How Vintage is Making Sustainability Accessible

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Courtesy of Fashion Society LMU

How Vintage is Making Sustainability Accessible
By Nick Canchola

Over the past 10 years, one of the most recurring questions in fashion has been, “Is sustainable fashion cool?” The short answer: yes. The long answer: yes, but it doesn’t need to be cool, it just needs to be purposeful. Green fashion has enormous environmental benefits but designers are always figuring out new ways to make clothing. For an industry that accounts for 10% of annual global carbon emissions, it is the responsibility of brands to make more sustainable choices. The rising popularity of archival and vintage reselling is no coincidence and points to a greater upward trend of sustainable fashion.

One of the leaders in sustainable fashion is Sean Wotherspoon, co-owner of Round Two, a vintage and consignment shop chain across the United States. The biggest argument against sustainable fashion is the hefty price point. Expensively sourced eco-friendly materials can translate into unreachable items for everyday people. Wotherspoon proves that sustainability can also be readily accessible. He avoids this by going straight to pre-made products, such as a 1992 Grateful Dead x Lithuania Olympic team t-shirt or a pair of Yeezys. By running a business model based on reviving desirable clothing from the past, he effectively made hypebeasts (consciously and unconsciously) a part of the sustainable process. Of course, resell culture has its own issues of unreasonable price gouging. Depending on the item, it can double, triple, or even quadruple the original retail price.

The industry can be very divisive and niche, but one silver lining is the renewed public perception of thrifting. Ten years ago, wearing pre-used shoes or sweatshirts might have had other connotations about one's social class or personal style. Now, it provides new business opportunities and subversive ways to act sustainably. Savers, Goodwill, and Buffalo Exchange will always have deals, but for better or for worse, the second-hand spectrum has widened to a much larger market. 

Recently, Round Two’s Los Angeles flagship started a “recycled” tees program, taking old shirts and embellishing them with new graphics. Rather than using unsold vintage inventory and haphazardly slapping something together, this project feels very intentional. Themes of previous collections include vintage dog t-shirts, various camos, and even pre-worn Carhartt workwear. Somewhere on each product is a green recycle logo overlaid a tiny white t-shirt, symbolizing the product’s journey.

When Wotherspoon isn’t knee-deep in vintage t-shirts, he’s applying his personal values to side collaborations with major brands like Nike, Adidas, and Asics. (Unrelated side note: I once regrettably waited 16 hours in line to buy his first-ever collaboration with Nike, the Air Max 1/97.) All of the sneakers he’s released so far are 100% vegan, and he plans on keeping it that way. In a 2019 SSENSE interview, discussing the rise in popularity of ethically aware brands, he said, “It’s all about not intimidating people, so they are able to make that choice, to try.” Creating a well-crafted product where sustainability is recognized but is not the only driving force is very important. 

Inspired by Wotherspoon and the idea of accessible sustainability, I decided to embark on a creative journey of my own. Back in December, I reached out to Nick F. of MOMnDAD, about a possible collaboration with the LMU Fashion Society. Some of his previous work included rainbow bedazzled hoodies and heavily branded totes, so, needless to say, I was excited to work on the project. Nick F. clearly had a finger on the pulse on sustainability as well as an eye for vintage aesthetics. The Fashion Society wanted to make some sweatshirts, but we weren't exactly sure about the creative direction. He suggested something akin to college sweatshirts or 90’s sports hoodies, so after a deep dive into some of my favorite Instagram mood boards, we arrived at the final design: a super simple “FASHION XXL SOCIETY” image. This logo was intended to give the sweatshirts an authentic feel, as if they were made 30 years ago.

Afterward, the discussion moved to the garments. Since the number of orders was on the lower side, we discussed sourcing all sweatshirts from thrift stores and second-hand shops. I was hooked on this idea—as an organization, the Fashion Society prides itself on promoting thrifting as not only an accessible way to enter the fashion industry but as a force for environmental sustainability through the reuse of clothing. We try to make our events as economically friendly as possible, prioritizing trips to the flea market over Rodeo Drive. When we do make the drive up to Beverly Hills, it’s for free events like Louis Vuitton X, the pop-up museum that doubled as a photoshoot opportunity. 

Last semester, our club hosted a viewing of Hasan Minhaj’s Patriot Act. The episode, titled The Ugly Truth of Fast Fashion, detailed pitfalls of an overly saturated industry. Minhaj criticized companies like Zara and H&M for their manufacturing practices. However, there was a bright light at the end of the seemingly gloomy tunnel—the benefits of extending the life of clothing via thrifting. According to Minhaj, wearing your clothes nine months longer can help reduce the garment’s carbon footprint by 30 percent, and buying one used item per year could save nearly 6 pounds of CO2 emissions. These stats definitely shifted my perspective on casual Depop shopping. It gave vintage and thrift more meaning, a greater message. 

The sweatshirts were exactly what I imagined. I cracked open the cardboard box and started digging through, unleashing a fresh Goodwill™ scent. Classic sweatshirt brands like Jerzees, Champion, and Russell were among the mix. There were over 10 different colors, varying material thicknesses, and even irregularity in the collars. To my surprise, a majority of the garments were even manufactured in the United States. Each product had its own character, and one sweatshirt even had initials on the tag, a remnant from its past life. In the end, I was happy to create a Wotherspoon-approved product that equally promotes upcycling. The sweatshirts ended up symbolizing a greater image that Fashion Society aims to represent: accessible fashion with a conscious mind. While the issue of environmentalism is seemingly daunting, there is power in knowing the difference one sweatshirt makes.

This is the opinion of Nick Canchola, a junior business management major from Tucson, AZ.

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