Author: Jayla Burton, Diversity & Inclusion Intern
In recent years, we have seen a steady incline in sustainable fashion. We are seeing brands making clothing out of recycled material, second-hand shopping raising in popularity, and people beginning to make more conscious efforts in their purchases. Of course, there are still some of us who are wondering why sustainability needs to be integrated into our everyday choices, even when it comes to clothing. This query can be addressed by focusing on two important pillars of sustainable fashion: environmental protection and ethics. Many companies relying on fast fashion are guilty of their factories depleting the environment of non-renewable resources, releasing harmful greenhouse gases, and polluting large bodies of waters such as rivers and streams in order to produce their merchandise. This has taken a toll on our environment and can be seen in poor air quality and polluted oceans which are contributors to climate change. It’s important that we look at the ethics concerning fast fashion practices as well. Fast fashion brands rely on Tier 1 companies to be responsible for the manufacturing of their products and the working conditions for the employees. Tier 1 companies operate mainly in places such as Cambodia and Sri Lanka. Many of the employees working in these factories are women who are being directed by men. The women are overworked and underpaid and are susceptible to being abused mentally, sexually, and physically.
There are a multitude of other reasons as to why sustainable fashion is the way to go. It is safe to say that it would best if all of us tried our hardest to integrate more sustainable and ethical decisions into what we wear. Maddie Roberts, president and founder of the Sustainable Fashion Club at the College of Charleston, feels the same way which is why she took the initiative to start her own club in order to educate students and help them adapt a more ethical lifestyle. Read and listen to the interview to learn more!
JAYLA: What made you want to start a sustainable fashion club at CofC & what do you hope students gain from joining this club?
MADDIE: I wish I had a really short answer for this question but I don’t. I started the College of Charleston when I was 21. I was a freshman so I had modeled after High School thought I wanted to be a supermodel, and then I was like okay I don’t want to be a supermodel but I want to be in the fashion industry and I want a business degree so that’s why I started at the College of Charleston. I remember meeting with my first advisor and I told her I just wanted to be involved in some sort of fashion aspect on campus. Like is there any class or anything. She was like, “We don’t have any classes but there is this new FYE seminar class called ‘Just Fashion’ and it’s about sustainable fashion.” And I kind of remember rolling my eyes and thinking, “Okay, I’ll try it.” It’s fashion like I felt bad saying, “No, I’m not interested.” So, I started the class and I became obsessed with sustainable fashion. I had been exposed to the fashion industry in a different way but I hadn’t been exposed to it in the way that Professor Dwyer was teaching us. She taught us all about indigo dyeing and just kind of the history of practices, fast fashion practices. H&M like Pretty Little Thing and where they get their clothes made and the ethical concerns and environmental concerns and it made me realize, in combination with my entrepreneurship classes, that this was a niche that no one was kind of touching on and I felt at the end of COVID, or the end of COVID summer I guess I was talking to my boyfriend and I was telling him that I felt, not done with Charleston but I wanted.. I couldn’t figure out how else I can immerse myself into the fashion community especially now with COVID and I was kind of feeling frustrated and almost like disheartened that I felt like I almost had to wait until I graduated until I could get to do what I wanted to do so he suggested to me, “You know why don’t you start a club?” And I was like that’s a great idea but there’s already a Fashion Club and I don’t want to, that’s not really my main focus. So, I was like, “there’s not a Sustainable Fashion Club,” so I was like awesome.
So, what I hope students to gain from the club is just to be more aware of the problems in the fashion industry because I feel like with college students it’s Boho, Pretty Little Thing, Fashion Nova like it’s all marketed towards us because we don’t have huge bank accounts right now. We’re students and I just want to spread awareness to the Charleston community and then beyond that so we can make a difference. I think small changes make a big difference.
JAYLA: That was a beautiful answer Maddie!
MADDIE: Thank you!
JAYLA: What do you want students to know about sustainable fashion?
MADDIE: What I want students to know about sustainable fashion is, what I find the most inspiring about fashion is the creativity part of it and I think with sustainable fashion it’s even kind of easier to be creative because you have to… There’s women of all ages at some point who feel some type of pressure about what they’re putting on their body and I think sustainable fashion is special because not only is there environmental benefits I think it also takes.. Sustainable fashion takes away the pressure on men and women to allow them to dress how they want. And not how everybody else wants and whether it be thrift shopping or repurposing old clothes I think there’s always a creative process. I think that’s what gets me excited and obsessed with sustainable fashion.
JAYLA: Do you have any advice for people who are wanting to incorporate more sustainable and ethical choices into their shopping habits?
