Local fashion designer and sustainability group fight fast fashion from the forefront

photo of black clothes on hangers
Overconsumption of fashion is large contributing factor to climate change, and leads to more landfills and invasion of child-labor laws. of Photo by Artem Beliaikin on Pexels.com

Sarah Kunke picks up her sewing machine and places it on the table. She cuts two strips of zebra-print fabric and holds them under the machine. As it starts to whir, Sarah moves the fabric up and around the base of the sewing machine, slowly putting together pieces to add to the shirt she thrifted from the local thrift shop. 

“When I find new pieces, I love to fix them up and make them my own,” Kunke said. “Most thrifted pieces aren’t perfect so I like to put my own twist on them.” 

Kunke, like many, thrifts for her clothes instead of buying them online or participating in fast fashion. She began her interest in fashion at a young age by drafting a plan for a clothing store dubbed “Fancy Girls” after being taught to sew by her grandmother.

“I feel like a lot of kids at least learn how to sew, but when I learned I never wanted to stop doing it,” Kunke said.

The phrase ‘fast fashion’ refers to low-cost clothing collections that mimic current fashion trends, according to Fashion Theory Journal Volume 16. Fast fashion feeds the demand for cheap luxury clothing, even if it embodies unsustainability. Sustainable fashion, or sustainability as a whole, has become a hot-ticket issue as researchers show that climate change will affect day-to-day life sooner than later.

When Kunke began college as a fashion design major, the idea of sustainability never weighed on her mind. She knew of the large amounts of problems with the fashion industry but never really understood the extent.

“If things don’t get bought at the thrift store, they donate it to third world countries, and if they don’t use them, the clothes just sit in massive piles,” Kunke said. “I was very intrigued by this. Maybe, this is my place. Maybe I can truly make a difference in the fashion industry.”

There are several sustainbiliyt types in fashion including swapping and renting, and making your own. Courtesy of 8BillionTrees.com

Kunke’s plan for a new small business stems from the hope of others becoming less reliant on fast fashion and harmful fashion industries. Her dream job is to own a store where she buys all the clothes second-hand and remakes them, adding her personal flair to it without raising the prices. 

“I want to show people there are way more sustainable ways to shop. Trends come from other places, they come from times in the past. So why do we always need new material, why is all this material going to waste?” Kunke said. 

Educating others about the importance of thrifting and fast fashion has not only been in the interest of designers like Kunke. Sustainable Kent, an on-campus club that informs others of more sustainable practices, introduced a Kent State University thrift store called Pop Up Style last spring. Vice-President of the group, Sydney Townsend, agrees that it’s a good thing that generations are becoming more self-aware of where they buy their clothes and how they are made.

“We strive to try and balance and contain the cycle that people can get trapped in when it comes to clothes,” Townsend said. “It’s a good thing that people thrift and can shop from small businesses.”

While some may thrift for their clothes, designers like Kunke enjoy being able to make something unique and from scratch, hoping to eradicate the fashion pandemic that not many realize we are in. 

“The phrase ‘Oh my god where did you get that’ people can’t use with me anymore because I make my own things,” Kunke said. “It always kicks me back.”

Combined with the issue of fast fashion, thrifting has recently come under fire due to its popularity. With many more people going out and thrifting for their clothes, thrift stores raise their prices, and this can cause issues for people in low-income areas, where thrift stores were designed to help in the first place. 

“I’ve been trying to educate myself more on thrifting in general. If I’m buying all these things, I have the privilege of buying these things. For other people, this is their only option for clothing,” Kunke said. “There are thrift stores in low-income neighborhoods where you feel privileged and you have to make sure you’re not being a spoiled brat. You have to check your privilege.” 

In Ohio, 50 women came together over the pandemic to form One Year Outfit, a challenge to make an outfit, from scratch, using only natural fibers and materials sources within 250 miles of Cleveland. Textile waste is a large contributor to fast fashion, and many turn to thrift stores to supplement the cost of throwing out over the cost of buying.

Townsend and her group hope to provide a short-term solution for those in Kent that are in need of cheap and well-made clothing at a low price. 

“Basically, it’s a bunch of thrifted clothes, and you could shop from the rack or bring in something to trade for equal value,” Townsend said. “It’s very affordable and easy and a good way to support the community.”