As senior fashion merchandising major Rachel Caton took notice of the impact the “fast fashion” industry has had on the environment, she then began to observe how consumer behavior played a key role in the environmental disruption. 

During this year’s Undergraduate Research Symposium she introduced her research on consumer clothing disposing habits and textile biodegradability. In her study, she examined the clothing disposable habits of consumers as well as the potential values that biodegradable fibers and textiles would have on society.

“I really enjoy conducting research on different biodegradable fibers and more sustainable options,” Caton said. “But I’m extremely passionate about understanding human behavior and what causes people to do what they do.”

The research symposium, which was hosted by Kent State from April 19 through 23, was a week-long showcase of student undergraduate work. According to its website, the virtual symposium offered students the opportunity to present their research and examine the relationship between research and education.  

“This year we were fortunate enough to have 203 student presenters representing 68 different majors,” said Ann Gosky, the director of the Division of Research and Sponsored Programs. 

Gosky said the students were given ten minutes to present their research over Zoom and then were allowed to receive feedback from the judges, who were experts within their specified field.  

Senior fashion merchandising major Rachel Caton

Rachel Caton is a senior fashion merchandising major and recently won first place in the fashion design and merchandising category at this year’s Undergraduate Research Symposium. Her project was about consumer clothing disposing habits and textile biodegradability.

Caton noted that after she presented her research, the judges applauded her for preparing such a clear, concise and understandable presentation.

“They didn’t seem to have any questions and were really pleased with my presentation,'' Caton said. “The only thing they asked me was about the differences between genders, in which I mentioned that gender is of less relevance.”   

Caton focused her study on the lack of education on textile disposable waste, while emphasizing that since 2018, there have been over 13 million tons of textile waste that is primarily made up of non-biodegradable synthetic material. 

“Everybody knows the fast fashion industry is disrupting the environment,” Caton said, “but what’s most unsettling is that younger millennials are most susceptible to purchasing fast fashion.” 

Caton noted that while millennials are the most susceptible to fast fashion, they are also the most attentive with recycling and the environment.

“The fast fashion industry primarily targets young millennials because they are all about the trends,” Caton said. “They care about the environment but they also want inexpensive clothing at a fast rate.” 

Although there is more rising awareness for sustainable fashion, Caton stressed the importance of consumer awareness and the harsh realities of capitalism.

“We are all victims of capitalism,” Caton said, “but we need to be aware of how we are just littering the earth with clothing.”

Caton expressed the need for educational marketing about how the fast fashion industry is using direct marketing in order to influence fast fashion onto millennial girls. 

“Once the younger generation figures out how the fast fashion industry tricks them into harming the environment, it will catch up to everyone else,” Caton said. “I was just really humbled by my ability to showcase my research on this topic.”       

The research symposium breaks projects down within research categories, which are based on areas of study and allow students to present in fields outside their major. 

“Within the categories, we may have six or seven people within one submission,” Gosky said. “Though we may also have only one or two students on a submission.”      

Caton presented her project in the fashion design and merchandising category and won first place. 

“I was really humbled because I was surrounded by so many smart people,” Caton said. “I am a little bit alternative and was shocked that they actually liked my project.” 

Although Caton is not continuing her research project, she expressed how the symposium gave her a lot of positivity and she wished it was in person.  

“Presenting behind a frickin’ screen is not exactly the most fun,” Caton said. “But it was a chill crowd and I had a super fun time presenting.”

Morgan Boyd covers research. Contact her at mboyd21@kent.edu

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