Photo via Unsplash
Photo via Unsplash

Sustainable Fashion: The Generation at the Forefront of Vintage Clothing

April 27, 2022

Reading Time: 11 minutes

Tucked behind the musty odor and racks of jackets, jeans, and avant-garde pieces that would make any head turn, a world of wonderment lives. A group of teens walk in and go straight to the wall of Levi’s while an older woman has been at the shoe bin looking for the matching burgundy loafer to add to her collection of sensible flats. The group of teens are like bulls in a china shop as they try to get to the best vintage finds before their friend does. The owner sits behind the desk with eyes following customers like a hawk, in a way protecting the goldmine that sits in front of him. The doors open and close, people come and go, but he stays perched, seeing everyone and everything. He makes assumptions about the shoppers, his years of experience allow him to read a room, and the wisdom of being in the game shows on his face. He wears a worn-in tan bomber jacket, the quality is the kind that was only produced before the 80s. His store is his baby, and he doesn’t let it go unwatched for even a second. 

 The Vintage Fashion scene in New York City has been a bustling business and thriving community for many years and only keeps growing with Gen Z’s interest in not only the clothes but also the sustainability factor. Young shop owners such as Gabriella Rose of the store Isle of Monday, use their approach to create specific collections that are original and revamped to bring new life to old pieces. Times are changing and this is why Gen Z is turning against fast fashion to create a sustainable approach to their own vision of what vintage fashion is and what it is to become. Change is on the horizon, and the urge to create a more sustainable future for our generation and those ahead is a determination that will only keep growing as more people get educated on the true beauty behind vintage, and how it can help save our planet.

When knowledge becomes power, Gen Z will use the strength and willingness to make a change and turn it into a thriving business as a result of their determination in helping the cause. The greater issue the fashion industry faces lies within the sustainability factor. It is common knowledge that we are taught from a young age to reduce our time with the lights on, or to turn off the water while brushing our teeth, so why is it so common to allow for consumerism to be so normalized. The 2019 House of Commons Environmental Audit titled “Fixing Fashion: Clothing Consumption and Sustainability,” revealed that the emissions produced in clothing production outweigh the emissions of international plane travel and shipping. Now three years ahead of 2019, the emissions have only increased as demand for the upkeep of the newest trends has only gone up. Unfortunately, the effects of fast fashion can be seen in cities and communities where poverty and homelessness run rampant. From the same audit, the issue of water consumption is brought up, “The water scarcity exacerbated by cotton production in arid regions has an impact on local communities – especially in low-income countries. 162 Major cotton-producing countries such as China and India are already suffering from medium to high levels of water stress in certain areas” (29). The impact of these mass-producing textile and clothing companies will continue to disproportionately affect the groups in society that need the most help, this forces the members of the community into unfair working treatment in these factories where they are treated as less than human. Fashion Checker reported that 93% of the brands that took part in their study were paying their workers a salary that was not a livable wage. The companies included brands such as Abercrombie, Aeropostale, Adidas, Canada Goose, and so many more. This knowledge is the jumpstart to the reason why young vintage lovers are taking it into their own hands to start the rally for a resolution. 

A store making changes in NYC is owned by Gabriella Carota. This young woman took her vision and passion for a sustainable approach to fashion and turned it into a thriving vintage collective based out of different pop-up events being held throughout the city. Isle of Monday focuses on pieces from the 70s through the 90s, with quality and uniqueness at the forefront. Carota addresses the toxicity of big fashion labels ripping off the designs and styles of smaller companies, a big trend in the fast-fashion world. Mass-produced labels such as Shein or Nasty Gal, are known for doing this, selling millions of pieces for under ten dollars, and never giving credit to the original creator. Mundane reported Carota’s words, “My biggest pet peeve is when large fashion labels rip off the designs of small, independent designers, claim them as their own and then sell them at cheaper prices due to their economies of scale.” Carota also noted in the same piece her thoughts on the environmental impact of companies, and how they do not give transparency to their practices. “I wish companies were required to measure and disclose their yearly waste and environmental impact. This would allow consumers to make educated decisions about where to shop and would hopefully be an incentive for brands to reduce their textile waste.” If more people knew the impact of the companies they buy from, that would open the door for more people to care about choosing sustainable companies that support ethical fashion. As it is, the consumer is solely responsible for educating themselves on these brands, but Carota thinks that is where change needs to happen, putting the information upfront will encourage the change to happen on a larger scale.  

