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Sustainable shopping is the new runway fashion

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Marked this year by Sarah Burton’s last Spring-Summer 2024 collection for Alexander McQueen and Gigi Hadid walking for virtually every designer brand, October is my favorite month of the year for one reason and one reason only: It’s fashion month. “Fashion weeks” are being held every week of the month across the world, with cities and countries like Shanghai, New York, London and Los Angeles hosting their own collection of fashion shows and runways.

I can’t lie. Scrolling through the effortless models in their flowing fringe and stiff jackets captivates me, and urges me to update my own closet while staying true to my sustainable mindset. Even if the clothes are long, slim dresses not particularly made for my body, I can’t help but stare in awe at the designer fashion and runways that have been taking over my Instagram timeline.

But after binging previous years’ and this year’s fashion weeks, I couldn’t help but notice a recurring trend that wasn’t neutral tones or slip dresses: the Runway Crasher. Though they are not invited guests to these fashion weeks, Runway Crashers serve looks and broadcast fashion discrepancies in sometimes the most stylish ways I’ve seen activists protest.

The grip that fashion week holds on the world is undeniable, and I don’t just say that from my own fashion-centered point of view, but rather a politically influential one.

Flocked with celebrities, content creators and sometimes politicians in attendance, the runway has historically been a hunting ground for statement pieces and political statements. From loud Vivienne Westwood designs to Ashish Gupta’s bold T-shirts, designers are no strangers to making a little political noise knowing the audience they influence.

Protesters from PETA, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, took over four SS24 runways, crashing brands from Burberry to Gucci to speak out against animal cruelty in the fashion industry. In one particularly memorable demonstration, a protester strutted down the runway at Coach SS24, wearing a painted meat bodysuit with “Coach: Leather Kills” painted across her chest and on a sign.

I’m not necessarily endorsing any of this. A lot of these runway shows took meticulous detail and time to put together to create immersive fashion universes. So to disrupt such creative work is disgraceful, to say the least.

But I at least admire PETA’s mission in highlighting discrepancies within the fashion industry, a taboo topic not often discussed in its insular community.

Fashion issues and discrepancies in the industry aren’t just limited to animal cruelty. In 2019, model Ayesha Tan-Jones protested at the Gucci SS20 show by raising their palms with “mental health is not fashion” written out in response to Gucci taking inspiration from straitjackets and neutral uniforms.

With runway protesters flooding the fashion week scene again this year and considering my long love for fashion, I’m torn. Which brands should I support? Where should I shop? Is this the end of runway fashion?

I personally don’t think this spells the end. With fashion protests stretching back to the 1991 incident of three nude PETA protesters crashing an Oscar de la Renta show, designer runways will stay alive and prevail as long as they have consumers.

However, as a consumer and viewer at home, I believe recreating runway looks and fashion week outfits doesn’t have to come at the price of supporting the industry’s discrepancies.

I was born and raised in a small suburban town in Oregon where sustainability and green living were not only heavily encouraged, but essentially built in. Thrift stores, solar panels and hybrid cars were the norm. As a kid, my mom and I’s Saturday morning ritual consisted of thrift stores and garage sale hunting for Spongebob T-shirts and cookware. But as I grew older with a clearer fashion vision, my thrift trips expanded to every other day. Through weekly thrift store visits, I’ve found Christian Dior, Diesel and Burberry for much, much less than the price tag straight off the runway.

Some designer brands, like Miu Miu and Coach, can be easy to replicate without paying the large ticket price or supporting the use of real furs and leathers. For instance, a trip to a secondhand store and some leather cleaner can get you a trendy Coach purse without using more leather to make a new bag. Miu Miu’s cropped workwear and chic bow silhouette can be even easier with just a pair of scissors and an old blazer.

Even after moving away from my thrift haven of Oregon, I still find myself surfing Depop and Poshmark, craving to recreate runway looks with little to no accessible thrift stores around me. Granted, secondhand shopping online is not a cheap avenue and has its own gentrification discrepancies going on. Sites like TheRealReal and Poshmark could still be cheaper options for finding designer pieces at a fraction of retail prices and contributing less manufacturing waste overall.

Estate and moving sales have been a goldmine for trending looks as well. After haggling with unsuspecting owners, I have been able to score racing jackets, baggy jeans and jewelry for more casual everyday wear.

I am not here to tell you what to wear and what not to wear, nor do I want to strip naked and protest because people are wearing fur. But the least I can do, as a part of the fashion community, is acknowledge the discrepancies in the industry.

By thrifting fashion week looks instead of buying off the runway, we can take action one step further by finding fashion alternatives that do not support the controversies and issues ravaging the industry.

So indulge on fashion week. Watch some runway videos for inspiration. Go thrifting. Fashion can be more than what happens on the runway. ❋

Jason Pham is the Features & Magazine Editor at the Daily Trojan. He is a junior majoring in journalism.

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