Shopping second hand vs sustainable brands – Which is better for the planet?
The slow fashion movement has grown immensely over the past decade. The impact of global warming has now become a pressing and terrifying element of our everyday existence, and people are beginning to wake up to the detrimental need for change. With activists fighting against exploitative big industry corporations and popular documentaries such as The True Cost, it's no secret that the way we choose to shop is killing our planet.
Ninety-two million tonnes of textile waste are produced each year, according to the Global Fashion Agenda. This textile wastage will end up rotting under the sun, releasing harmful gases into our atmosphere, or polluting our oceans and destroying our eco-systems. The sustainable and second-hand fashion movement works to combat this environmental damage and strives for an overall more ethical and accountable fashion industry.
If you're hoping to reform your shopping habits and reduce your carbon footprint, you're likely looking to second-hand shops or sustainable brands to help you do so. We're constantly hearing high praise for shopping in thrift stores or with brands that have a sustainable and ethical ethos. And rightly so! Shopping at either of these places is a step in the right direction, but which is better? In this article, we're sharing the positives and negatives of thrift stores and sustainable brands and deciphering the difference between the two.
What’s the Difference?
To understand the negatives and positives of sustainable fashion brands and second-hand shopping, we need to be aware of the difference between the two.
What Is Second-hand Fashion?
Second-hand clothing is exactly what it says on the label; clothing that has been pre-owned and preloved by someone else. These garments are still in wearable condition and are passed on through thrift shopping or online second-hand marketplaces to be worn and loved by someone new.
What Is Sustainable Fashion?
Unlike second-hand fashion, so-called sustainable fashion items are usually brand new and produced using materials deemed as having a less of a damaging environmental impact. These fabrics can vary widely and may include deadstock fabrics. Organic cotton and Modal are examples of natural, sustainable fabrics.
Second-hand Clothes Shopping
The Positives of Second-hand Clothes Shopping
Extending the Life Cycle
When you buy second-hand clothing, you're extending the life cycle of a garment. Rather than the unwanted garment or accessory going to landfill, you're extending its life and getting good use out of it. We've already established the detrimental impact unwanted clothes are having on our climate. By buying second hand, you're reducing this environmental impact and getting an item of clothing rich in history and with a lot more character than anything off the rack is going to have.
Saving Natural Resources
Producing new clothes uses essential natural resources. These natural resources are essential to our planet and the survival of humanity. Unfortunately, our exploitation of these natural resources means we're already facing shortages. Water consumption has become an increasing environmental concern. Water wastage and contamination are rife, and the fashion industry is one of the biggest culprits. Each year, 93 billion cubic meters of water are used in the textile industry, according to statistics from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. It's estimated that it takes 1,800 gallons of water to make just one pair of jeans! With second hand, you help reduce water wastage and preserve one of the world's vital natural resources.
Reduces the Demand for Fast Fashion
We know that many large fast fashion houses are producing clothing with no regard for its environmental impact. These businesses abuse natural resources, use low-quality non-biodegradable products, and have no concerns about where their poor-quality garments end up after leaving their warehouses. By buying second hand, you're taking power out of these destructive corporations' hands. Reducing the demand for fast fashion garments reduces production levels and takes money and power away from these businesses.
Negatives of Second-hand Clothes
There are several positives to shopping second hand. Thrift shopping and buying second-hand clothing is always a better alternative to shopping with fast fashion brands. Although the positives outweigh the negatives, there are some negative elements to shopping second hand too.
The Gentrification of Second-hand Clothing
The rapid increase in popularity of thrift shopping and second-hand clothing has resulted in the gentrification of second-hand clothes shopping. Online platforms have become hubs for gentrified second-hand shopping. Because of these sites, second-hand clothing prices have skyrocketed. Often these garments have a status symbol or style aesthetic that seems to justify hiking up the price tag.
The rising price of second-hand clothes means thrift shopping is no longer a cheaper alternative to fast fashion. The people who need to buy second-hand clothing for financial reasons can no longer afford to do so. Instead of shopping second hand, these individuals are turning to fast fashion brands that are churning out cheaper clothing.
Not Allowing Sustainable Businesses to Flourish
Second-hand shopping isn't always appropriate. If you need underwear or a specific clothing item, tracking these down second hand isn't always easy or preferable. For intimates and distinct items like these, sustainable clothing brands are our most progressive option. By solely shopping second hand, we risk taking money and support away from small independent sustainable brands working towards a positive and progressive fashion industry. If we don't allow sustainable brands to grow, fast fashion brands will fill in the gaps that second-hand shopping can't.
Sustainable Fashion Brands
The Positives of Shopping with Sustainable Fashion Brands
Better Quality Materials
Sustainable brands prioritise high-quality, long-lasting materials. Due to their eco-conscious ethos, sustainable brands want to increase the lifecycle of items and ensure their garments last as long as possible. By buying sustainably, you're guaranteed a longer-lasting item, which will likely reduce the number of garments sent to landfill and eliminate the need for you to buy the same item repeatedly down the line.
Using Less Natural Resources
Human kind's abuse of natural resources is getting out of hand. By investing in sustainable items, you know your new garments have helped to preserve natural resources. For example, if you choose to buy organic cotton over conventional cotton, your organic cotton will have been grown using rainfall rather than pesticide filled freshwater. The choice to invest in organic cotton not only reduces water wastage but keeps water clean for growing crops and supporting local communities.
Investing in an Ethos
When you buy from brands that prioritise sustainability, you're not just buying an item, you're investing in an ethos. Sustainable brands care about the fashion industry as a whole, not just about profit. When you spend money with sustainable brands, you're helping them grow and promote a more progressive, positive, and inclusive fashion industry.
The Negatives of Shopping with Sustainable Fashion Brands
Buying sustainable clothing does have consequences. Consuming materials, sustainable or not, is harmful to our planet. Here are some other aspects to be aware of.
Big Fashion Brands Are Greenwashing
As the sustainable fashion movement increases, we're seeing several big fashion houses 'greenwashing' their clothing. Greenwashing is a marketing term used to identify brands that claim they prioritising sustainability, but in reality, their effort is nothing more than a marketing ploy. When buying from sustainable brands, make sure you investigate their manufacturing processes to see if they are truly sustainable. Sustainable clothing brands value transparency. So, if a brand isn't being transparent about its manufacturing, don't trust them.
Grappling with a Higher Price Tag
Unfortunately, as the sustainability movement is still relatively new, shopping with sustainable brands isn't always the most economically friendly option. Sustainable brands have a reputation for having a higher price tag. A high price tag means sustainable fashion isn't accessible to all. Hopefully, as the demand for sustainable fashion increases, we'll see a development in this area.
To learn more about why sustainable fashion is often more expensive, read our blog post here.
Shop More Mindfully
In this post, we've outlined the positives and negatives of second-hand shopping and shopping with sustainable brands. Whilst there are positives and negatives to each, both are significantly better for our planet than shopping with fast fashion brands. Of course, the kindest thing we can do for our environment is to reduce our clothing consumption.
When it comes to shopping mindfully, it's never one size fits all. We're still learning and growing in the slow fashion movement; no one is perfect! As long as you're making a conscious effort to stop over-consuming, considering your purchases, and shopping with both sustainable brands and at thrift stores, you're putting the planet first, and your wardrobe second (but still looking good while you’re doing it!)