Old-school Necessity Becomes New-school Trend
Jo Gopinath ’19
My grandmother—a Malaysian-born Singaporean-Indian woman of a whopping five feet—was raised to be environmentally conscious and sustainable. Upcycling was simply making new clothing and “eco-friendly” practices were just the way of life. She would turn her old saris into dresses and resurrect her blouses as vests for my mom and aunt during their childhoods. It comes down to the fact that she had clothes not being used, and thus turned them into something that she knew would be worn.
So it’s no surprise that when I told her that I’m now pursuing “eco-fashion design,” she looked at me with both bewilderment and pride. The bewilderment was, of course, based on the fact that I was doing something she considered to be a necessary and usual task. The pride was rooted in the same, I think, because she saw that I was creating beautiful and unique pieces from that same mundane chore that our developing world no longer considers necessary.
It is at this juncture that my narrative takes an alarming turn away from being anecdotal and toward self-reflection. I have so far described what “eco-fashion” is in a very roundabout way, and here’s the reason: I don’t know how to define it. I could say that it can encompass upcycling, sustainable fabrics, organically sourced materials, repurposed pieces, etc. Quite frankly, there are too many definitions to make sense of the original term.
So I did what any educated, self-respecting woman would do: I asked Google.
It is important to note that Google decided to correct me. “Did you mean eco fashion?,” it asked me in blue italics, and presented me with a host of links. Evidently, the space between “eco” and “fashion” is integral to its definition, and Google knows far more than I about the subject matter (I don’t deny the latter fact, but question the former). Unfortunately, Google spat out the same answer as I did two paragraphs earlier, painting eco-fashion (excuse me, eco fashion–forgot the space) as an umbrella term for so many other sustainable methods the fashion industry is beginning to employ in response to the sustainability trend.
What Google wouldn’t tell me is why eco fashion is so necessary for our globalized, and rapidly growing, economy. The way the fashion industry is moving is dangerous. Fast fashion, the current method of the fashion industry, involves large-scale manufacturing and unsustainable resource consumption. Stores like Forever 21, H&M, and many other large scale retail chains rely on the highest-yielding business practices to meet the consumer demand, which is based on instant gratification. This translates into depletion of resources, increase of waste, and infringement on workers’ rights, all to get that floral maxi dress on a mannequin in time for the spring season.
So the question is: Which of these will be the first to break? Will it be resources that die out first through pollution and overconsumption, or will worker exhaustion and mistreatment bring the industry to a grinding halt before that can happen?
The moral of the story is: maybe the ways of old, the ways of my grandmother, are worth giving a second chance. Being a responsible, conscious consumer for the benefit of the environment is more than just a cult trend, as the internet depicts it. It’s a necessity for our growing population and already-strained earth.
Jo Gopinath is an eco fashion designer and sophomore at Santa Clara University majoring in bioengineering and chemistry. She has a passion for sustainability. This article first appeared under a different title in USA Today College.
Apr 18, 2017
The author wearing a piece she designed. The sleeves are pieces from an old Indian salwar. Photo courtesy Jo Gopinath