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Ending Trashy Consumerism

An Interview with Gabby Paisner, Skylar Deitch, and Sam Leahy

January 12, 2017

The average American throws away 65 pounds of clothing a year and contributes to global textile and resource waste. “It’s so frustrating because there is a tangible disconnect between clothes and the sheer amount of resources it takes to create them,” says Gabby Paisner. “The idea that all of these resources that could be used to make clothes and just end up in the trash makes me really angry, honestly.”

Sam Leahy shares Paisner’s discontent with the way we treat the fashion industry. She says, “We live in a consumeristic society and our economy is driven by consumerism. Everywhere we go we see advertisements and things that are popping out at us that want us to buy things or look a certain way or change this thing about us, and to get there we have to contribute to a very materialistic way of thinking and of living.” Leahy believes that the more we can separate ourselves from this cultural and economic trend, the more we can contribute to a healthier moral and ethical world.

But who doesn’t contribute to this world? Big name clothing brands like H&M, American Eagle Outfitters, and Forever 21 have all been recently exposed for their morally questionable production processes which have been compared to slavery. And yet, these brands are still front runners when it comes to shopping; they’re marks of a larger culture that turns the blind eye to unethical practices for the sake of cheap and cute clothes. A prime example of this, according to Leahy, is Urban Outfitters. “Urban Outfitter’s has had a lot of controversy and yet we still see it as one of the largest, if not the largest, brand for teenagers and adolescents, a group of people that are typically very socially aware and very empathetic and very politically invigorated, or at least socially invigorated.” Leahy doesn’t consider herself exempt from this generalization, saying, “I’m definitely not a perfect human being and can easily compartmentalize ethically made things and a cute top too.”

Leahy has recognized this trend and her philosophy when it comes to consumerism and possession combats it directly. She says, “Stuff is just stuff. Definitely things can have value to them and hold emotional value, but ultimately all that exists in your own mind, the material thing is really just a vessel for that. So you have that control, you really are the one that has the emotional meaning behind it.”

Skylar Deitch provides an answer on an easy way to fight against this and encourages “refraining from shopping at stores that use unethical production tactics and encouraging others to do so.” If we want change in these unethical practices, it is first important to be aware of the problem so we can address it with a better understanding. It’s almost impossible to solve a problem when you don’t actually know what it is. The first step is figuring out the problem, how you are contributing to it, and how you can control that. A response that Stoic philosophers would admire.

Paisner, Leahy, and Deitch all encourage resale through local or vintage places like Goodwill, Red Fox Vintage, Buffalo Exchange, and Crossroads Trading. But, these girls are taking it even further and starting their own community-based businesses the best way they know how: Instagram.

Here’s how it works:

1. You start your account and give it a catchy name usually relating to clothes (e.g. @brittenscloset or @sofiathreads) – Make sure it’s good because this is the account you’ll broadcast out to all your friends and classmates via text, social media, and word of mouth.

2. Go through your closet and starting take pictures. These usually include various angles, detailing pictures, sometimes being worn to show fit, and the brand tag.

3. Post them on Instagram and include size, brand, price, and a short description in the comment.

4. Wait for someone to comment! It’s first come, first served in the comments section.

5. Once someone comments it is the owner’s responsibility to arrange a meeting at school or at somewhere in between if the buyer isn’t a classmate. They’ll try it on and if it doesn’t work for them it keeps going down the comment list until a permanent buyer is found.

Leahy, Deitch, and Paisner are three people who have joined the trend of resale through social media in the SMA community. Each of them had individual motivation, apart from breaking social norm, for starting their store.

Paisner recognized that her dresser was overflowing; she had too many clothes and didn’t know what to do with all of them. “I’m only one person, how am I supposed to wear all of this?” She was used to hauling all the excess to resale stores where she could get some profit, but she often felt like the worth of her clothes was being misjudged. How better to assuage this issue then by deciding the price herself?

Leahy grew up in a household that heavily encouraged ethical shopping and her urge to start a store stemmed from this. She says, “Ever since I was little my mom sort of instilled in me this value of shopping second hand and shopping at Goodwill, or resale stores, or vintage stores, and always going there first or borrowing clothes from friends or most of my clothes that I wear are hers. I had a cyclical relationship with clothes and consumerism and I very rarely buy or bought new clothes because I was very used to borrowing clothes with people or trading clothes with people or swapping them or buying used clothes.”

Unlike Leahy, Deitch became aware of this issue when she began attending SMA last year. She says, “Before coming to SMA I had no worry in the world about clothing waste because I felt my habits were completely fine and dandy. I didn’t know what ethical shopping meant or how to elevate my lifestyle to one of moral values when buying new clothes. […] I think that as young women who have fashion sense, we’re the ones who can change the way people look at buying clothes.” Starting her Instagram store was a way for Deitch to pay more attention to her ethical choices and to keep clothing with emotional attachment close to her and in a place it could continue to be loved.

Not only do their efforts combat a mass consumerist economy, they also work to foster a small economy within SMA. With students buying, selling, and trading among ourselves, we create an autonomous marketplace with social cues, trends, and earnings.

In summary, Leahy says, “It’s all about where you put your money. I personally think the more you can shop secondhand and resale, and at Goodwill, local business, and vintage places, that will ultimately calm the materialistic tendencies that our culture seems to foster. I think starting at a local level, like the St. Mary’s buy/sell this year is really awesome and I love having these little subcultures at our school. I think that, just in it of itself, is really important, and in a small way, contributing to bettering the fashion industry.”

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