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This First-Year Seminar empowers students to reduce the environmental impacts of the fashion industry

Keeping up with the latest fashion trends can be challenging at best, and wasteful — even dangerous — at worst.

In Kathleen Webber’s First Year Seminar class, “The True Cost of Fashion,” students learned what happens to our clothes when we’re done wearing them: 84 percent of it ends up in landfills, where microplastics and harmful chemicals can seep into the ground and water.

“These issues not only affect the environment, but people as well,” says public health major Angel Damtey ’27, a student in the class. “People in marginalized communities who work in or live near fast fashion factories are regularly exposed to dangerous chemicals. It’s important to raise awareness of these issues, so people can stop supporting brands that do not care about human rights.”

two women peruse clothing on a table

In an effort to minimize these damaging impacts, Webber’s students recently hosted a clothing swap in the Brower Student Center, where TCNJ community members “shopped” for free clothes, shoes, and accessories.

Leading up to the swap, members of the campus community donated gently used clothes in bins across campus, including in academic buildings and residence halls. Several student organizations donated to the event, including the Environmental Club, Alpha Pi Omega, and Chi Upsilon Sigma.

In total, over 300 pieces of clothing were collected for the swap, and about 70 people came to “shop” the inaugural swap.

“A swap is really a way to extend the life of a garment and keep it out of the trash,” says Webber. “Many cities and colleges are starting swaps. I hope that we can continue to do one every semester and it becomes an event students look forward to participating in.”

Webber, chair of the Department of Journalism and Professional Writing and associate professor, has worked in the fashion industry for much of her career and writes about sustainability in fashion for a variety of publications.

Check out @tcnjclothingswap on Instagram for more information.

— Corinne Coakley ’25