How to Live a More Sustainable Lifestyle with Liv Chai, Sustainable Fashion Campaign Manager of Earth Matters NYU

Founded in 1982, Earth Matters is NYU’s largest and oldest environmental club with the mission to create active, positive, ecological change both on and off campus. Although we’re already halfway through Earth Month, it’s never too late to join the movement and contribute to a worldwide cause. Read on for tips from Liv Chai, Sustainable Fashion Campaign Manager of Earth Matters, on how to be more aware of environmental issues and instill easy sustainable habits into your own life.


The Basics

Name: Liv Chai

Year: Sophomore

School: NYU Gallatin School of Individualized Study

Major/Minor: Art History & Its Relation To Consumer Culture/Business Studies

Hometown: Norwood, NJ


HC NYU: What is sustainable fashion and why is it so important?

LC: Sustainable fashion for me, personally, is fashion without the expense of the planet or other people. It’s important because I think it’s become a habit for people to mindlessly feel compelled to consume without realizing what that means for the rest of the world.


HC NYU: How did you get into sustainability and how do you incorporate it into your own personal life?

LC: I think I’ve always been focused on sustainability because my mom was a strong believer in recycling and I’ve just always had a special relationship with the planet and with nature, in general. So, when I finally came into college and started living by myself, I realized a lot of my habits weren’t sustainable at all. It started with asking myself small questions like why I really needed to use so many plastic utensils and what it really meant to get so many plastic bags and why they were both being offered in the first place. There was always a pang of guilt whenever I got something that wasn’t reusable, so I started to make small life changes-- instead of getting an abundance of plastic utensils I’d pack my own silverware or make it a point not to use so many plastic cups when I went to events. It was really the little things -- cutting out plastic water bottles, trying to use reusable bags, and just staying educated on what sustainability means because it’s such a multifaceted concept.


HC NYU: How and when did you become the Sustainable Fashion Campaign Manager of Earth Matters NYU? What do you do?

LC: I was a member of Earth Matters during my freshman year when I sporadically attended their events. However, right before the end of my freshman year, I began really focusing on sustainable fashion just because fashion has always been a big part of my life and I realized I could definitely translate my sustainable habits towards fashion. It was a moment of me wanting to extend myself and being so incredibly inspired by the people in the organization to the panelists and documentaries I encountered. I definitely purchased things from Zara and H&M without really thinking about it, and I realized I wanted to start this proactive dialogue especially as someone a part of a target consumer base for the fast fashion industry. I really do feel like a lot of companies don’t realize that the young people in this generation are much smarter and won’t fall for their gimmicks. We all understand the consequences of what fast fashion can do, and I just really wanted to make small changes and educate myself along the process. So I reached out to Earth Matters -- it was something they hadn’t done before, and something I definitely hadn’t pursued in my life. Just to really open the dialogue, I wanted to do a fully sustainable fashion show and just have people speak about the different aspects of sustainable fashion. A lot of it stemmed from the fact that a many assume that sustainability and fashion comes in the form of thrifting or reuse, so I wanted to show the different facets of sustainable and ethical fashion. I reached out to Maison de Mode first, a curated online shop for sustainable, luxury brands focused on ethical practices.


As a new Sustainable Fashion Campaign Manager, I had to first build up a contact base to hear thoughts on where my vision could lead to. I think it was relatively easy for me as everyone is well aware of NYU and how passionate of a school we are. It was daunting for me at first, though, because when I think of the fashion world, I think of something that’s intimidating to approach. But when it came to sustainable fashion, I was able to cold call people and be embraced with such welcoming words. It was really inspiring because despite the fact that it’s a relatively smaller branch of fashion, everyone wanted to help out each other and it wasn’t a matter of competing but a shared movement. At the moment I basically manage contacts, figure out how to organize events, think of panelists, and constantly envision new ways to speak about sustainability and fashion without making it seem unapproachable.

