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Wonk Trade: AU’s Fight Against Fast Fashion

Campus thrift store promotes selling, buying, and reusing clothing to combat waste

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The American University Zero Waste Club has developed a solution to combat fast fashion production and clothing waste on campus: a campus thrift store named AU Wonk Trade.  

Fast fashion is a phrase used to describe the rapid cycle of manufacturing, distribution, consumption, and degradation of clothing. The clothes are often low-cost and trend-driven but not designed to last, causing the consumer to replace their clothing after a brief period and purchase new clothing. Clothing manufacturers produce more clothes while consumers throw more clothes into ever-growing piles of trash. 

This rapid production cycle creates significant carbon emissions that have become a cause of global concern in the fight against climate change. Industrialized clothing production contributes to 10 percent of the world's carbon emissions (Brewer et al., 2019). Aside from significant carbon emissions, the fashion industry also consumes a substantial amount of water waste; it takes about 20,000 liters of water to produce one kilogram of cotton (Brewer et al., 2019). The harmful dyes and chemicals used to manufacture clothing are highly toxic and carcinogenic (Peters et al., 2021; Brewer et al., 2019). The disposal of such dyes in waterways contributes to approximately 20 percent of global industrial water pollution (Brewer et al., 2019).  

Fast fashion is on the rise. Researchers found that between 2000 and 2018, fiber production had almost doubled (Peters et al., 2021). Through increased social media marketing and rapid fluctuations in fashion trends, companies like Shein, Forever21, and H&M can continually market exciting new products to new demographics looking for unique pieces (Sharma., 2020). 

Despite these alarming statistics, some American University students have stepped up to the challenge to fight clothing waste and fast fashion on campus. 

Senior Environmental Science student Emma Walker is the president of AU Zero Waste Club and is also one of the founders of AU's new thrift store, Wonk Trade. Wonk Trade operates as a trading post of sorts, where students can bring in clothes or objects and exchange those goods for other items. 

After seeing piles of clothes and items go to landfills or recycling centers, the AU Zero Waste Club set out to find a solution. "Wonk Trade has been the dream of the AU Zero Waste Club for over five years," said Walker, "We wanted to start a thrift store on campus because of the amount of clothes we saw appearing and being just sent to waste or the textile recycling center: [clothes] that were perfectly good and usable." 

After years of hard work and collaboration, AU Zero Waste Club finally saw its dream reach fruition. Spearheaded by Walker and Katrina Kavanaugh '21, Wonk Trade officially opened its doors and has been an active member of AU's sustainability initiative. The trading post has collaborated with AU's sustainability office, the Department of Environmental Science, and other environmentally minded clubs such as the AU Beekeeping society.

Clothes on the rack at AU's campus thrift store: Wonk TradeStudents such as Dayna DeMontagnac visit the store to find new fashions while remaining environmentally conscious. "It was only a matter of time before AU students opened something like this on AU grounds, and I'm really happy they did," said DeMontagnac, "Going to Wonk Trade is really awesome, they had excellent work attire, they have summer clothes, dresses for events, they have such a wide selection, and you have such a sustainable community feel by having it run by AU students. I have had positive experiences at Wonk Trade. 

Since its opening, Wonk Trade has gotten a lot of traction amongst students and faculty alike. According to ongoing data collection run by Wonk Trade since opening, the operation has received almost 1,800 items and has exchanged nearly 1,000. Additionally, the trading post collects anywhere between 30 – 70 pounds of clothing or articles on any given day. 

Wonk Trade has established itself as a growing sustainable component of AU and has helped spread environmentally conscience living around campus. As Walker said, "You will actually see people walking around campus with something that you've either donated or traded with them, and you think to yourself… huh, nice!"  

While Wonk Trade is closed for the remainder of the semester, it will be reopening in the fall and is on the third floor of Mary Graydon Center. To find out about upcoming events and opening hours, follow @auwonktrade and @auzerowaste on social media to learn more! 

Work Cited 

Peters, Greg, et al. “The Need to Decelerate Fast Fashion in a Hot Climate - A Global Sustainability Perspective on the Garment Industry.” Journal of Cleaner Production, vol. 295, May 2021, p. 126390.,

Brewer, Mark K. “Slow Fashion in a Fast Fashion World: Promoting Sustainability and Responsibility.” Laws, vol. 8, no. 4, 4, Dec. 2019, p. 24.,

Sharma, Nidhi. “Slowing Down Fast Fashion.” Chemical Engineering Progress, vol. 116, no. 5, May 2020, pp. 5–7. 

This story was originally written in spring 2022 for AU's Science Writing class.