For fashion student Mariah Billadeau, her dreams aren’t about fashion shows, designer shoes, having the trendiest clothing or being all glitz and glam. For Billadeau, her dream is to travel, learn about other cultures and bring more sustainability to the United States.
“People can be so wasteful and not even care,” Billadeau said. “How can we fix this?”
Being limited on money is something that just comes along with being a college student. This is why when students see a $7 sweater they get excited and have to have it. However, what has a low cost now can ultimately lead to an even bigger price to pay.
Some may already know, but the garment industry is the second largest polluting industry in the world. This is due to fiber production, apparel manufacturing and over-consumption by consumers. What may surprise some people is that the brands they love so much are what are having the most negative effect.
The fast fashion industry consists of garments that are designed, manufactured and put on the floor of retailers extremely fast. Because of this quick turnover rate from design to sales floor, this allows for the clothing to be low quality, extremely trendy and can even create harsh working conditions for the factory workers.
From a consumer standpoint, we buy these trendy items only to wear them a few times before they fall apart or go out of style, which ultimately leads to us throwing them away. “It breaks my heart how we are such over consumers that we will spend $2 on a shirt and wear it once,” Billadeau said.
Billadeau understands the consequences of the fast fashion industry. “Being on a budget is really hard; that’s why it’s so easy to shop at Forever 21,” Billadeau said. Instead of shopping at places like Forever 21 and H&M, she tries to shop at fair trade and local retailers who practice sustainability or help the environment in any way.
Not only did Billadeau intern at a sustainable clothing brand in Australia this past summer, but she also was an intern at Others, a boutique in downtown Fargo. Others, owned by Laura Morris, is a nonprofit boutique that focuses completely on quality, design and buying from transparent companies who treat their workers well.
“Others is sustainably and ethically produced,” Billadeau said. According to Billadeau, how they treat people is very important to them. On top of all that, she explained how they donate all their profits to a new organization every year.
Along with interning at Others, Billadeau took a big leap and interned in Australia this past summer. When she wasn’t traveling and exploring the culture, she was working for a brand called First Base.
First Base focuses a lot of their attention on having high ethical standards. This means having connections, requirements and several other safety standards to the companies manufacturing their products. They make it a point to be transparent, present and aware of how the workers are being treated.
Along with their ethical standards, First Base also focuses on the sustainability of their textiles, garment packaging and being carbon neutral. When it comes to the textiles, First Base uses 100 percent organic cotton, recycled nylon and sustainable bamboo. They also only use biodegradable packaging.
“There are absolutely no plastic products, only biodegradable plastic,” Billadeau said. Considering how much plastic wrapping and packaging goes through a retail store, switching to biodegradable options make a huge difference.
“Everyone should be doing this,” Billadeau said, as she explained how using biodegradable plastic is only a few cents more expensive.
In Fast Base’s studio, they completely reflect their sustainability mission statement. In their offices they have many different types of recycling, using 100 percent recycled paper products and only use eco-friendly cleaning products. These little steps turn into a big positive impact when it’s done 365 days a year.
Now that Billadeau is back in the United States wrapping up her senior year, she shared advice for students who want to take steps toward sustainability. “Borrowing your friend’s clothes, shopping at thrift stores or buying from companies that incorporate fair trade instead of shopping at fast fashion companies like Forever 21,” Billadeau shared.
Billadeau explained how choosing quality over quantity is a major step in reducing our personal waste, but is also a step toward feeling better about what we are wearing and buying. Having one really good quality sweater that fits well, stays intact and makes you feel confident is much better than having three sweaters that were only worn a few times and end up in the back of the closet.
“If you are going to buy fashion, shop somewhere that does good; be wary of where you are shopping from,” Billadeau said.
Having a busy lifestyle, it can be easy to forget about the little things. Taking a step back and thinking about your actions might have a bigger positive impact than you could ever imagine.