Many people, including successful entrepreneurs like Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, wear the same clothing daily because they want to focus their decision-making energy on more important things. However, Julia Mooney’s, “One outfit, 100 days” challenge, has a more altruistic motive. The art teacher at the William W. Allen Middle School in Moorestown, New Jersey is wearing the same dress for the first 100 days of school to create awareness of the environmental costs of fast fashion.
For those unfamiliar with the term, fast fashion refers to the reproduction of stylish apparel – inspired by the catwalk or celebrity culture – at rapid speeds and low costs. Available online or from retailers like Forever 21, H&M, and Zara, it allows everyone to adopt the latest fashion trends instantly. Though that sounds like a win-win for all, the rapid turnaround in styles and the affordable prices result in impulse purchases, many of which are tossed after being worn just once or twice. In the US alone, over 21 billion pounds of textiles end up in landfills every year.
Fulfilling the continuous demand for cheap clothing has its own issues. Polyester, often the fabric of choice, is derived from fossil fuels, contributing to global warming. Also, the garments shed microfibers when washed, adding to the already high levels of microplastics floating around in our oceans. Buying clothing made from natural fibers like cotton has downsides, too. The large quantity of water required to grow the crop often depletes the nearby water sources, while the pesticides used to keep the plant healthy pollute the water and soil, posing a health risk for the area’s residents.
Additionally, to keep the prices low, retailers outsource the manufacturing to developing countries, most of which have no, or very lax, labor laws. As a result, garment creators, many of whom are minors, work long hours in unsafe conditions and for meager wages. Fast fashion also has an adverse effect on consumers, who often feel social pressure to purchase new clothes to keep up with the latest trends.
Mooney says the idea for the “One Outfit, 100 Days” challenge began as a flippant comment she made to her husband during the summer. However, upon thinking about it further, she decided it would be an excellent way to extend her eco-friendly lifestyle, and, more importantly, serve as a great lesson for her new students. “It was a nice opportunity to demonstrate to the kids how artists often blur the lines between art and activism,” the educator says.
Selecting the perfect outfit for the challenge was a little tricky. After some deliberation, Mooney settled on a beige dress. She says,“I needed to pick a dress that was going to be versatile because I’m going to be wearing it through the winter, and when we started the school year it was 90 degrees, So I’m going to have to add some tights to it and some boots during the winter, and maybe a cardigan. I also chose a plain dress so I could maybe change it up with a scarf or something. It’s also made of a durable material, hemp, which sort of wears in instead of wearing out.”
Though she has a backup dress, Mooney, who began the challenge on the first day of school on September 5, 2018, plans to use it only if absolutely necessary. While wearing an apron has made it easy to keep the outfit clean at work, doing so at home around her two toddlers has been a bit of a challenge. However, except for a few minor mishaps, Mooney has managed to keep the clothing clean. Since machine washing the dress would defeat the purpose of her message about sustainable living, Mooney hand cleans it every night.
The educator’s experiment has aroused the curiosity of many students and led to productive discussions around fast fashion. It has also inspired her husband and three teachers from a nearby school to take up the challenge. Mooney says the experiment has forced her to rethink her attitude towards clothes. “I kind of value things more now — respecting the planet for my children and respecting other humans that are working abroad, and kind of trying to value myself in a different way, as opposed to caring so much about what I look like,” she says. “I’m probably going to cut down on my wardrobe and have less, and try to buy used clothes and try to make some things more and get creative.” Hopefully, people worldwide will follow her lead and make a concerted effort to apply the “three R’s” – reuse, recycle, and, most importantly, reduce – to their wardrobes, as well.
Resources: Yahoo.com, patch.com, jezbel.com