MADDIE: My first piece of advice is to look into your closet. I did it this past weekend, I was going on a date with my boyfriend and I wanted.. I had just been dying for like a floral crop top situation and I just couldn’t see it anywhere. It was just too girly and I have this green floral summer dress that I wore to death. So, I ended up just cutting it in half and now I have a top that’s really cute and it’s like the same floral pattern that I liked in the dress so it works. And if you’re stuck on that, if you don’t know where to go in terms of the closet, Google. YouTube has so many good ideas for like repurposing clothes and t-shirts and I’ve seen like stuff on Pinterest on how to make a t-shirt into a halter top by just like not cutting the collar. And with thrifting, I think it requires patience but I think if you go in there saying, “All right I know I need a black sweater” and just go in with that you can walk out like, maybe you don’t walk out with a black sweater but if you just have that directive I think it’s a lot less overwhelming than walking into a big store like that.
JAYLA: How will your club promote inclusivity given that the sustainable fashion industry (& sustainability overall) still struggles with elitism?
MADDIE: This is probably one of the harder questions but I really liked it. I really wanted to answer it. My club will promote inclusivity by promoting accessibility. What I love about sustainable fashion is that anyone can go to Goodwill and buy a sweater for a dollar ninety-nine, but what promotes the inclusivity part of it is that it’s not about how many sweaters you can buy, it’s about what you found or what you turned it into. And that brings it back to yourself and that’s about inclusion not exclusion. Another way of combating the affordability factor of fashion is thrifting and with high fashion it’s typically, only available to the elite so I think it’s really cool. Like my vice president lives in or is hours away from Jupiter, Florida which is right next to Palm Beach. She goes to Goodwill and gets Burberry coats and heels and all this cool stuff but she’s paying like under twenty dollars. So, I think the best part about sustainability is that the label doesn’t have to be attached to the price tag.
JAYLA: What got you into sustainable fashion?
MADDIE: So I kind of touched on this in the beginning but I remember.. Yeah just talking to my advisor and wanting to be involved in fashion and I knew there was Charleston Fashion Week but I didn’t want to model in Charleston Fashion Week and that was in March and I wanted.. I was like ready to be thrown into it. I just wanted to do something and the class “Just Fashion” really opened my eyes to sustainability. In combination with my entrepreneurial classes, I realized that Niche and then since I kind of realized that Niche, it got me more excited. I’ve been doing.. I have a lot of business classes that focus on building businesses like fake businesses and I’ve been doing research on sustainable trends and it’s just fascinating to me where the future of sustainable fashion is and that’s kind of what gets me excited about it.
JAYLA: What are some of your favorite thrift stores to shop at in Charleston?
MADDIE: Some of my favorite thrift stores.. I’ve definitely discovered more since starting the club because I’m trying to, I just follow everybody so I can get a good idea. But, Exchange Factor in North Charleston on Rivers Avenue. I was just there this weekend and I think my first vintage shop I ever went to in Charleston was the Red Rose vintage truck. I used to go there a lot. Off the record I think their prices aren’t great anymore. There’s also Frenchie Vintage which I found on Instagram. I hadn’t heard of it before but it’s Charleston based and they have really cute, more feminine vintage stuff and there’s also Threads Todisco. “Todisco” is one word and they’re not technically a thrift store but they do reworked and recycled clothing and on Instagram right now, I’m seeing a lot of like their flannels but they’re half and half and come to meet in the center so it’s like the same vibe. The flannel pattern but it’s different colors. Also, Retrograde Vintage and Junkyard Thrift. Instagram has been a great tool to just search what’s out there in Charleston.
JAYLA: What budget friendly sustainable clothing brands do you recommend for students?
MADDIE: Okay so personally with this question I have not found the ideal fashion-forward sustainable brand. Maybe I can help think of that idea, but right now in the meantime I really like Abel. It’s just A-B-L-E and that’s based out of Nashville Tennessee and they focus on producing clothes with environmental impact in mind and same with Everlane based out of San Francisco. I looked those up and they both have lower price points than a lot of other sustainable brands. That’s the problem I don’t like with the sustainable industry right now. Like I don’t know if you’ve heard of Reformation or some other places they’re like capitalizing on the sustainable aspect and jacking up the price which I think is the total opposite of the point so.. To be determined on that one.
JAYLA: Do you have any thrifting or consignment shopping tips/hacks?