While walking down the streets of New York City, it is impossible to pass a street corner without some type of vintage store, whether that be clothing, furniture, or old vinyl records. The city has become a mecca for the world of reselling, and now the new faces of Gen Z are bringing a fresh new look to its importance. The East Village of New York City has become the neighborhood synonymous with the vintage scene. From big names like Beacons Closet to Buffalo Exchange, Hamlet’s Vintage to East Village Vintage Collective, turn down any street and be transported to a part of the past. Since the 60s, vintage stores in New York City have been supplying college kids with cheap finds that fit their budget. The beginning of the vintage scene was birthed out of necessity rather than an urge for sustainability. The publication, “Racked,” stated in an article about the history of New York City’s Vintage scene, “There were places like Diamonds — a half-used clothing store, half-pawn shop owned by a Holocaust survivor — and there were the Army Navy stores, like Hudson’s on Third Avenue and 13th Street.” Stating that these stores were ideal for a young person to come in with five dollars and find a broken-in pair of levis, or a pair of worn-in chinos from the 20s. Stores like Diamonds set the blueprint for today’s vintage store, but the change lies in the intentions of the new young owners. 

Carota is a young entrepreneur who has a passion for finding pieces that reflect her main style inspiration, Carrie Bradshaw. She describes this as a love for her “mix-and-match mantra, styling retro vintage finds with higher-end designer pieces,” Carota says while her main focus for Isle of Monday is “Carrie Bradshaw meets 90’s supermodels.” Isle of Monday began as a hobby that turned into a primarily e-commerce vintage store. Carota started doing pop-ups in NYC including the Brooklyn Flea, Canal Street Market, and the Grand Bazaar. The brand began to get a following as the in-person events were such a hit, “after seeing how well my brand did selling in-person, I decided to rent a rental space for the month of February to test it out.” Carota has a business degree from Boston University and a background in modeling as well as an extreme love for fashion, so for her, a business dedicated to fashion just seemed natural. Carota noted that many vintage stores in New York City price their items at outrageous numbers, but she wants to make her brand one that anyone can enjoy. This love for fashion and business was met with her concern for the growing problem regarding big names in the fast fashion industry and the climate crisis we are facing. “The environmental impact of fast fashion has a huge influence on my brand. Sustainability is a very trendy topic right now but unfortunately, sustainable brands are not affordable for the average person.” This is of course because the brands that are making clothes in a sustainable way are using local resources and paying their workers wages they can live on, for those who have the budget these are great brands to support, but in order for it to become accessible, the whole business model needs to change. “As an industry, we are still a long way from bringing affordable, sustainable brands to the masses.” Carota sets one of her main goals as creating a vintage brand that is both fashionable and affordable. “I try to keep my prices as reasonable as possible to encourage people to shop vintage and buy second-hand. The more we can compete with the low prices of fast fashion.” Carota has hopes for the future of the industry because of Gen Z’s overall desire for social change, and the fact that the generation is stepping up to make change that sticks, “I am willing to bet that in 10 years there will be strict legislation requiring fashion companies to measure and disclose their yearly waste and environmental impact.” As a young woman in the business, Gabriella Carota is making strides as a big player in the game, and someone to keep an eye on as her vision and desire for social change continue to grace the vintage scene in New York City. 

Technology and social media has become a tool that is synonymous with youth culture. The usual notion is that young people are rotting their brains because of technology addiction, but what often goes overlooked is how it truly is a tool for greater social change. Especially in the vintage clothing world, apps and websites such as Poshmark and Depop have become a staple in the resale world. Depop specifically has exploded with young sellers who not only have original pieces of vintage clothing but also take old pieces and upcycle them to create new life. The ability to bring vintage online is an amazing tool to increase accessibility for the people who can’t take a walk on St. Marks Place on a random Tuesday afternoon. Business of Apps reports that Depop has a total of four million active buyers. That is four million people who are dedicated to online shopping in a way that benefits the planet. The site’s two million sellers have created online storefronts that reflect their passion in a way they can do from anywhere in the world. The same report also states that 90% of the users of the site are under the age of 26, making the dominating age generation Gen Z. Depop reports the total sales made on Depop since the beginning of its time is one billion dollars. One billion dollars going to sustainability and fighting the big names in fast fashion. Many of the online shops on Depop have taken to the streets of New York with the surge of pop-up markets that are happening post-pandemic. The shop on Depop called Candied Cherry Thrift is based out of New York City, but makes the most sales on Depop. The two girls running the shop are Charlotte Roy and Stella Palone. The duo has created this collection out of a passion for good clothes and to contribute to the greater fight to save our planet from fast fashion pollution. 

