Upcycling project earns a Girl Scout Gold Award
Anya Merriman-Mix of Amherst, a Girl Scout and high school senior at The Dublin School, recently earned the prestigious Girl Scout Gold Award, investing more than 93 hours and more than $500 in funding in organizing sustainable fashion workshops. Merriman-Mix talked about her initiative to raise awareness about the harmful effects of fast fashion and promote upcycling as a viable solution.
What inspired you to raise awareness about the impact of fast fashion and promote upcycling?
During Covid, when I was stuck in my house and trying to find things to do, I saw a bunch of people making their own tops, by crocheting them or using recycled materials. … I started doing some research around it … and into fast fashion and the impact that it has on other countries. … The fashion industry no longer operates around just four seasons; it puts out new styles every few weeks. This results in a huge influx of clothes that stay in stores for a short period, then get sent back to the countries they came from if they’re not sold. I found all this really interesting. I regularly go through my closet and donate or give away anything I don’t want, and I discovered that many donations given to places like Goodwill aren’t always bought, and a lot of it is unusable. If something gets donated and sits there for a long time, it also gets sent back [to other countries]. There’s an overflow of clothes and fabrics that aren’t needed and can’t be reused and end up in landfills. I wanted to raise awareness and make people more conscious of their clothing-buying decisions … and I noticed that many people have no idea what upcycling is when I bring it up.
How did this translate into a project for Girl Scouts, and what did that project consist of?
I decided to propose an upcycling course for my school during what’s called “J-term,” which is a two-week period in January when my school offers various courses. A couple of teachers expressed interest, and we worked together to create the course. That’s when I decided to turn it into my Gold Award project [for Girl Scouts]. … I also ran a workshop for Brownies where they made their own tote bags and dreamcatchers. What’s interesting is [the Brownies] actually took the extra fabric from their dreamcatchers and started making bracelets out of it … they took it upon themselves, which was really great to see. I’m going to teach another upcycling course at a Girl Scout summer camp this year. I also created a website, and I’ve connected with a woman in Milford who does upcycling through her company called Mountain Girl.
How can individuals who are not creatively inclined toward upcycling dispose of their unwanted clothing and fabrics responsibly?
If you can’t find someone to give them to directly, donating clothes is always a better option than throwing them away. There are higher-end thrift stores like Mother and Child that accept good quality clothes. Companies like Lululemon and Patagonia also have buyback programs where you can return old clothes for them to resell.
How has this project changed the way you think about and manage clothes in your own life?
I try not to buy clothes unless I need something specific for an event or it’s something that I truly love and know for sure that I’ll wear again. I look for higher-end brands that are moderately affordable, because they usually offer better quality.
What skills aside from upcycling have you developed through this project?
Public speaking and advocacy were significant skills I developed. I had to communicate and convince different people about my project and learn to adapt my message for different audiences, such as teachers, Girl Scouts council members and Brownies.
What advice do you have for other Girl Scouts who are working toward earning the Gold Award?
If you have an interest, start researching and brainstorming ideas. I had been passionate about upcycling for a few years, but I didn’t have much preparation or knowledge at the beginning [of the project], so I learned things as I went along. … Not everything goes smoothly all the time, but it’s definitely worth a shot. I know I’m really glad I took on this project.
Featured photo: Anya Merriman-Mix. Courtesy photo.