MADDIE: Yes, like I said earlier just identifying kind of the category of what you need and if you don’t have a category, and then you say like okay well I want a really cool pair of Levi’s shorts. Super basic example but you can go in there and don’t look at just the shorts, look at all the pants. You can cut them or you can make them a skirt so I mean I went there, I went to Goodwill the other day and I got a brown skirt that I didn’t have time to sew but I just cut it and used clothes pins or safety pins all up on the bottom for my costume because I was like I didn’t have time how to pay for a skirt so safety clothes pins or safety pins and a dollar ninety-nine skirt worked great.
JAYLA: Do you have any upcycling tips or methods?
MADDIE: Yes, I talked about that summer dress that I cut into a top and fashion is supposed to be fun and creative. So, I think if something doesn’t turn out exactly how you want it that’s happened to me before I cut a crop top too short and it’s like not even a bra so it just it happens. You make mistakes. And investing in sewing machines is really a good tip. It’s hard to find the time with school. I have one right here.
JAYLA: Do you have any sewing machines you recommend?
MADDIE: So, the big thing that happened with COVID is that everyone wanted to make masks. So sewing machines were like out of stock for like 6 months and the one that I.. It was supposed to be a Christmas gift and so my mom is like I can’t find it anywhere so she wanted me to get a Singer, which is kind of a typical brand but I went to Jo-Ann’s Fabric and Jo-Ann’s Fabric when as far to tell me that Singer’s is out of business because of everyone buying sewing machines so I got one by the name Janome. It’s a Japanese brand and I really like it so far, I think it’s fine. But yeah, it’s hard to find the time with school to get it out and especially maybe if you haven’t sewed before like maybe taking a class but like even just having that done if you use the summer or winter break or something it’s a great way to relax too, and it’s kind of motivating I can make my own dress today I don’t have to buy it.
JAYLA: What events do you plan to have in the future?
MADDIE: Yes, so next Wednesday we do biweekly meetings, next Wednesday, hopefully she’s on board but hasn’t texted me back as of yet. Judith Rizzo who joined us for our first meeting. Judith joined us and talked to us about her background in fashion. Judith has been featured on The Today Show and she’s also been featured on Vice Media. That’s actually how I found her, is through YouTube. I was doing just some club research I guess and I came across this lady with these funky glasses on and the title of the video is, “Empowering People with Vintage Clothes” and I was like that’s perfect! And I watched 3 minutes of it and I paused it, and I emailed her, and ever since then we’ve been in touch. And she’s.. I feel like I could call her my mentor. She’s awesome. The way her energy, and the way she talks about clothes and empowering people is what gets me excited. So, she next week hopefully is going to be showing us her vintage collection so she’s going to be taking us through the decades and showing us all the crazy stuff she has. If you go and watch her Vice video you can get kind of an idea of what she has and some of her stuff. I remember she held up a dress and I was like, “What is that?” And then in the next scene she’s sitting at her kitchen table in this dress and I’m like I would have never bought that it looks so good on her! So, just proof. She calls herself the, “style activist.”
And then I’m also in talks with the company called Swap.com and they refer to themselves as like a thrift TJ Maxx almost, and I’m hopefully going to have an interview with them before the semester is over. And then beyond that I definitely want to have clothing swaps. I want to have fundraisers to raise money for local nonprofits like My Sister’s House and Dress for Success and I also want to just have interviews with inspiring individuals like Judith.
JAYLA: What are some initiatives your club plans on starting?
MADDIE: I liked this question because it made me think. I was, I had just typed the answer to the last question I was thinking it would be awesome if there was I just dropped my letter off to vote, or my absentee ballot to vote, yesterday and I was thinking how awesome would it be if we had one of those on campus but for clothes? And if we just started doing a donation system I do not know with COVID and sanitation stuff but I think that’d be really interesting and I feel like a lot of people would want to get rid of their clothes. Like I have a whole bag of stuff I didn’t sell at my last porch sale that I’d love to get rid of but I don’t have a car so if I could have just dropped it off in a mailbox or something like that that would be great. And then along with that just fundraisers to raise money to make the Charleston Community more aware of the growing issue of the environmental impacts clothing has on our environment.
JAYLA: How can students get involved & what’s the best way to reach you?
MADDIE: Students can get involved by becoming a member or if you just want to come to a meeting to check it out that’s fine. Our email is the same as our Instagram handle firstname.lastname@example.org. So, you can email us there ask us any questions and we can just add you if you said you’re interested or you can DMS on Instagram. We get a lot of DM’s on Instagram. Or you can even message us on Cougar Connect if you know who to work that.
JAYLA: Awesome. Thank you so much Maddie, and thank you for doing this interview with us!