Upcycle instead of being a part of the cycle

Allie Thompson/Fourth Estate

The MIX@Fenwick hosts a sustainable-fashion challenge


According to fast-fashion critic Elizabeth Cline, “Americans consume nearly 20 billion garments a year, equivalent to 62 garments each.” This is the result of the rise of the fast-fashion industry. These pieces of clothing are produced, often unethically, in other countries at the cost of the environment. The danger of fast fashion to both the environment and to the laborers who work in the industry led a group of faculty to create the Upcycled Fashion Challenge last year.

Allie Thompson/Fourth Estate

“It started out last year as a partnership between the MIX and the Office of Sustainability,” Amanda Jarvis, the MIX maker manager, said. “This year, it grew into a larger campaign.”

The MIX asked people to donate clothing that could be “upcycled” into new pieces. “The purpose of this is to raise awareness of the fashion industry and how wasteful [it can be],” Jarvis said. The challenge encourages people to give new life to their own clothing instead of going out to buy something new.

Submissions are due by April 19, with voting opening the same day for the Mason community and continuing through April 24. On Wednesday, April 24, at 5 p.m., the MIX will host both an exhibit of the pieces submitted and a sustainable fashion panel discussion.

“Experts in sustainable fashion in local businesses and on campus [are] going to be talking about sustainable fashion in different areas,” Jarvis said. Afterward, there will be an awards ceremony based on the results of voting.

Allie Thompson/Fourth Estate

In addition, the MIX will hold a series of workshops that teaches people to upcycle and repair clothing. Therefore, participation in the challenge is not limited to people who have experience in sewing and textiles. Anyone can join and participate in the movement for sustainable fashion.

“We have gotten some more people in on it to help us out this year,” Jarvis said.  “Last year, we only got six entries, but this year, we are hoping to double that and maybe more.” The challenge consists of taking donated clothing from the MIX or thrifted clothing that the participant has found. “It should be recycled clothing, not something that you bought new.”

Jarvis continued, “Then, you can sew it into something new, give it a second chance, a second life.” Once the piece is ready, you can submit it in the MIX@Fenwick. “We don’t have super-strict restrictions on it, because we are trying to get the most participation as possible,” she said.

“Really, the importance of this event is that it’s promoting sustainable fashion,” Jarvis said. Both individuals and groups can submit pieces.

There are endless possibilities to upcycle garments. For example, the MIX hosts a fiber arts guild for people who are interested in needle arts, which meets every Wednesday evening at the MIX. Members of the guild make yarn out of recycled T-shirts and knit it into new things. “Doni, who runs the greenhouse, is knitting baskets for her vegetables with this recycled T-shirt yarn,” Jarvis said.

In the future, Jarvis hopes to expand the challenge to the social entrepreneurship area. “This year we have been focusing on … the maker side of things, but we also, in the future, would like to add the social entrepreneurship element as well,” she said.

The current challenge focuses on the impact that fast fashion has on the environment—but the damages that the industry does do not end there. There are many social problems that come with fast fashion. Jarvis hopes to explore and challenge people at Mason to think of them.

The fiber arts guild at the MIX will also participate in the Maker Faire NoVa. So, even after the Upcycled Fashion Challenge, the guild will continue to meet every Wednesday in preparation for the fair. The group welcomes all Mason students who have an interest in the needle arts.