Student raises awareness for sustainable fashion

Amanda Monthei

In a society where fashion can have an enormous influence on our lives, some may find it hard to imagine winter without new boots, summer without new dresses or life without new styles.

In addressing this belief—the idea that spending large amounts of money on new clothing is a necessity of fashion and our lifestyles—senior English writing major Katelyn Durst is aiming to do something, however small it may be, to challenge that assumption.

“I was really materialistic,” Durst said. “I always had all these clothes that I didn’t even wear, or I’d wear something once and not wear it again for six months, just things like that.”

After initially being inspired by the documentary “No Impact Man,” which highlights a New York City family that eliminates almost all 21st century luxuries from their lives, including cars, electricity and even ice cubes, Durst was inspired to confront her own materialism. What resulted was a personal commitment to sustainable fashion and humane product development, which led her to an organization called The Uniform Project.

“I really liked (the Uniform Project’s) idea of wearing one thing for a whole year and accessorizing it whatever way I want,” she said. “But really, it’s just wearing it consistently and doing it for the cause. A lot of people said I couldn’t do it, which kind of fueled me to be like, ‘yes I can.’”

The Uniform Project was created in 2009 as a campaign to address overconsumption in first-world society, but also aimed to present a progressive fashion movement revolving around the wearing of a single black dress for a year.

The challenge and ultimate enjoyment of the campaign is in maintaining creativity through the use of accessories and other additions that can be made to a black dress.

“It makes you a lot more creative than I expected,” she said. “As I get closer to seven months I’ll probably be getting extremely creative. But there is a lot you can still work with because it’s black and anything goes with it really.”

As of Wednesday, Dec. 3, Durst is on her 120th day of the project, which lands her right around four months. She acknowledged that as the weather gets colder, her wardrobe seems to be getting much smaller, as she is limited to a small amount of cardigans, leggings and scarves.

“(My closet) is pretty bleak,” Durst said. “It’s just like a few cardigans and shoes, winter boots and leggings, stockings and coats.

“It’s really kind of depressing because I used to be so dependant on all these different things, but I’m learning to work within what I have right now and still be creative and come up with new (outfits).”

Her initial goal to raise awareness of sustainable fashion isn’t all she’s hoping to accomplish with the project, however. Other focuses of hers include less shopping for new clothes, eliminating her support of Wal-Mart and other corporations, and raising money for a charity of her choice.

“I will only buy something new if something I already have wears out,” she said. “It’s not really fair for me to be buying so many new things when I don’t really need them. I already have a closet full of stuff, I can just give that money to people that really need it.”

Durst estimates that she’s saved over $300 in the past four months by not buying any new clothes. But for Durst, who considered one of her hobbies to be thrifting prior to her year-long commitment, the biggest challenge is avoiding used clothes.

“A lot of people want to go thrifting with me but now I just can’t do it, it’s too much temptation,” Durst said. “A big majority of what I was buying anyways was from thrift stores—I try to buy at least 75 percent of my clothes from thrift stores.”

For students interested in the Uniform Project or a commitment to humane fashion, Durst suggests a few simple ways to improve your spending power and support sustainability in the fashion industry amid increasing consumption.

Among things that students can do, donating any unworn clothes to thrift stores in the Marquette area is the easiest. Other ideas include holding clothes swaps with friends, recycling old clothes and supporting sustainably minded clothing companies. For additional information, visit www.theuniformproject.com.