As visiting professional lecturer and special projects coordinator for the fashion program at Marist College, knitwear designer Melissa Halvorson teaches her students that fashion is not just about the look; clothing is a reflection of society, politics and economics. In her Fashion Merchandising and Sustainability Course, students are encouraged to make the connection between readily available cheap clothing and those who labor worldwide to produce it in substandard working conditions and poverty.
Beginning this week, some 20 Marist College students in Halvorson’s charge have committed to participating in the Six-Item Challenge, which asks participants to wear the same six items of clothing from their wardrobe every day for six weeks, from Wednesday, February 10 through Saturday, March 26. The six items can be accessorized, and things like undergarments, coats, work uniforms and shoes are allowed as required.
The Six-Item Challenge is a global initiative sponsored by Labour behind the Label, a nonprofit workers’ cooperative in the UK that seeks equity for garment workers. The group’s message that “No one should live in poverty for the price of a cheap tee-shirt” underscores its assertion that of the half-million garment workers in Cambodia alone, 90 percent are women paid just $3 a day for their efforts.
Participants in the project are encouraged to post about their experience on social media, sharing the message about the real cost of rampant consumerism. The idea is that a collective push from a greater number of informed consumers could lead to changes in garment industry working conditions. Funds are raised to support Labour behind the Label in its efforts through sponsorship of challenge participants.
There is also an element of personal mindfulness happening here. In addition to emphasizing that our reliance on “fast fashion” comes at a cost to those who produce it, the challenge also raises the issue of sustainability: Do we really need all of the clothes in our closets? Can we just get more creative with what we already have? Organizers of the challenge estimate that the average person in America throws away 68 pounds of clothing and textiles every year, which works out to more than 21 billion pounds of fabric tossed in the trash annually.
This is the first time that Halvorson’s students have participated in the annual Six-Item Challenge movement. “Our main goal is to observe the experience of the participants, both good and bad,” she says. “We predict they’ll experience periods of angst and elation, defeat and triumph – true of anything people undertake that’s hard, right?”
Donations to the Six-Item Challenge at Marist College may be made at www.sixitemschallenge2016.everydayhero.com/uk/marist.