A DePaul student keeping her family’s clothes in fashion
Sustainable fashion is a phrase that trendy, in-the-know people throw around, but no one wants to be the weirdo asking for a definition. Can you define it? Really. Without a thesaurus or Google search. Is it worth the bother when it all ends up in landfills anyway? But we must do something, says your conscience. So, what can you do? And why is it your job?
Mac Detert, a documentary film and animation student at DePaul University with a flair for repurposing vintage clothing, acts on her concern for the planet by wearing her late grandmother’s clothing.
“I’ve seen so many videos of rag houses, like basically where clothes go to die,” Detert said. “It’s like if stores can’t sell them, they’ll send them there and they get repurposed into industrial rags, and you see these images and it’s just like more clothing than you could ever fathom existing.”
Her contribution to reducing planetary impact is to use what “already exists.” She combines her nana’s outfits with other items found while thrifting or received from friends. She is concerned about the “kind of world we’re going to inherit.” Detert’s fear of the planet’s future prompts her to think that it’s a “moral obligation to be as sustainable as you can.”
Adila Cokar, founder of The Good Tee, an organic fairtrade company, shares Detert’s concern for the planet, but extends it to the people who make what we wear. She explains that when we speak of sustainability, “the term is used very loosely.”
“It is more than reducing planetary impact,” Cokar said. “It is to do with the ethics, like how are the people being treated when they’re making the product, and how you can give back to society?”
Cokar’s interpretation of sustainability is values-based. It is focused on doing good for all concerned – the people who produce what we wear as well as our planet.
“My mission is really to educate people that clothing is made by humans and not machines,” she said.
Cokar also shifts the duty for responsible use of fashion to consumers rather than the garment industry alone.
“Eighty percent of your environmental impact actually happens after you take it home,” Cokar said. “How do you wash it? Are you drying it in a dryer? Sustainable fashion doesn’t have to just do with the manufacturer. It’s everybody.”
People who shop at main street stores may admire the use of sustainable fashion but find it too costly. Detert counters that thrifting is sustainable because it is repurposing the discarded clothes.
“On one hand, I can see where they’re coming from, because they break down the price and kind of show, like, this is for labor and this is, like, shipping so they can treat everyone fairly, and I respect that,” Detert said.
To reduce cost, Detert thinks it can only happen if more people focus on brands with a track record of sustainability rather than fast fashion.
Detert did not have contact with her maternal grandmother in her early childhood, but she was instinctively drawn to vintage style and old band music. Her mother would comment that her grandmother had similar interests. She met her nana during her teenage years. To connect with her granddaughter, Detert says she would give her old pieces of clothing, which fueled Detert’s interest in vintage wear.
“She was a hoarder, so she never threw anything away,” Detert said. “She’d be like, ‘This was mine when I was your age’ and would give it to me. So, it was kind of a mix between previous lack of interaction and stuff that I was starting to get into that made me really latch onto the clothes that she gave me.”
Detert combines her nana’s black velvet, embroidered waistcoat with a white lace-trimmed blouse that gives a hint of The Artist Formerly Known as Prince, and completes the look with a long, chic, 1920-esque khaki skirt that is perfect for Chicago in February, all sustainably sourced.
Her sustainability values are evident in luxury brands such as Net-a-Porter. Vogue Business says the brand’s repairs and alterations initiative will enable “our network of specialist makers to deliver sustainable solutions to people at scale.” The magazine states that “Net-a-Porter says it hopes to reduce waste, increase garment longevity and promote sustainable consumption.”
Cokar also advises that it isn’t necessary to continuously buy clothes. She even explains that you can contribute to sustainability efforts by taking care of your clothing.
“Just because you wore it once doesn’t mean it has to go in the wash. You can spot clean something,” Cokar said. “When you do need to buy, you should research your companies, try to support people who have a transparent supply chain. But you don’t need to buy anything new in order to be sustainable. There’s so much clothes out there.”
Cokar gives a cost-effective way of obtaining clothing without spending money. “I’m sure so many companies would be so willing to share the samples with people. They don’t even need to buy it, right?” she said.
Detert’s nana died in 2020. She was tasked with helping her mother and uncle sort her grandmother’s things.
“Sometimes if I have a dress or a skirt, I hem it or I just cut it. I like the raw hem. But most of the time I leave it as it is. I always try and sit with something before I make a change to it because I know it’s irreversible,” says Detert.
She says of her passion for vintage wear: “It brings me so much joy doing it that I can’t see how it wouldn’t bring other people joy. It’s like you walk in somewhere and you see something and it’s like the Marie Kondo question, ‘Does it spark joy?’ And it sparks joy, you know? And it’s something that you need.”
Header Illustration by Madeline Smith