Students & Fast Fashion: Is there a way to shop sustainably on a student budget?


Everyone knows what the phrase ‘fast fashion’ means, and the consequences it has in today’s society. We are told to avoid the likes of Shein and Penneys as they’re unethical and bad for the environment. However, as students, there is one reason to always fall back on these brands – they are cheap, simple as.

It seems people are often under the impression that young people don’t care about the effects of our shopping habits, but frankly, we do – we just don’t know how to shop sustainably on a student budget. An Focal’s Olivia O’Dwyer spoke to two people dedicating their time and effort to make a difference in this epidemic.

UL One and Done is a weekly clothing swap which takes place on the University of Limerick campus. The mastermind behind this sustainable fashion movement is international business student, Caithlin Cunnigham.

Caithlin, like many of us, noticed that herself and her friends were buying outfits for nights out, just for them to never be worn again. She mentioned that swapping clothes was a “common practice amongst her and her friends” and she wanted to extend this to a wider community.

Enlisting the help of her social and civic engagement class, plus the fashion society, UL One and Done was born.

The concept behind the organisation is simple: you bring an outfit (specifically a going-out outfit) and swap it for another outfit, for free.

According to Caithlin: “the best part about the service is that by participating, whether you realise it or not you’re helping to reduce clothing waste and promoting a more sustainable environment on campus.”

Does Caithlin think students want to be more sustainable? Maybe we already are. “There is often a stigma surrounding sustainable shopping that we have to boycott mass-producing brands like Shein, but by simply lending an outfit to a friend, whether it be from Shein or Depop, you’re still reducing your carbon footprint by re-wearing the same garment,” the student stated.

The staff of One and Done not only use their knowledge of sustainability, but also their common sense to run this service. “Although we wanted to restrict it to more sustainable and ethical brands, that meant only a limited number of students were able to donate. The likes of Pretty little thing, Oh Polly, Shein, and Zara are the top brands that pass through each week. Even though we don’t condone the practices of some of these brands, if the clothing has been previously bought why not make use of them instead of letting good clothes go to waste?” Cunningham poses.

After learning about the success of UL One and Done, including an encouraging email from Saoirse Ronan, I was eager to hear about the future plans for the organisation. “I would like to keep One and Done running once a week for the next few years,” Caithlin said. “We’re even thinking about extending it to a broader range of clothes.” Caithlin also mentioned her future plans of creating an app with an avatar, where you can virtually develop outfits and swap them with friends – think Cher from ‘Clueless’ but more sustainable.

Social media provides a great platform to come across sustainable brands and ideas. This is exactly where I came across fashion and textile designer Dearbhla.

Dearbhla created her business Dea Designs in her second year of college, where she began selling her designs on Depop. However, Dearbhla wanted to establish herself outside of Depop which led her to setting up her own website.

So, what makes her designs such good quality and sustainable? “I get my fabrics from Irish online fabric shops and order samples to get a feel for the quality,” the designer informed me.

Dearbla doesn’t follow trends she sees online, instead preferring to stick to her own ideas. The young designer wants to make her pieces unique and recognisable as Dea Designs. “I don’t want my customers to be worried about being trendy, I’d prefer them to have designs they can wear again and again,” Dearbhla stated. This mindset is what sets her apart from high street brands, finding her own inspiration to curate beautiful and sustainable garments instead of following micro trends.

A key aspect of setting up her business was having a good social media presence. “Although it can be time-consuming to create social media content, it’s important to give your business the promotion it deserves,” the designer stated.

Dearbhla hit the nail on the head with her description of shopping in our generation as a “habit of consumption”. How many times have you had a tough day at work or college and find yourself scrolling through Shein, H&M, and Zara to cheer yourself up?

Dearbhla asked our readers to ask themselves this question: “Am I really going to get the wear out of this or am I just getting it to have a package to look forward to? Instead of watching endless clothing hauls on Youtube, following influencers who restyle clothes is a lot more sustainable and can really inspire others to do the same.”

Dearbhla and Caithlin both spoke about their love of Depop and how you can find true gems on there if you take the time to look.

Listening to the way Caithlin and Dearbhla are making such an effort to change the shopping habits of our generation is truly inspiring – maybe we should all take a page out of their book to improve the way we shop.



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