HC NYU: What have you done as the Sustainable Fashion Campaign Manager of Earth Matters that you’re most proud of?

LC: I don’t think I’ve done anything, personally. I think sustainable fashion has already been a movement in the making, especially for people my age and at NYU where thrifting is a major culture. I do think I’ve tried to open people’s eyes to the different aspects of sustainability in fashion. Having Shannon Welch from Maison de Mode to speak about her point of view as someone working on curating a luxurious sustainable fashion market online, Lauren Fay from Fashion Revolution speak about the inspiring work she’s doing at the tremendously influential nonprofit, Hitomi Mochizuki from YouTube speak about her sustainable practices and Whitney Bauck from Fashionista who writes about the difficult but ugly truth behind fashion all come in was monumental. Having people from all walks of life and on different journeys was critical to show how complex the issue of sustainable fashion is but also the different ways individuals are tackling it and how simplistic it is to educate yourself and join.


HC NYU: As fast fashion becomes more and more of a visible issue, sustainable clothing is becoming more and more accessible. What are some of your favorite places to buy eco-friendly clothing?

LC: Personally, I’ve tried to make it a point not to buy. I definitely was in a cycle of constantly having to buy new clothes and the instantaneous gratification that came with purchasing. It’s tempting to want to buy something if your closet feels like it’s lacking or if you’re in need of something new. Of course thrifting is a great option, however I’ve also found beauty in recycling clothing. Adding your own touch by up embroidering (we actually had an embroidery event for Earth Matters!) and revamping clothing, whether it be cutting an old t-shirt or stealing things from your parents’ closet, is just as gratifying if not more. If I did shop anywhere, my first place to go would be my parents’ closet and the second place would be a thrift store -- Goodwill, Buffalo Exchange, or Beacon’s Closet. But before that, I would suggest trying to shop your own closet or do clothing swaps with friends first!


HC NYU: Many people have difficulty with trying to maintain a sustainable lifestyle either because the change in habits is too drastic or it’s too expensive. Do you have any tips for people who are trying to step their toes into sustainable living?

LC: There are many ways to live a sustainable lifestyle without breaking the bank or drastically changing your lifestyle. I would say it’s really about making conscious efforts. Start off by limiting your plastic intake. It’s one of the easier things to do but also the most impactful. Invest in a water bottle and use reusable shopping bags. I think that it’s often seen as easier to simply use the plastic bags offered or to buy a water bottle because it seems convenient and that’s why most people don’t bother. I also am a firm believer in not feeling so guilty if you do end up with having to use something that isn’t necessarily earth-friendly. Having that judgmental mindset towards yourself will make it more difficult, so being open minded and making a sustainable lifestyle fun would be more helpful.

HC NYU: What do you hope to achieve through your position at Earth Matters and through your own personal journey?

LC: I think we all need to realize that sustainability isn’t just some passing trend that only is acted on by a select few, it should be much more. Living a sustainable lifestyle should be a responsibility. We are the next generation that will be given the responsibility of trying to salvage the planet for many generations to come; the planet is not going to be here forever at our expense. I personally want to stay educated, and specifically learn more about policy and what I can do to make change as a concerned citizen. Figuring out how to be more sustainable in fashion has been more of a personal journey, but it’s branched out into the Earth Matters community I hope it extends way past that. Many people my age are implementing change and asking important questions that a lot of adults definitely aren’t and I think being environmentally conscious is going to become a greater discussion.


HC NYU: Do you have anything you’d like to say to HC readers?

LC: If you want to learn more about sustainable fashion, definitely look into the panelists I mentioned, they are all wonderful people doing monumental things in their respective fields. For more NYU Earth Matters related questions, I would check our Facebook page. Or, feel free to reach out to me at [email protected] or on Instagram/Facebook at @livchai if you want to share your thoughts or ask any questions!


Images from Liv Chai and Earth Matters NYU.