By Kennedi Hewitt and Connor Fallon
Before she was a beloved professor at Kent State University, Noël Palomo-Lovinski was a sustainable fashion designer in New York City. Ahead of her time, she got into sustainability as a new mom searching for more organic foods and products for her family. Over time it became a lifestyle.
“Once you start learning some facts about climate change you go down a deep rabbit hole and develop a passion,” said Palomo-Lovinski.
As a professor in the early 2000s, she used her experience to encourage her students to curate their fashion sustainably. She was met with backlash and told that she was destroying and limiting their creative practices. Despite this pushback, nearly 20 years later, sustainable fashion is a growing trend in the fashion industry.
While she is overjoyed that her students recognize the role the fashion industry plays in climate change a lot of grey area remains.
“Everyone understands [that sustainability is] important, it’s just how do you do it? And how do you do it well? And how do you do it effectively?” said Palomo-Lovinski.
Palomo-Lovinski believes our impact should go beyond switching to high-end organic cotton-based products. The next step should be to create a circular economy in which fashion designers and consumers can repair, redesign and resell used clothing.
“There are all sorts of instances in which we can create clothing that is easier to disassemble or easier to redesign … think about the practicalities of being able to remove a zipper easily so that you can then recycle the metal or recycle the fabric,” she said.
However, the products we buy and the material they’re made of are not the only problems fashion consumers should be mindful of when trying to make more environmentally friendly decisions.
“We buy too much, we consume too much and we toss it too quickly,” said Palomo-Lovinski.
According to the United Nations, clothing production accounts for 10% of global carbon emissions. Additionally, with the rise of fast fashion and shopping haul trends, overconsumption of clothing directly contributes to the increase in these carbon emissions caused by the fashion industry.
According to Palomo-Lovinski, we need to lessen our fashion consumption and be conscious of the clothing we purchase. “When you buy clothes, you buy clothes thoughtfully and with consideration. Is this something that I literally cannot live without? Is this something that’s going to improve what I do and how I do it?”
Over the years, her students at KSU have hosted fashion swaps to recycle clothing. Palomo-Lovinski says she would love to see more spaces dedicated to redesigning old clothing. But for these spaces to be successful, students must use a sustainable business model. “If you can’t make a living doing it, it’s literally not sustainable,” she said.
Throughout her time as a successful fashion designer and a popular professor, she remains proud of her students and hopes that they will be the generation that forces the fashion industry to make more sustainable decisions.
“There is so much to learn. There is so much to do. There are so many opportunities to innovate,” said Palomo-Lovinski. “The thing that keeps motivating me sometimes is when students are really passionate about it.”