The New Fashion Police: Fashion as a point of conversation

The New Fashion Police: Fashion as a point of conversation blog part 2

Table of Conversations

This Fall, the University of Northern Iowa welcomed 9,021 students back to campus. The student body at UNI is composed of traditional and non-traditional, undergraduate, transfer, international and graduate students all ready to take on tomorrow. 

For any group of students, there will be challenges and barriers to overcome as they pursue their tomorrow, but they also have the ability to make an impact for a better tomorrow. In my blog, The New Fashion Police: Fashion as Waste, I discussed my interest in starting or hosting a clothing closet or mini thrift store for the campus community to participate in and donate to. My first step was to engage with campus staff and community members to flesh out this idea.

Connie Hansen, Associate Director, Student Involvement

I decided to start my search with the woman who is in charge of the UNI Panther Pantry, Connie Hansen. From her I learned that second hand clothing and food are not allowed to be in the same area. Although she loved the idea of a mini thrift store on campus, she was not able to help me with the process. 

Eric O’Brien, UNI Sustainability Coordinator

I was curious to see what had already been done at the university in terms of diverting clothes from landfills. My search led me to Eric O’Brien, the sustainability coordinator at UNI. After a meeting with him I was able to get a better insight of the clothing swap a former student created, and then later he took over. The swap is 100% donation based. Each year, Eric and his team set out boxes in the dorms to collect used clothing that is no longer wanted. Once all the clothes are collected, they are sorted into different sizing and used in the clothing drive that happens once a year in Maucker Union. In recent years, the proceeds from the clothing drive have been donated to the Panther Pantry.

Eric was very fun to talk to, and I could tell that he was very passionate about the topic. Eric expressed how there are only a handful of people that come to the swaps, “No matter how much advertising we do, we seem to have the same amount of people” Eric said. In my opinion, I think it is because people are not interested. I believe it just comes down to the education of the environmental impacts of clothing. We are not taught about the negative impact the clothes on our back can have on our environment once we are done with them .

Eric brought up the topic of having a little thrift store here on campus, where people could come and take what they need. One significant challenge with this idea is space. Do we even have room to do this on campus? When bringing up these issues, a lightbulb turned on in Eric's head. We hopped into the golf cart and made our way to central campus. He showed me a building that I never knew existed. The building was vacant, but was heated and cooled year round. It was a perfect place on campus to do something like this. Eric wasn't sure if UNI would just lend the building out, or if they would want to charge a rental fee, but the option left me feeling optimistic. 

Natalie Earnest, CSBS Career Coordinator 

In addition to Eric, I also set up a meeting with Natalie Earnest. Natalie is in charge of running the JCPenny Suit Up Program at the University of Northern Iowa. The Suit Up program provides UNI students an additional 30% off of clothing purchased through JCPenney. I was surprised to learn that an average of 80 kids a semester use this code. I also found out that a little clothing closet had been in the works a couple of years ago, but then was put on hold by the university administration due to funding challenges. Although our meeting was very short, I learned a lot of valuable information about the needs on campus. 

Jessica Rucker, Executive Director - Main Street Waterloo

After digging into on campus options, I decided to expand my conversations into the Cedar Valley community. I began with Main Street Waterloo Executive Director, Jessica Rucker. Jessica leads the organization that supports and advocates for the small main street Waterloo businesses. I wanted to pick her brain about clothing sustainability and small business as she has a pulse on these businesses daily. One significant issue she sees with trying to open a market of sustainable clothing into small businesses already selling clothes is the logistics. She states, “A lot of the time these businesses only have one to two people working. I am not sure if they would have the time or the space, or even the money.'' Talking to Jessica gave me great insight into what small businesses have to deal with daily. Not all businesses have the resources to be sustainable. 

What's Next?

So where do I go from here, you may wonder. Do you remember those 9,120 I mentioned at the start of this article? Well, I decided to continue the conversation with my fellow peers. Tune in next month to learn what students on campus have to say on the topic of fashion waste and sustainability.