Starting out, Candied Cherry Thrift was an idea that came from the simple want to make a quick buck by cleaning out old clothes to make room for new ones, but as time went on, a greater purpose was found. “To be honest. I didn’t even consider it [climate crisis] when I first started, I just wanted to get rid of some old clothes, and I just found a love for the whole process. Now that I am aware of these social issues, it just makes sense to me to want to work even harder to create a cleaner and safer environment for future generations and makes me ten times prouder of what I do.” These two young college students living in New York City take advantage of the opportunities to sell at local flea markets but do the majority of their business over Instagram and on Depop. For the pair, Vintage fashion is more than a trend, “I feel as though we have passed the point where it’s just a trend, and vintage fashion is here to stay. With a majority of my generation [gen z] being so environmentally conscious and aware of the climate issues in today’s world, it only makes sense that thrifting and vintage clothing would be at the forefront.” The climate crisis has brought us to a point of no return that can sometimes leave the community with a sense of gloom and doom, but as a generation, stepping up in a way that is enjoyable is a simple way to make a difference, “I think this generation’s attitude is a lot more centered around dedicating time to feel your best, and thrifting allows you to feel good about what you are doing as well as what you are wearing.”

While leaving Buffalo Exchange, an NYU college student was walking in. Dressed in the archives of designers from years past, the piece that stood out above everything else was the Vivienne Westwood necklace draped beautifully around her neck. The piece was a true sign of appreciation for a good piece. From the necklace to the torn-up Levi’s, it was clear that this was someone who was a vintage fashion veteran. Her name was Sophie Constantine, she was a fashion business major who was gracing the streets of the city on this day with the goal to find a great jacket, the kind that already has wrinkles that show the love of the previous owner. At 19 years old, Constantine has always loved a good thrift find, but most recently learned the environmental impacts one of her favorite hobbies has on the planet. “I never really thought about it like that before, but now that I know what I do about the industry, I do not think I would ever choose shopping at big-name stores that contribute to the disgraceful practices that exist within fast fashion.” Sophie went into detail about her understanding of the privilege she had growing up, never needing to thrift for necessity, but knowing now that she can shop vintage without taking away from the people who do not have the option to buy new. “Stores like goodwill are obviously going to be more affordable than boutique vintage shops which is why I try to stick with those because I do not want to take away the more affordable options of thrift stock. That would only cause people to rely on the fast-fashion businesses that have no ethics with their production, therefore allowing for prices to be so low.” Constantine wants to start a business one day with sustainability at the top of the list of priorities. She spends her days looking for inspiration that sparks her creativity and keeps that with her in all the things she does. She walked away and the sun glimmered on the necklace that started it all. The vintage Westwood piece, the torn-up Levi’s, and a purpose to take every step possible into reversing the damage of climate change. 

The influence of vintage expands to the power of speech by celebrities. Specifically, stars such as Sarah Jessica Parker, have made it a point to express the love they have for a good vintage shop. Parker noted in a piece from Insider that she had to thrift in her early career out of necessity. Parker has made an appearance at stores all over the city, including Hamlet’s Vintage, a staple of the East Village since 2007. Drew Barrymore wore a dress on the red carpet in 2010 that was twenty-five dollars that she proudly got second hand. At the time, that was a bold move for a Nylon Magazine event, but now the love of the old is praised because of the knowledge we have of the environmental impact. The influence of celebrities can backfire when they are pulled in to represent brands that are at the front of contributing to the problem, but luckily it is becoming more common to call them out so the influence stops there. By celebrities taking it into their own hands to make it known that they shop used, vintage, old tattered clothing, it makes it more attractive for people to want to give it a try. Any small step is a step in the direction of sustainability. 

Looking ahead at the future of the generation’s role in reversing the detrimental damage done by the industry of fast fashion, the overall consensus was that of hope and optimism. It is clear that the goals will be accomplished because the determination of today’s youth expands past a point of care, it is at the point where the change needs to happen so that in 10 years, we can still have a place to call home. The time for claims that go by with no action is over, if the steps aren’t taken now, it will be too late. Generation Z has sent a clear message that they will not give up, and in doing so, why not dress up a little, shopping in the name of global change is how Vintage will continue to influence the world and produce positive change.

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    Elly SpiewakApr 28, 2022 at 1:26 pm

    Very interesting article.

    Reply