new.
Every attendee at the swap was asked to bring at least two articles of clothing they wanted to give away, but bringing more was encouraged. For each piece of clothing, the attendee received a ticket which they could then give to another attendee who had an item they wanted. More than 30 people attended the event.
“By hosting a clothing swap in my local community, I was able to reach many young teenagers who are prone to shopping through fast fashion,” says Celia. “These young community members are likely to leave the event and go to college with new information about sustainability and the fun of acquiring clothing secondhand. I hope that as they carry these values with them, they will share them with friends across the United States.”
Celia was excited when her school’s environmental club decided to continue her clothing swap as an annual event for students. Unwanted clothing from the event was donated.
Celia knows her impact was just a tiny dent in those 17 million tons of textile waste, but through her clothing swap, she is ensuring that all participants become more conscious about and responsible for their purchasing habits.
“By reducing the clothing waste and supply in one area of the country, the national clothing waste rates are lower even if it’s just by a small amount,” she says. “Eventually, small sustainable considerations can add up to help protect the earth.”
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