In late March, as the reality of the global pandemic sunk in around campus, the impact was far-reaching. But in the midst of the challenges, five PLNU students sprung into action to make sure Wear Justice still took place. And out of the disappointment grew a week that connected students — now spread across the country — with one mission: rethinking consumerism through community.

Wear Justice is a student-created event, sponsored by the Center for Justice & Reconciliation (CJR), that calls us to consider the connection between the fashion industry, poverty, and pollution. The weeklong campaign features events that help our campus community examine the exploitation behind the clothes we wear and the products we consume, and take action with ethical and sustainable lifestyle changes. But this year the campus closure meant Wear Justice had to pivot to a new model. With just two weeks to move the entire plan to an online platform, CJR Program Director for Community Relations, Ryana Contreras, led CJR student staff to implement an interactive social media campaign.  

Elaine Giles created Wear Justice in 2018, while an intern at the CJR.
CJR student staff. Left to right: Bridget Stephensen, Morgan Wurtzler, Danielle Jorgensen and Ana Gates

The fashion industry is the second largest polluter in the word, creating huge amounts of waste through the constant cycle of ever-changing styles and trends, and the disposable nature of cheap clothing. Who are the people behind the clothes we wear and the coffee we drink? These questions drove senior Elaine Giles, while an intern at the CJR, to create Wear Justice in 2018. It started with a simple notion: let’s have a conversation about changing the way we consume products to behaviors that respect the people who produce our clothing. These conversations about consumption highlighted simple ways to reduce the exploitation of people and planet.

The first two years of Wear Justice featured a giant clothes swap, lessons on repurposing clothes through embroidery and screen printing, a fashion show of entirely thrifted items, screenings of documentaries, and a fair trade coffee tasting event. How could we continue this effort when our students were now scattered? CJR student staff Morgan Wurtlzer (senior), Bridget Stephensen (junior), Ana Gates (junior), and Danielle Jorgensen (sophomore) with the help of Elaine Giles, took the concepts of Wear Justice and re-imagined them in the new format.

The fashion industry is the second largest polluter in the word, creating huge amounts of waste through the constant cycle of ever-changing styles and trends, and the disposable nature of cheap clothing.

The week’s events included daily educational posts defining the effects of fast fashion on people and the planet, the Buyerachy of Needs, and the importance of supporting small businesses.

The coffee tasting event became a series of videos, produced by CJR student ambassadors, highlighting local, ethically sourced coffee and tea with students sharing what they love about local coffee and what the difference is between fair trade, direct trade, and ethical trade in the coffee industry.

Thursday featured a Movie Night showing the documentary The True Cost, where the PLNU community logged in to watch the film and answer discussion questions. The CJR team created an extensive selection of graphic information to help students learn about ethical consumerism, and videos throughout the week featured student’s stories and lessons — from embroidery lessons to personal stories about changing buying habits.

The week culminated in FRI-D.I.Y. — a challenge to create tote bags and up-cycled clothing with items they could find around the house. The virtual thrift fashion show of creations were featured on the CJR’s social media sites.

“Our centerpoint at the CJR is our call to the margins,” says CJR Director Kim Berry Jones (90). “As a university we are shaping and sending students out into the world, and we want them to continue to push back against the pressures that might mold us into something less than this calling. Watching our students turn their passion for justice into actionable steps to help their fellow students change their behaviors is a beautiful process. To see our students pull off Wear Justice under the pressure and disappointment of an interrupted semester on campus was amazing,” Berry Jones continues. “Wear Justice this year really helped us to transform the way we engage with our campus community.”

CJR Community Relations Program Director Ryana Contreras, who led the student team, found the creativity, flexibility, and energy of the students contagious. “To support our students as they moved from disappointment and frustration over the impact of the pandemic into action was inspiring. I loved how our student staff and ambassadors mobilized to communicate the tangible elements of Wear Justice in an equally compelling way through this virtual context.” Contreras was blown away by the level of thoughtful participation from our students and alumni.

Watching our students turn their passion for justice into actionable steps to help their fellow students change their behaviors is a beautiful process. To see our students pull off Wear Justice under the pressure and disappointment of an interrupted semester on campus was amazing.

“The mission of the CJR is to stand in solidarity with the oppressed, teach social engagement through the lens of our faith, and bring lasting change to our community,” says Berry Jones. “Wear Justice brought all of these values to life in a new way this year — in the middle of crisis, beautiful things grew.”

By Kim Berry Jones and Ryana Contreras

PLNU’s the Viewpoint publishes relevant and vital stories that grapple with life's profound questions from a uniquely Christian perspective. In addition to the content offered online, the Viewpoint print magazine is published three times a year in spring, summer, and fall.