As millions of people throughout the world become aware that the Earth’s resources are not unlimited, many are seeking ways, however modest, to do their part as conscientious consumers. There are many areas of environmental activism to join, but one that may be overlooked is also one of the simplest: thrifting.
Thrifting, or “buying used,” means consumers can find anything—from furniture and electronics to a “new” pair of jeans, a prom dress, or a brand name sweater—at reasonable prices. Reselling unwanted consumer goods also benefits the environment as it doesn’t contribute to a depletion of natural resources as well as minimizes energy consumption for shipping.
Although there will always be people seeking out brand-new goods for the latest fashion trend or hot technology, there are many reasons to consider buying used. The old axiom that beauty (or usefulness) is in the eye of the beholder applies to thrifting. Shoppers who have done a little research and have a good eye for a bargain will find many opportunities to bring home items at reduced cost simply because someone discarded an item they thought was outdated.
The Case for Buying Secondhand Clothing
Clothing shoppers can stay on budget and help the environment by buying second hand. For example, purchasing used clothing from thrift stores or online websites like Poshmark, ThredUp, or eBay is a good way to find gently used designer clothing at bargain prices. Famous brand names can be found with prices 50% to 85% below their original retail price.
Buying clothes second hand keeps them out of incinerators, reduces carbon and chemical pollution caused by clothing production, and lowers the water consumption needed to process both natural and synthetic fibers. Many thrift shops also support local communities, school or sport team fundraising drives, and other environmental causes.
The statistics may vary somewhat, but the fashion industry is responsible for between 8% and 10% of greenhouse gas emissions every year. Millions of tons of clothing and textile waste ends up in landfills.
Although natural fibers like cotton or wool often get a bad rap due to the amount of land and water needed to produce these fabrics, polyester blends—a staple of cheap, trendy clothing (fast fashion)—have a downside, too. Petroleum is used to create polyester textiles, and though they may wear well and keep the owner cool—or warm, depending on the fabric used—the fibers are not easily recyclable. Moreover, the plastic pellets involved in clothing production contribute to microplastic pollution, which is known to have a damaging impact on marine life.
According to an article recently published on Bloomberg.com, “modern textiles rely heavily on petrochemical products that come from many of the same oil and gas companies driving greenhouse gas emissions. Today, the fashion industry may account for up to 10% of global carbon dioxide output—more than international flights and shipping combined, according to the United Nations Environment Programme.”
A big culprit in the clothing world is “fast fashion.” This is loosely defined as the clothing industry's business model of identifying hot trends and high-fashion designs, mass-producing them cheaply, and getting those outfits into retail stores quickly while there is a demand.
Fast fashion garments typically don’t have staying power. Although millions of consumers buy them, these items are likely to be discarded once they are deemed no longer in style.
Ways to Level Up One’s Wardrobe
Before making new clothing purchases, it is good to evaluate one’s current wardrobe. Prior to discarding an item, the owner can ask, “Can I alter that hem?” Maybe only a button is needed to give a favorite shirt another season of wear.
People can avoid becoming a victim of fast fashion by choosing clothing purchases more carefully and viewing them as long-term purchases. Keeping one’s wardrobe organized can make outfits easier to find and discourages impulse buying or needless duplication of items. (How many black tee-shirts does a person really need?) Closets can be organized by grouping like items, color coding, or putting outfits that work next to each other.
When preparing clothes to discard or donate, it’s good to consider whether this item was a good bang for the buck, e.g., how many times did this item get worn, and does it need to be replaced?
Also, look at the quality of the clothing. Fast fashion tends to be poorly made and looks flimsy or cheap. The clothing tags will reveal what material was used in the garment; a lot of polyester clothing is made through wasteful textile production.
Reusable clothes can be donated to thrift stores or sometimes shelters. If the items are in excellent shape and are quality brands, owners can bring them to consignment stores for cash or trade credit. For those willing to take the time, items can also be re-sold on an online site.
Other ways to redistribute unwanted clothing include yard sales and clothing exchanges, in which friends gather and swap gently used clothes. In short, there are many ways to say goodbye to old clothes rather than send them to a landfill!
More Than Low-Priced Clothing
When people do a closet purge or decluttering project, they may be surprised at what has been hiding in the dark recesses of their storage spaces. Happily, resale stores are ready to receive an enormous variety of donations for their shelves.
For instance, thrift store shoppers can find both old and newly published books at rates possibly cheaper than Amazon or eBay. There are also CDs, DVDs, crafting supplies, wall art, furniture, sports equipment, refurbished electronics, and housewares. Most good thrift stores also have a section with formal wear, including prom and wedding dresses, that can save a shopper hundreds of dollars.
Children’s clothing is usually available at great bargains at resale stores. Since children can quickly outgrow their clothes, many of their donated items are or look new. Also, many toys donated to thrift stores are intact, operable, and in decent condition.
Thrift stores thrive on repeat customers, and many offer deals on their deals. For instance, the thrift store, Savers, has half-price Mondays, discounts days for regulars, a senior day, and color-coded discount tags weekly.
While some people may view thrift stores as venues for mostly low-income shoppers, budget-conscious consumers of all incomes and ages know deals are waiting inside. It is common to find millennials wandering thrift store aisles searching for unique outfits or furniture for an apartment. Well-dressed working women are also there, seeking stylish clothing on the cheap, while senior citizens, young families, and couples of all ages search for bargains.
One warning: Always be ready to seize the unusual or unexpected item that pops up on a shelf or rack. It is unlikely to still be there on the next visit.
*Kate Pugnoli is an Arizona based freelance journalist and former educator who works with nonprofit organizations. Her area of interest is in addressing environmental issues impacting marine biodiversity and conservation.