Kent State Student Proves Sustainability Can be Stylish
One Kent State University student is working to set a new standard in the fashion industry: proving that sustainability can be stylish.
Sophomore fashion merchandising major Kelly Cunningham is the founder of Global Fashion Citizens, a student organization that promotes sustainability and upcycling in the fashion industry.
“We are a human rights, environmental, informational club,” Cunningham says. “I formed the Global Fashion Citizens because I wanted to have a club at Kent State to promote and educate students on sustainable, eco-friendly, factory-worker friendly habits in the fashion industry.”
After watching True Cost, a documentary about the clothing industry, Cunningham learned more about the phenomena of fast fashion and the impact the fashion industry has on the environment.
“Our generation loves fast fashion,” Cunningham says. “We basically tell retailers that we want super trendy clothes for super cheap, and we want it now. When retailers listen, we get what we want, but the clothes are poorly made. So when a shirt rips or a button falls out, we just throw the clothing away – which is a really bad habit to fall into.”
Her passion for sustainability was sparked again after meeting a first-generation Bangladeshi-American who had family members who were impacted directly by the fast fashion industry and factory work in Bangladesh. The stories of these struggles made Cunningham want to take action.
After researching the fashion industry and ways she could make a positive change in fashion, Global Fashion Citizens was created.
The group hosts documentary showings of True Cost to educate other students, as well as hosting ‘FashMob’ fashion shows and clothing swaps for students.
Cunningham’s FashMobs are small fashion shows hosted at various locations around large-scale campus events. During the spring 2015 Flashfest concert with Chase Rice, Cunningham’s group caught the artist’s attention.
“During FlashFest, we just stood on Risman Plaza with signs about sustainable fashion and had models walking in outfits that were completely thrifted,” Cunningham says. “Chase Rice actually called us out during the show, it wasn’t positive attention based on what he said, but it got people to turn around and see our work, so I was happy with it.”
For Cunningham, the organization’s mission and values run deeper than just hosting events and promoting sustainability. She lives the organization’s mission. Since discovering how damaging the fashion industry is to the environment, Cunningham stopped purchasing off-the-rack clothing.
“My closet is almost entirely thrifted, which I think is super cool," she says. "For me, it works because it supports my sense of style."
When forming the organization, Cunningham needed a faculty advisor to become registered officially through Kent State. She turned to Margarita Benitez, an associate professor in the School of Fashion Design and Merchandising.
“I believe sustainability and current consumer behavior in regards to fashion consumption are issues that need to be discussed and thought carefully about,” Benitez says. “We are all complicit in contributing when, where and how we shop for fashion. Kelly saw that there was no fashion student organization focused on sustainability, and she took it upon herself to start one and make a difference.”
For Cunningham, the group is all about creating awareness. She hopes to spark curiosity among students and make consumers stop and think about where their clothing is coming from.
“I just want students to have questions,” Cunningham says. “I am asking the bare minimum of them. I can’t force people to go out and thrift or to stop buying new clothing, but I do hope to make them curious. I want them to have questions and to know where their clothing comes from.”
To learn more about Global Fashion Citizens and see their event schedule, visit the group’s Facebook page.