Born and raised in India in a middle-class family of educators, I come from a developing country with a rich craft heritage and limited resources. Striving to produce as little waste as possible was a way of life that has shaped my world-view. As I grew up and went to college, I fell in love with the science behind materials — the tactile nature and beauty of textiles, and the art of making.
I learned that the mindful consumption of products, processes, and services can lead to a more sustainable lifestyle. It is also fulfilling on a personal level to know that I am wearing a 20-year-old skirt or sari, second-hand clothing, or clothing that I made myself. It is therapeutic to use a hand skill to mend your clothes, even to simply reattach a button or stitch a decorative design. This work makes me feel tall.
My research on sustainability in the textiles and apparel discipline has filtered into my advocacy, teaching, and research practice. I am now an educator of fashion merchandising and apparel design at St. Catherine University, where I have transformed the curriculum to include emphasis on sustainability.
It has been over ten years since a colleague and I started making this change. Now every fashion and apparel course at St. Kate’s includes texts and coursework that offer holistic views of sustainability issues in the fashion industry. I hope that students retain an understanding of how sustainable practices can impact the supply chain, and are able to apply or suggest environmentally responsible strategies in their personal and professional roles.
Societal values delineate our expectations for manufacturers. Our values, culture, and mindsets are the drivers that influence our purchasing decisions, such as where we shop and whether we consider the information on the product label or the principles behind the brand.
Even when companies capitalize on the marketability of green products, they may engage in “greenwashing” by exaggerating their product’s environmentally responsible practices in order to mislead consumers.
The fast fashion industry is encouraged when we shop with a click on our devices and do not fully engage ourselves in buying decisions. Do you purchase four cotton tank tops in different colors for $40 even if they are made in a sweatshop factory in another country? Or do you spend $40 on two organic cotton tank tops that are made well and fairly — buying less yet spending the same amount of money? Ultimately, we consumers tell companies whether it is profitable to produce garments that are disposable.
Awareness of our choices and more engagement with our consumption will contribute to our present well-being, and that of future generations. We cannot go endlessly without thinking about the impact of our everyday consumption.
When I buy clothes, I keep quality and longevity in mind. When available, I buy from second hand stores. In teaching and consulting with apparel manufacturers, my goal is to facilitate awareness, make knowledge accessible, and empower individuals to be mindful of their choices and the impacts of their decisions. Reflecting on my values makes my life and work more environmentally responsible.
For 25 years, Dr. Anupama Pasricha (she/her) has focused her global research on sustainability throughout the supply chain. She is an educator who chairs the Department of Apparel, Merchandising, and Design at St. Catherine University. She is also on the board of directors at the Textile Center of Minnesota.