Second-hand Shopping: Sustainable, Ethical, Affordable

Remember Macklemore’s ‘Thrift Shop’? Not long after that song’s release, I was joking to my friend about how she had suddenly started to love shopping at Oxfam, despite her refusing to wear a charity shop jumper her mum had bought her about a year before. “Well, that was before thrifting was a thing,” she told me simply. And she was right – for at least us two, anyway. Thanks to Macklemore, all of a sudden we were hooked on vintage thrift stores. I know I started thrifting to perfect the 2012 vintage-hipster look that I was trying so hard to achieve, and charity shops seemed like the cheapest way to do so. But I still purchased the majority of my clothes from fast fashion outlets such as Primark, H&M, and ASOS, and only added the occasional second-hand pick to my outfit. It’s only recently that I’ve started to become aware of the detrimental impact of the fashion industry, and now I’m actively making an effort to only ever purchase clothes second-hand.

Stacey Dooley’s documentary, ‘Fashion’s Dirty Secrets’, available to watch on BBC iPlayer, really goes into detail about how fast fashion is simply not a sustainable industry. When I was a kid I remember fashion being seasonal and how my mum and I would go shopping when all the new stock was out, which was only four times a year. Now, the fashion industry has become much more fast-flowing and has 52 seasons annually. Each week new stock is added to high street and online stores, accompanied by flashing signs saying “get it before it’s gone”. Fashion is quick and consumers are encouraged by trends, social media, and the worry of missing out to consume just as fast.

The speed of manufacturing is having a devastating impact globally. In the documentary, Stacey Dooley visits the Aral Sea, a body of water which has been severely shrunken due to its water sources being diverted to cotton fields. Why? According to the Tree Hugger blog, it takes 1,800 gallons of water to grow enough cotton for one pair of jeans. Just one. Health authorities say that each person should drink half a gallon of water per day, which equals 182.5 gallons per person per year. This means that the amount of water required to make a single pair of jeans is enough water to sustain one person for ten years. This is staggering when you consider how many pairs of jeans are made by the ridiculous amount of fashion outlets we have in the global north, all to be consumed and replaced on a weekly basis. But cotton doesn’t just make jeans; it’s used in t-shirts, bags, and all sorts of other items of clothing. Just think about how much water the outfit you’re wearing right now required to make.

I urge you to watch Stacey’s documentary to learn how the industry is a pollutant, unsustainable, and in general, produces a negative consumer mentality that we have to keep purchasing and purchasing, and will never be satisfied with what we already own. It’s encouraged me to set myself a target – to only buy clothes second hand. I know this is hard, as whilst charity shops are great, they can be very hit-and-miss. If you really need some retail therapy then using second-hand online stores such as Depop (my new favourite) or ASOS Marketplace are sustainable alternatives for making quick purchases if you need something in particular. London has tons of second-hand outlets like Rokit, Beyond Retro, and basically all of Brick Lane, and we even have two East London vintage stores about ten minutes from campus, meaning it’s really not difficult to shop sustainably. And let’s face it, vintage clothes is just really good and stylish, so there really isn’t any downside at all.

Fast fashion is killing the planet, and time is running out. So if you want to make a difference, ditch the high street store consumer mentality and start to buy more second-hand.

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