When RE Sources began the YEP! program in 2017, it started with one cohort and six students. As more and more students have expressed their desire to make a difference in their communities, we expanded our program to offer it year-round. Last week, after wrapping up our sixth cohort, there are now 100 former and current YEP! students taking their change-making experiences out into the world.
The more we work with youth, the more deeply they impress us with their vision for a better future, and their awareness of the reality of climate change. Rather than convincing this generation to act (which is often how they feel about us adults), we are learning how to listen to their calls for change, and support them in making it happen. YEP! exists to do just this.
This spring, Whatcom County high school students voted to tackle climate change by focusing on fast fashion and the impact it can have on our environment and the workers in the industry. In high school, fashion can be everything. You learn what’s “in”, what’s not, and next week it changes.
Students dove headfirst into fast fashion, researching how much carbon the textile industry emits (hint: it’s nearly 10% of global emissions), exploring fast fashion websites such as Shein, Zara, and H&M, brainstorming how to transition to slow fashion, and expressing outrage at the labor conditions of the workers at these companies.
On two service days, students got a chance to see how community organizations work to keep clothes out of the landfill. At Habitat for Humanity, students helped price donated clothes and learned about where excess clothing that thrift stores cannot sell is transported to be recycled.
At Ragfinery, students took a tour, learned how to identify quality garments, and spent the afternoon sorting through bags and bags of donations.
Over weeks of meetings, shared snacks, and good conversions, the group grew closer and worked toward the culmination of YEP!: planning and implementing their action project. The group decided to host a clothing swap to raise awareness of the impacts of fast fashion and show their peers it’s possible to be uniquely fashionable and still protect our climate. Students assigned themselves roles and responsibilities, applied their creative talents to posters, gathered clothing donations, and collaborated with the Bellingham High School Volunteer Club to prepare for the event.
Then one Sunday afternoon in April, they “opened the doors” of their outdoor clothing swap to the public. Students welcomed shoppers at the entrance, talked with them about fast fashion, and invited them to peruse racks of garments — hopefully leaving with some new (to them) clothes, a better understanding of the issue, and a home-baked cookie or two.
YEP! might be ending this spring, but RE Sources has much more in store for youth climate action this summer! We are hosting Whatcom County’s very first Youth Climate Summit on August 4-5th and are actively recruiting for students to be on the Youth Advisory Council to it. Check it out and apply!