Sustainability, But Make It Fashion

Andrew M. Santos

There is a lot of power behind Isla Blake, not only as a women’s varsity crew member but also as a Changemaker at the University of San Diego. A senior, majoring in Environmental and Ocean Sciences (EOSC), she’s using her power to change the course of fast fashion’s impact on higher education institutions.

Blake’s interest in creating sustainable change is the culmination of multiple experiences from her own life. One of those is as an athlete for the university. She and her teammates constantly receive new, sponsored clothing from Nike. 

“We receive so much gear that half of it is just sitting in my drawer,” says Blake. “It’s not encouraged to recycle the gear that athletes don’t use.”

For Blake, the clothes tucked away in the back of her dresser also burned in the back of her mind. Especially since she grew up in New Zealand purchasing her clothing from thrift shops, a more sustainable and accessible way to shop.

Blake decided to take action. Early on during her time at USD, she worked with Associate Professor of EOSC Suzanne Walther, PhD. It was during this time that she started thinking about a senior project that would focus on fast fashion and its impact on universities and the globe.

She then met Associate Professor of EOSC Michel Boudrias, PhD, who encouraged Blake to expand her project and look at ways she could implement change at USD by addressing students’ fast fashion habits.

“Fast fashion is trendy, inexpensive and you can find it in your size,” says Blake. “It was important to me to look at how we can make buying clothing easy for everyone — every body type and every gender — while also caring about the environmental impacts.”

Going back to her roots, Blake decided to create a pop-up thrift shop on campus during Earth Month. With the help of USD Sustainability Club, she coordinated placing donation bins at the Crossroads in the Valley and the Vistas and Manchester resident halls to collect clothing items that students no longer wanted hanging in their closets. 

The clothes will be collected and hung up for students to thumb through at a pop-up thrift shop on Tuesday, April 26 from noon to 4 p.m. in Paseo de Colachis Plaza. 

“There have been clothing swaps on campus in the past,” says Blake. “The women I’m working with and I wanted this to be more than a pop-up thrift shop, though. We wanted to have an educational piece that extends students’ learning and understanding about clothing and the planet.”

The clothing is free, but to enter the pop-up students must scan a QR code and answer a sustainability trivia question related to fast fashion. For example, how many gallons of water does it take to produce one T-shirt? Once they answer, a page with the correct answer will appear with additional information to educate students about the impact of fast fashion on the environment.

Blake hopes to gain more insight from the event to see if there’s a desire from students to have more ongoing events like this or even a permanent thrift shop located on campus. Her efforts are a part of a larger effort that other students are making to implement more sustainable practices at USD.

“There are so many people doing their part. I’m just one piece of the puzzle,” says Blake. “I would love to see people carry on these types of events once I graduate from USD. I’m just helping set the stage for them.”

Kelsey Grey ’15 (BA)

Video by Cameran Zech

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