Amherst Gold Award Girl Scout raises awareness of fast fashion’s downsides
AMHERST – Inexpensive clothing may be great for one’s budget, but the fast fashion industry has led to tons of clothing in landfills, pollution, and poor working conditions for people around the world. To address this problem, Anya Merriman-Mix decided to increase awareness of the issue and teach people how to “upcycle” clothing into new uses, thereby earning Girl Scouting’s highest honor – the Gold Award.
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Merriman-Mix, 18, of Amherst, is a member of Troop 11607 and a senior at The Dublin School. She spent 93 hours and over $500 on her project, Upcycling and Sustainable Fashion. The Girl Scout Gold Award recognizes her work for providing a sustainable solution to a local, national, or global issue.
Teaching others how to take old or unwanted clothing and turn it into something useful meant learning some new skills.
“I’ve been interested in upcycling since the pandemic started,” she said. “But, other than sewing holes in my clothes, I had virtually no experience when it comes to hemming things, and making my clothes out of scrap material. It was not something that I knew how to do. No one in my family owned a sewing machine, either, so it really wasn’t something that was easy for me to learn. But I saw a lot of videos of people making dresses out of T-shirts or bags out of T-shirts, and I thought that that was really interesting.”
The first part of her project was helping to design and run a two-week class on upcycling and sustainable fashion at her school. It included an educational piece about the issues of an overabundance of used clothing in our landfills and the impacts on the environment. The students then took a field trip to a local upcycled clothing shop to learn more about how to take used clothing and design something new. They then spent time improving their sewing skills making things like tote bags and aprons from an old shirt, and mittens from an old sweater. The final project was to design and make a new clothing item from two or more other pieces of used clothing.
Merriman-Mix then developed a two-hour workshop for young girls, ages 7-9, to continue to increase awareness of the issue of fast fashion and demonstrate that even without sewing skills there is a lot that can be done to upcycle clothing for all ages. The workshop was held at the Amherst library and the girls had a lot of fun. She showed them how to make no-sew tote bags and T-shirt yarn from old T-shirts. The T-shirt yarn was used to make dream catchers.
In June, Merriman-Mix will run the workshop for fifth- and sixth-graders at the Circle Program Camp in Hebron, NH, then the camp will take her program and offer it to older girls in July. Also, the local Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) chapter in Milford will use the curriculum and lesson plan she’s developed for their April conservation month program in 2024.
Why not just donate clothes? Merriman-Mix said that can be done, but may not be the solution one thinks it is.
“Recycling clothing is difficult because of what today’s clothes are made from – complex combinations of fibers, fixtures, and accessories. This makes them hard to separate so they can be effectively recycled,” said Merriman-Mix in her final report on her project. “Sorting textiles into different fibers and material types by hand is labor intensive and slow. Mechanical methods are hindered by modern fabric blends in clothing that make it difficult for the machines to separate the different materials.”
Also, “Donating clothes doesn’t have the positive impact most people think it will,” she said. “There just isn’t enough of a need for all of the unwanted clothes in people’s closets, and much of what’s donated isn’t desirable. Your trash isn’t necessarily someone else’s treasure. If stains and rips/tears are found, it likely won’t be donated and will end up in the trash. Clothing sent out of our country is also difficult to recycle and it’s believed most is disposed.”
A few years ago, Merriman-Mix had watched a documentary on fast fashion which revealed the poor working conditions in third world countries where a lot of cheap clothing is made.
“Those countries don’t have a whole lot of money and they can’t really reuse that clothing, so it hurts the environment,” she said. “And the working conditions for them are really bad because they’re not using good material. So the companies that hire the workers are looking for the most clothing for the cheapest price. So they’re not getting paid. A lot of the owners of the buildings are not making enough money to maintain them, and so you’ll see all these stories about manufacturing buildings collapsing, and a lot of people dying from that. So that’s a really big problem that comes from fast fashion.”
Merriman-Mix said this knowledge has led to changes in her own life, like choosing better quality clothing that will last longer. She hopes others will be more mindful of the clothing choices they make, such as supporting companies like Patagonia, which will take back old clothes in good shape to be resold through their Worn Wear program.
Through her work on this project, Merriman-Mix said she gained valuable life skills, such as project management, public speaking, budgeting, organization, sewing and more. She learned to be adaptable when things didn’t go as planned, especially when she had to work remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Earning the Gold Award is a remarkable achievement for any Girl Scout, and Merriman-Mix urges others to go for it.
“I wish that someone had told me earlier to just go for it,” she said. “I was really interested in it and thought I wasn’t going to be able to do it because now I go to a boarding school. Finding people to work with me was very difficult. Because no one I knew has done it, it was a very new experience. I wasn’t always 100 percent sure of what I was doing. I was almost ready to give it up because I didn’t think it was going to have as much of an impact as it did. But you can do whatever you want with it. I think that’s pretty unique.”
You can learn more about her project here: https://anyamerriman.wixsite.com/my-site
Merriman-Mix is a long-time Girl Scout, having started as a Brownie in second grade. Her first troop was more focused on crafts and creativity, but as she got older she discovered that every troop decides what they want to do, and her new troop was oriented more toward the outdoors. She discovered a love for hiking and now plans to hike all 48 of the state’s 4,000-foot mountains.
This high-achieving Girl Scout has a bright future, and plans to attend Virginia Tech to major in psychology with an eye toward a degree in forensic psychology and criminal profiling.