Q&A: EcoFashion - Making Sustainable Change With Alex Marchyshyn MEM/MBA'20

August 8, 2018

Tim Lucas, (919) 613-8084, tdlucas@duke.edu

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Coming off her impressive win at Wear It Wise’s Sustainable Fashion Challenge in June, Alex Marchyshyn MEM/MBA’20 took part in the Nicholas School of the Environment’s Q&A below to detail her entry’s multi-platform approach, whether fast fashion is picking up speed and how consumers can help create a sustainable global industry.

This summer, Alex worked as a Sustainable Supply Chain Analyst and EDF Climate Corps Fellow at Verizon Communications.

Q: Congratulations on winning the inaugural Wear It Wise Challenge! Tell me a little bit about your entry and what about it might have put you ahead of the others.

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Alex Marchyshyn MEM/MBA '20

A: Thank you! My campaign focused on fast fashion and how consumers can make better choices – especially students and young professionals. Due to limited budgets, these groups often rely on fast fashion rather than more sustainable options like buying secondhand, buying less or buying better. I wanted to reach people in two ways – through in-person events and through an online resource designed to help people on their own sustainable fashion journey.

I held a panel [on April 20, 2018 at the Nicholas School of the Environment] focused on how to move beyond fast fashion through the lens of brands based in North Carolina. The event was designed to educate the community about the alternatives to fast fashion and allow them to hear from NC brands at a variety of price points that are working to make fashion more sustainable. The panel was moderated by Nicholas Professor Deb Gallagher and included: Beth Stewart (Redress Raleigh); Kat Williford (Pamut Apparel); Bill Johnston (Recover Brands); Jordan Webster (VF Corp); and Dr. Jesse Daystar (Cotton Inc.).

I also held a clothing swap that brought in about 300 pieces of clothing and sent over 150 items to new homes.

Finally, I set up a website – SustainableFashion101.com – to help people get started on their journey. It’s so easy to get overwhelmed, so I wanted to create a space where people could come and find concrete steps. I’m particularly excited about this site as I plan to continue to add resources and a blog in the coming months.

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'Beyond Fast Fashion' panel discussion at Nicholas School's Field Auditorium (April 2018)

Q: Had you organized a panel discussion or put on a campus-wide clothing swap before?

A: I’d organized panels before (including an apparel panel at this year’s ClimateCap conference), but the clothing swap was new. I didn’t know how many people would participate, but I think getting the word out through multiple on-campus groups like Sustainable Duke, the Net Impact chapters of Nicholas and Fuqua, and the Duke Women’s Fashion Exchange group ensured that we got some really great items that went to new homes.  It was great to have the support of the Sustainable Duke Team and the various Net Impact chapters – their help was invaluable.

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Clothing swap organized by Alex Marchyshyn at Duke University (April 2018)

Q: A 2016 HuffPost report states, “The world consumes about 80 billion pieces of new clothing each year.” Tell me about “fast fashion.”

A: Fast fashion is basically trendy apparel that can be churned out on a dime. It’s cheap both in quality and in cost. Some fast fashion stores that may be familiar include H&M, Zara and Forever 21.

Apparel in general consumes a lot of raw materials and fast fashion takes all of that and scales output to a dramatic degree. In fact, you are seeing now that churning out an intense amount of clothing in such a short amount of time is not necessarily healthy even for a fast fashion retailer (see: H&M’s recent $4b amount of unsold clothes).

If you are getting a $4 T-shirt, that means that whomever makes your garment is getting paid a very low amount. Fashion and apparel has a large mark-up. This can lead to workers being exploited and situations like Rana Plaza – where the collapse of a building housing garment workers led to over 1,000 deaths.

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Q: What parts of the world are being hit the hardest?

A: Definitely the regions that make our clothes – that is where the run-off goes, the labor is used and the resources transported to and from. Sometimes in America, it feels very “out of sight, out of mind.” That is one of the reasons I am so excited to go on the trip to Mexico with Remake to meet the people that are making our clothes – I think this is something that people need to see as we don’t see the repercussions here in the U.S. 

Q: Do brands have a responsibility to be sustainable?

A: Yes – and it’s also in their best interest. Consumers, especially millennials and Generation Z, are supporting brands that align with their values.  In addition, brands use resources are not infinite.  Ultimately, it serves them to conserve both for planet and their bottom line.

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(Photo: The Clothing Industry's Environmental Impact)

Q: What is a sustainable brand?

A: To me, a sustainable brand is one that considers and prioritizes environmental and social factors when designing and manufacturing products. Companies that are sustainable think about the materials that go into a product (how much and what kind), the treatment of those making the product and how long a person can get wearable use out of it.

How does the average consumer make a difference in all of this?

A: Once people start their sustainable fashion journey, I often get the question “I have so many clothes and fast fashion pieces, should I just get rid of them all?” That answer is a definite no. Instead, think about it this way:

  • For the clothes you love: Take care of them (whether by air drying them, mending a tear, fixing a button) so that they last longer 
  • For the clothes you are ready to get rid of: consign, donate or recycle (places like H&M will take recycled clothes)
  • For clothes that you are planning to buy in the future: make sure you really want the things you buy and try to buy well-made things that will last. Secondhand sites like ThredUp and Poshmark are great ways to give other people’s clothing a second life.

Also – consumers have more power than they think. If you are concerned a store you love doesn’t have sustainable practices – say something! Write, tweet and call. In a business that is consumer-facing, there are actions people can take.  Vote with your dollars – buy from small local entrepreneurs or support large companies moving the needle for change.

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Q: Your winning entry with Wear It Wise raised the “fast fashion” conversation on campus. How do see your studies as a dual degree master’s student here preparing you to continue to lead change?

A: The reason I chose Duke was that it offered the opportunity to blend my dual interests of business and the environment to further my goal of making businesses more sustainable. As a MEM/MBA, I am exposed to both sides of the conversation that sustainability professionals navigate on a daily basis and have gained critical skills needed to bridge that gap. Knowing how to communicate with certain stakeholders will be crucial to secure buy-in and make the business case for sustainability.