Trash: Rethink and Reclaim

The Object

The way waste flows is often contingent and temporal. Waste often exceeds the governed cultural and economic boundaries and can leak, ruin, seep or collapse the atmosphere around it. “Trash may dissemble the truth of its being by presenting itself as [an] immaterial, innocuous substance divorced from the relations to physicality” (Kennedy 2007, p. 162).

In this theme we encourage visitors to rethink disposable clothing to reclaim clothing that allows them to live longer through sustainable practices aimed to fix the issue caused by fast fashion.

When we shop fast fashion: the more we buy, the more we want. The more we want, the more we waste. Fast fashion is causing an environmental crisis. Ask yourself: how fast do you really want your fashion to be, and at what cost? The increasingly new demand for more clothing, made cheaply and with questionable ethics—both to humanitarian issues and to the environment—is cause for concern.

The clothing industry is the second-highest polluter of clean water. The world consumes 80 billion pieces of clothing each year. Retailers of fast fashion dump toxic chemicals into clean water supplies because clothing production is a land- and water-intensive industry. According to the Environmental Justice Foundation, the global cotton industry uses more pesticides than any other crop in the world. But most fast-fashion clothing is made from something worse: oil-based polyester, which has now replaced cotton as the number-one fiber in our clothing.

Disposable Dress CF+TC #2002.12.001

Disposable Metallic Dress

Waste Basket Boutique

Circa 1965-1975

CF+TC #2002.12.001

Gift of Florita Mortlock

This silver, ankle length disposable paper gown was designed as part of the collection “Waste Basket Boutique” by the Mars of Asheville and Cornell alumna, Audrey Bayer. This specific gown has an a-line cut with a square neckline and is made of a shiny silver metallized polyethylene and glass scrim disposable fabric. Tie straps are used for closure and to hold up the garment. The gown was worn and donated by Florita Mortlock.

The 1960s paper dress fad began with the designs by the Mars of Asheville, which was originally a hosiery company that then shifted to the disposable market making disposable undergarments for soldiers in Vietnam. The concept of disposable clothing was an early form of fast fashion: clothing bought to eventually dispose of as trash. Disposable garments were based on the idea of being able to constantly rotate one's wardrobe with new items without the worry of repair. Once a wearer got tired of the piece or it stopped fitting it could be burned and gone from one’s closet. These gowns could be pressed with a cool iron and easily cut with scissors if one wanted to change the look of the garment. The disposable ideology came after World War II and prompted by all of the rations so many had to live through, constantly having to take the time to wash and repair garments. Unlike typical garments, this gown can’t be washed; therefore, one way to rethink the potentially positive impact of disposable garments is that waste water from regular laundering is prevented. To clean the garment one would press using a cool iron and to shorten one would cut the gown using scissors.

Image of packaging for disposable dress
Disposable Dress detail image
Disposable Dress back view

Although at a point in time the idea of a disposable garment seemed fitting to keep up with the constant trends of fashion, and has ultimately become what we know today as "fast-fashion", there are better ways for people to rethink about their clothes and reclaim them in a way that allows the clothing to live a long lasting life. This would help prevent the toxic cycle of fast fashion, as people would need less and therefore buy less.

Detail image of Life-Cycle Analysis T-shirt CF+TC #2009.14.005

Life-Cycle Analysis T-shirt

American Apparel Sustainable Edition

Circa 2008

CF+TC #2009.14.005

Gift of Suzanne Loker

This shirt was created by Katie, a fashion student, as part of her thesis project. The medium size t-shirt has two different graphics explaining sustainable laundering practices. The front of the tan t-shirt reads “I wear my clothes a few times before I wash them. I only wash my clothes when they are dirty or stinky. When I do wash, I make sure I have a full load, so I wash less loads of laundry. I wash in cold water, unless they are really dirty or greasy, and I only ever rinse in cold. I air dry my clothes, but I may put them in the dyer for a few minutes with a wet towel to get rid of wrinkles.”

This quote describes how one can practice green laundering and reads as a promise of what one will do to aid in the fight for sustainable practices. The back of the t-shirt explains the life cycle process of clothing showing a chart of the four main steps-- production, packaging & distribution, use, and disposal. The t-shirt was donated to the collection by Professor Suzanne Loker of Fiber Science and Apparel design at Cornell. By following sustainable laundering practices, the life span of clothing can be extended, preventing people from wanting more. Through these sustainable practices, we can aim to reclaim aspects of both humanitarian and environmental issues affected by fast fashion.

Ensemble with Life-Cycle Analysis T-shirt
Life-Cycle Analysis T-shirt detail image
Back view of Life-Cycle Analysis T-shirt