Fast fashion — the sector of business in the fashion industry that relies on the cheap and hastily-made creations of its clothing, according to — is a system that promotes consumption, exploiting most people’s interest in affordable clothing. 

In an effort to fight this trend, the Office of Sustainability hosted its fourth biannual clothing swap in the Shapiro Campus Center on March 31. Clothing swaps are events that allow students to leave clothing that they stopped wearing and want to get rid of, while offering them the opportunity to obtain new clothing for free. After all, fast fashion appeals to businesses as a reliable method of generating revenue by attracting customers who prefer to save money on lower-quality clothes that will soon go out of style, rather than pay more for long-lasting clothes that they will stop using as trends shift. 

In a March 31 interview with the Justice, Sustainability Ambassador Dina Millerman ’25 explained that “A lot of people have a lot of clothing that they don’t wear or don’t use anymore, and they don’t know what to do with them. But [clothing swaps] create a space and a time where people know that they can come and get rid of some of the clothes that have been laying around in their closets for months.” Giving students an opportunity to empty their closets of unutilized clothes decreases unnecessary clothing waste, since clothes that lay abandoned in the back of a closet are often still in wearable condition.

Millerman also stressed that besides providing students opportunities to give their clothes away without contributing to waste, swaps also allow for free shopping. “If someone else can wear [the clothing] and get value from it, it prolongs the life cycle of the items,” she said. This opportunity is significant as some of the highest consumers of fast fashion are among the age group of undergraduate students. For instance, Statista discloses that the second-highest age group of visitors for the popular fast fashion retail company website Shein is 18-24, making up 27.2% of users. There is only a 2.22% difference between this age group and the highest being 25-30. These numbers are reasonable, considering that fast fashion companies create low quality products that they can mass produce and sell for affordable prices. Naturally, selling fashionable clothing for low prices appeals to students, particularly when the items are not made to last and instead stay intact for as long as the trend continues. 

Temporary fashion trends often contribute to consumers abandoning clothing that is in need of an extended life cycle, Millerman mentioned. Conversely, offering gently used clothing for free in the SCC attracted a steady stream of students, some donating bags full of their clothing and some browsing the items on the tables. Even several staff members from Einstein Bros. Bagels were able to take time to look through the free options on the table. 

Although this opportunity to swap clothes gave many individuals new items in their closets, widespread change comes from broader environmentally-conscious changes, according to co-President of Students for Environmental Action Leo Zhang ’25. 

In an April 2 email interview with the Justice Zhang said, “I see combating fast fashion as one of those [introductions] to how we can save the Earth with individual action. It is relatively easy for our demographic to tackle the issue, to stop buying so much clothes, and [to] try thrifting once in a while.” He added that while such individual change is partially effective, it is more reasonable to find ways to create collective change to tackle a global issue. 

The United States Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 85% of textiles are dumped into landfills or burned. There is hardly an alternative, since about 60% of clothing materials are ineligible for recycling because their plastic components come from crude oil. These forms of plastic include polyester, nylon, and acrylic, also known as polyethylene terephthalate, which are cheap and versatile synthetic fibers, making them broadly used in athleisure and winter apparel. Vox reports that these microplastics pollute the ocean because of the high amount of fibers that come off of clothing in washers; they are too small for any filter to catch and they pass through sewage treatment plants, and eventually go into rivers and seas with the rest of wastewater. In the same article, marine scientist Imogen Napper estimated that 700,000 fibers come off of clothing in one average wash. These microplastics are then ingested by marine wildlife and are often toxic to the organisms that consume them as they block their gastrointestinal pathways. 

The strain on marine life is not the only researched consequence of this fashion sector. Referencing a report by Synthetics Anonymous, TIME writes that the fashion industry is responsible for more than 10% of carbon emissions, with oil consumption creating an equivalent amount of carbon dioxide emissions as 180 coal-fired power plants otherwise would.

Referencing environmentalists Bill McKibben and Greta Thunberg, Zhang emphasized that it is more consequential to install “fundamental institutional change” that goes beyond recycling and composting. “The act of organizing a ‘clothing swap’ and the Global Thrift Pop Up event is collective, but it is not enough… What we need is collective action saying Brandeis needs to divest from fossil fuels,” Zhang said. 

The University’s Office of Sustainability has begun implementing broad changes such as the new organic land processes and investing in electric-powered appliances, expressing their responsibility to climate justice.