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La Pietra Dialogues On the World On-Line
Recycled Clothing: Good for the Environment, Good for the World
Tara Tosten, NYU Florence student
La Pietra Dialogues
April 4, 2012

A young boy spends his day hauling a huge bail of secondhand clothing on his shoulders. He is bringing the clothes back to his home town in order to make enough so that his cousins can stay in school. All the boy really wants is a “proper house” one with running water and electricity, so that his cousins can not say they failed at school because it was too dark to study or because they had to spend too long waiting for water from the well. Stories like these are common in Zambia, and many name secondhand clothing a factor contributing to the continued economic difficulties Zambian citizens face.  The clothing, dumped into Zambia by the ton, has shut down all the textile factories in the country and hindered Zambia’s ability to produce their own clothing, which would in turn stimulate economic growth. As an American consumer confronted with situations such as these, it is difficult to pick a moral standpoint. Throwing away my clothing feels frivolous and wasteful, adjectives already attributed to the average over consuming American. Yet documentaries such as T-shirt travels show the growing dilemma of western countries sending their used textiles to African countries, an act Americans contribute to each time they donate to secondhand clothing stores.

My only option available to handle such a moral dilemma is to wear my clothes out until they fall apart. The recycled clothing workshop gave me new ideas. I personally do not want to continue wearing my hot pink snoopy sweatshirt I purchased in 7th grade, but maybe I don’t have to donate it OR throw it in the trash. I can remake the item- perhaps the sweatshirt isn’t something I still want as it is, but I can make it into a bag, use snoopy as a patch, or even better, I can make it smaller and give it away to my younger cousin. Remaking clothing is a way to gain more use of old styles as well as be more environmentally, and globally conscious.

Students, myself included, who participated in the Green Fashion Workshop at NYU learned this experience firsthand. Walking into the room I was astonished by the amount of clothing students on campus no longer wanted, some of the articles in perfect shape that wearers had grown tired of. Looking just at the materials, one can see the benefit of simply having a clothing swap with friends, even without alterations.  Howver, students in the workshop hoped to do more with the clothing than simply trade items and spent the week cutting, ripping, sewing, and mixing items of clothing to create new and wonderful pieces.

The first part of the week was spent with NYU New York professor Jessamyn Hatcher, dreaming up new ideas, hand sewing, and discussing the relationship we had or still have with the donated articles. Remembering such connections made me realize the profound impact clothing, and other fabrics, have had on our lives, even without realizing it. Think of how much that safety blanket meant to you, or the importance of wearing a shirt emblazoned with the colors of your favorite sports team. Essentially, clothing is a way to represent who you are.

The following weekend students went down to a tailoring workshop and set to making the designs they created during the week. Many discovered the gap between dreams and reality when sewing, but in the end many creative and well-sewn pieces were made. With the help of Professor Sara Piccolo Paci, who withstood more than one question of “how do I do this?” I managed to make a skirt. Others made more inventive items such as a bag fashioned from an advertising banner, and a dress created from a flag. The workshop turned out to be an excellent way for students to learn what can be done to out of style or overworn clothing, a practice I know I will continue to work on so that I may become a more eco-friendly and conscious consumer.

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