The best days were those when I got delivery notifications from UPS and Winthrop at the same time. I would hop into the elevator, trotting down the hallway past the Building Manager’s office like a happy child on Christmas morning. As I rummaged through the cubbies and bins, searching for my n-th order of the semester, it seemed like the dozens of Prime packages were smiling in anticipation along with me.
Online shopping is fun. There’s no denying the anticipation of waiting for a package to arrive. When you’re at college, away from home, and without a car, online shopping becomes a necessity. When you forget to pack for the cold weather or need an outfit for a themed event in three days, “Add to Cart” will always come to the rescue.
But after the initial dopamine boost from the retail therapy wore off, the packaging and bubble mailers taunted me from the recycling bin. A nagging reminder of my overconsumption, a gentle nudge that sent me down the thought spiral of questioning: Did I really need that?
The fashion industry is responsible for 10 percent of carbon emissions annually, making it one of the largest polluters on the planet. But it seemed to me like being an environmentalist meant owning very few of the right things: a capsule wardrobe, reusable products made from organic and recycled materials, neutral-colored everything — the complete opposite of what I gravitate towards as a past Miss New York. Surely, there had to be a way to be Earth-conscious without limiting my wardrobe to basics and earth tones, with no room for fun and flexibility. So there began my search for sustainable fashion and shopping habits.
Reformation likes to say “Being naked is the #1 most sustainable option. We’re #2.” Wrong. The most sustainable option (after being naked) is simply wearing what you own. Whether it’s from fast fashion giants like Shein, leaders in sustainability like Patagonia, or your roommate’s made-to-order crochet shop, wearing the pieces you own emits no extra carbon into the atmosphere.
Another S-tier option is borrowing clothing or buying secondhand. Similarly to wearing what’s in your wardrobe, nothing new is created, meaning no carbon emissions from the manufacturing process. Phone a friend the next time you need an outfit on short notice, especially if you only plan on wearing it once.
There’s always the option of buying pre-loved clothes from local thrift stores or more upscale curators, like The Garment District. Personally, I’ve had better success online. Between Depop, thredUP, Swap, Thrifted, Poshmark, Facebook Marketplace (which I’ve heard is good for furniture?), and a billion others, there are countless opportunities to shop secondhand.
Besides, there’s always the Senior Sale at the end of the year.
Ideally, every brand would sell ethically and sustainably made clothing for a price that everyone can afford. But it’s no secret that some brands are more ethical than others and that many sustainable companies brandish high prices and limited size ranges.
If you can buy from a sustainable brand, go ahead, but realistically, most of us can’t afford to spend $100+ per piece every time we shop. This doesn’t mean we can’t do anything.
Sustainability is a sliding scale.
Literally: Good On You rates clothing brands on their environmentally-friendly practices, or lack thereof, on a scale from “We Avoid” (Fabletics, Fashion Nova) to “Great” (ARMEDANGELS, MATE the Label). Several mainstream brands hover around “It’s a Start”, like Dickies, Nike, and Levi’s. We should all aim for a more sustainable brand than where we’ve bought from in the past.
No matter where you buy, how you buy still makes a difference. Shopping online can be more environmentally friendly than shopping in-store — but only if you do it correctly.
It starts with making the decision to shop either online or in-store. By doing both, you put both your personal vehicle and a delivery truck on the road when you could’ve just had one. If you know Staples doesn’t carry your favorite pen, order it online with the rest of your stationery, ideally in one package. Head to CVS in the Square if you’re in need of quick snacks or batteries for your LEDs instead of buying one online and the other in-store.
Next, go with standard shipping whenever possible. Although tempting, selecting next-day or other express shipping options increases carbon emissions by forcing package carriers to deliver on a half-empty truck. For the dedicated Amazon Primers, try making less frequent orders and combining packages when possible — it makes for an easier trip to the mailroom anyway. And if you really want a gold star, you can pick up your packages from the nearest Amazon Locker (there’s one in Central — get yourself some bubble tea at the same time as a reward).
The great thing about these guidelines is that they can be applied to any online purchase, no matter the brand.
Creating a more sustainable world means making changes that are sustainable for you. No one has to do everything, but everyone has to do something. Take the time to buy pieces you’ll wear and care for the clothes you already own. If a beauty queen can be a proud outfit repeater, I have faith that you can too.
Jordan A. Sanchez ’24 is a Physics concentrator in Winthrop House. Her column “Everyday Environmentalist” appears on alternate Fridays.