Widgets Magazine


Making Fashion Sustainable with Union Underground

With the Stanford fountains recently shut off for the rest of the year in order to save water, sustainability has been the word on everyone’s lips. And the fashion industry is especially in need of sustainability. It takes over 1,800 gallons of water to make a pair of jeans and about 400 gallons to make enough cotton for a t-shirt.

In addition to water consumption issues, cotton, one of the most prolific fabric materials for apparel, is considered one of the ‘dirtiest’ crops grown in the world because of the insecticide use associated with it. Non-organic cotton also requires a significant amount of synthetic fertilizer to grow; almost a third of a pound of synthetic fertilizer to produce the amount of cotton for one t-shirt.

Where do these extra inputs go after performing their role in assisting fast and high-yield cotton production? Fertilizer will run off into rivers and streams, creating hypoxic conditions that deplete oxygen levels for fish and other marine organisms. Insecticides could detrimentally affect farmworkers and laborers who harvest the crop, especially since most cotton is grown in developing countries with fewer regulations or technology for handling potent insecticides safely.

But does fashion with a conscience leave us with shapeless jackets made from the same material as recycled Arrowhead water bottles?

No. Like so many things in our lives, we have overcomplicated our solutions. Why not eschew purchasing new clothes, regardless of how environmentally friendly they claim to be, and instead look into buying clothes second-hand?

There’s something to be said about thrifting. I have this jacket that I wear all the time; it’s a beat-up gray letterman with an American flag patch on the back and the name “Theo” embroidered on the left front pocket. Mainly, I wear the jacket because it’s warm and acts as a much needed barrier against the piercing wind when I bike. But I also wear it because I like to think that Theo is out there somewhere, being patriotic and wondering who is using his jacket to keep warm on frosty mornings.

On Stanford’s campus, we don’t have an excuse not to thrift; we have our very own secondhand store on campus. Bonus: everything in it is absolutely free. Union Underground (in the basement underneath Axe and Palm in Old Union) was founded in February 2011 and is open from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m., Thursday through Saturday. According to current director Justin Briggs, donations are composed of big bags of clothes that are sorted by Union Underground employees, and all members of the community are welcome to stop by and have anything from the store for free. If the store gets too full, Union Underground donates items to a charity, ensuring that these clothes, shoes and miscellaneous college necessities don’t go to waste.

Later on in life when I trade in my sweatpants for something a little more business casual, I’m going to donate my bomber jacket to a thrift store in the hopes that this little piece of history never rots in the back of a closet. Sustainable fashion doesn’t require cutting-edge technology. It’s been right here all along.

Ashley Overbeek ’17

Editor of MINT Magazine


Contact her at ashleyov@stanford.edu.