Each year in the US, millions of people walk the aisle, receive their rolled up diplomas, and toss their square caps in the air at their graduation ceremonies. The tradition is practiced not just by college graduates but also high school, middle school, elementary school, and kindergarten students. Most notably recognized as a graduation symbol are the cap and gown dress wear. Formally known as academic dress or academic regalia, the cap and gown combo issues a status of education completion to the wearer at graduation ceremonies.
Though academic regalia is most contemporarily worn solely during graduation ceremonies, it was originally worn as a daily school dress. The current cap and gown standard is influenced by academic and clerical dress in Europe during medieval times. The robes were modeled after heavy church influence and warmth functionality. Because it was considered everyday wear, robes were initially made of wool, cashmere, or silk (considerably luxurious and expensive materials).
Today, academic regalia are considered to be more of a souvenir novelty. This one-time wear costume is often made of cheaper materials like polyester or other synthetic fibers. Namely, many gowns are made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET) which is a thermoplastic polymer resin of the polyester family and is commonly used in fibers for clothing. The problem arises when each year millions of gowns are made from plastic-based materials and thrown away after their one-time use to a landfill and contribute to our worldwide burgeoning plastic waste issue. Plastic has a long lifespan and is considered to be non-decomposing. Therefore, every piece of plastic created persists in our environment and if not managed properly, is only a detriment to environmental health.
Map depicts worldwide plastic waste produced and mismanaged via Grid
Combating this issue is Oak Hall Cap and Gown. Founded in 1889, in Roanoke, Virginia, Oak Hall Cap and Gown not only manufactures graduation gowns but also judicial robes worn by Supreme Court judges. Oak Hall is a family run business with sustainable initiatives in efforts to reduce their carbon footprint. Employees are quite conscious of sustainability and do their part in recycling within the business, especially considering that businesses are not required to recycle in Virginia. But more so than green friendly practices in the offices, Oak Hall is the pioneer of sustainable academic regalia wear. In 2009, the company introduced sustainable caps and gowns to higher education. The fact that less than 30% of all plastic bottles are recycled in the US jarred them and inspired President Joe D’Angelo to start looking for sustainable alternatives for
In 2009, the company introduced sustainable caps and gowns to higher education. The fact that less than 30% of all plastic bottles are recycled in the US jarred them and inspired President Joe D’Angelo to start looking for sustainable alternatives for gown materials. Initially, D’Angelo experimented with various combinations of materials like bamboo and polyester mix but found that the fabric would not be of a quality that would mimic what consumers were used to. Finally, Oak Hall switched over to a novel fiber material. Plastic water bottles. Named Greenweaver (matte finish) and NuHorizon (satin finish, these gowns are made from 100% recycled water bottles. One gown comprises of 23 bottles that are gone through a process that rids impurities, reduced to chips, and are melted, woven, and dyed into the finished product. By having hundreds of thousands of students purchasing and wearing these gowns, Oak Hall is helping to save millions of water bottles from being dumped into landfills. Over 85 million bottles have been recycled thus far. As President Joe D’Angelo put it, “we all have to worry about tomorrow”. The current reality of out relationship with waste is often a neglectful one but for Oak Hall, it is a reality that is capable of being changed.
Watch this video featuring Oak Hall Cap and Gown President Joe D’Angelo
Oak Hall Cap and Gown is not only committed to helping reduce our plastic landfill waste, but they are also dedicated to closing the loop of manufacturing. With their take back program, students can drop off their gowns in shipping containers to be melted down and remade if they choose. So for those who do not wish to hold on to their souvenirs, they can also take part in reducing their carbon footprint through the basic reduce, reuse, and recycle principles.
Some of the environmental advantages of supporting Greenweaver and NuHorizon gowns include:
- Yarn is produced using 100% post consumer plastic bottles
- CO2 gas emissions are reduced by 54.6% in the process of manufacturing fabric from plastic versus virgin polyester
- Petroleum usage is reduced by over 52% by utilizing thermal recycled energy
If you’d like to join Oak Hall Cap and Gown in their efforts to make the earth a cleaner place for generations to come, start here to read about their sustainable gowns as well as purchase them for your own.
All images are taken from Oak Hall Cap and Gown sites, videos from Youtube
Written by Iman Lynn Mamdouh