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/ March 5, 2012
Gallatin Seniors Promote Ethical Fashion With New NYU Thrift Store

You don’t need to wear hemp clothing to be eco-fashionable, as Gallatin seniors Celia Reingold and Sarah Ferguson aim to prove with Sloth. Sloth is an organization dedicated to promoting slow consumption in the fashion world. Reingold and Ferguson are working to develop Sloth into NYU’s first thrift store, providing students with a place to swap and donate old clothing, and creating an NYU platform for global social activism.

According to the project mission, Sloth aims “to improve the global human condition by encouraging slow consumption–socially conscious spending habits that support fair wages, safe working conditions, environmental sustainability, and economic transparency.” We had a chance to speak with Reingold and Ferguson about the project, and what it means to support slow fashion.

What is Sloth?

We aim to create a provocative way of spending both time and money in an innovative communal venue. For example, slow consumption can begin to be achieved by purchasing a portion of one’s wardrobe from second-hand, vintage shops and consignment shops, or even trading with friends, thus ensuring that items stay in circulation longer and reducing the demand for newly manufactured goods.

Expanding this platform, we advocate a heightened focus on the re-use of existing garments through their remaining life span. If not discarded as trash, used clothing currently is donated to charities such as Goodwill, with better items finding their way to pricey vintage shops or designer consignment stores. We seek to encourage an energetic middle market within our world at NYU, where students can exchange clothes through our system and pay a minimal price for high-quality, wearable items, where Celia’s old sweater is Sarah’s new Saturday night attire.

The goal is to re-educate consumers to “swap” clothing on a regular basis, to use last year’s fashion in creative new ways, and to wear textiles throughout their useful life with pride rather than embarrassment. The Sloth project aims to harness the ever-present and inherent aspect of a contemporary culture devoted to public fashion, and to eventually refocus Steele’s concept of modern spectacle into a more positive and productive credo.

How and when did Sloth come about?

We met in a class our sophomore year called “Approaches to Material Culture” and we have been best friends ever since. It was actually in this class, taught by the wonderful Jessamyn Hatcher whom we absolutely adore, where SLOTH was born. We read this incredible book for class by Pietra Rivoli titled The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy that traces the entire life span of a t-shirt from the growing of cotton to where it ends up after being donated or discarded.

Rivoli underscores the dire urgency for projects like our NYU thrift store. Rivoli states, “If I learned anything from my travels over most of the past decade, it’s that university students represent one of the most powerful forces for change in our society” (Rivoli xv). This base of university students is a logical and influential target, and too few know about or express concern in the cycle of production and consumption outlined in exposés such as Travels of a T-shirt.

Although the Sloth concept is intended to be fun, create community and further our passion for fashion, our goal is to be educators and actual agents of change. We aim to make slow consumption a feasible and enticing reality. We think the concept of the spectacle can be harnessed to produce good, rather than goods. We were awarded a $4000 grant from the Gallatin Student Resource Fund as seed money to begin making Sloth a reality and branding a new “new.” GO SLOTH!

Tell us about the name!

The rationale behind our idea to integrate slow consumption lies in the simple fact that our planet cannot sustain our current global practices. We need to look at things differently, and soon. At the astounding rate that industrialized nations devour clothing, perhaps our slow moving friend the sloth holds the evolutionary key to sustainable living and an improved human condition.

The word “sloth” is shadowed in our doctrine of “slow clothes” which is the working logo of our project. Emerging from their tree top dwellings on an infrequent basis to consume only the necessary amount of food to sustain them until their next distant meal, the sloth epitomizes the positive economics of slow consumption rather than a deadly sin.

Globalization, technology and the onset of mass media shrinks the world daily, and modern consumers find encouragement for unbridled purchasing in new ways that reflect this rapid change. Fast consumption has been the norm since the machinery of the Industrial Revolution moved the fashion industry out of the home and placed it into the newly built factories.

What do you mean by slow clothes and slow fashion?

In the footsteps of the “slow food” movement, a “slow fashion” concept has been quietly percolating, which encourages conscientious purchasing from ethical suppliers who pay a living wage and use green/recycled textiles. While these efforts are laudable and important, slow consumption as applied to the fashion industry embodies the further idea of redefining the concept of “new.”

By generating specific ideals and practices, the process would have the effect of literally slowing down the rate at which society consumes fashion in any form. The goal is not to achieve martyrdom through deprivation, but to reach for larger global goals and at the same time increase excitement when obtaining truly “new” fashions and textiles that are ethically produced, affordable and necessary. Our philosophy of slow consumption advocates not only buying less, but more importantly, buying smarter.

Tell us about your goal of setting up an operating an NYU thrift store.

We were inspired to move beyond the cookie-cutter national volunteer incentives available at NYU and every other campus, and to create a unique service project that speaks to our university population. With thousands of student consumers seeking to meet New York City fashion standards with limited funds, our solution is to provide NYU with a campus-run thrift store.

The thrift store would provide an exhilarating opportunity to create an inexpensive shopping Mecca for students on a budget, and also to give back to the community with charitable donations of the unsold clothes, financial donations of the funds raised by sales, and participation in a growing movement that encourages economic, humanitarian and environmental consumption.

What are your long-term plans for Sloth?

Beyond a central clothing exchange for students, our additional ideas include shipping unsold clothing to international NYU campuses such as Ghana, where our t-shirts can travel too and be redistributed to those in need. Unsold shoes can be donated to TOMS®, and in exchange we hope to negotiate a sharing of profits with a special TOMS editions of an NYU shoe which we designed. Funds for operations, education and donation will be raised by annual auctions with donations of clothing by celebrity alumni such as Lady Gaga, the Olsen Sisters, Anne Hathaway and others.

NYU’s home-grown celebrities have the opportunity to take advantage of the powerful sway they have over consumers, and hopefully they can assist us in implementing a trickledown effect to all of those fans constantly watching and emulating them. Special tags will be placed on each item for sale in the boutique with a carefully selected fact about the world’s current state regarding consumption, waste, worker’s rights, ethical concerns and environmental impact. Our ideas for Sloth are unlimited.

Where does Sloth stand now?

Sloth is like a nomad at the moment. Our ultimate goal is to have a permanent space on NYU’s campus to house Sloth, the NYU student-run thrift store. So, while we work our way to achieving that goal, Sloth is on the go. We are planning to have three to five events in March and April, which will range from clothing swaps, brainstorming sessions, and revamping/updating your clothes events (this would entail bringing any clothes you no longer like/wear/or old clothes that you don’t feel ready to part with and you can bring some supplies or ideas and together with Sloth we can update the garments by sewing embroideries, mixing and matching two different garments into one new garment, etc.).

The great thing about Sloth is that even though it is about fashion because of the media (clothes) we use, but it includes so many more fields, interests, etc. like business, the environment, human rights, entrepreneurship, etc., so anyone is more than welcome to come to these events or contact us with interest/questions, etc.

Anything else?

We have a super cool Facebook page that we would love for as many people as possible to check out (and hopefully “like”!) and we also have a direct Sloth email account (NYUSloth(at)gmail(dot)com) if anyone would like to contact us directly! We want to share Sloth with anyone interested and really make Sloth a community, so please join in on the fun and help spread the ways of slow consumption!

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