Fast fashion, secondhand shops, sustainability, and their relation

The fashion ‘f’ words, make my skin crawl because of how dirty they are.

The words I’m talking about are fast fashion.

Fast fashion is mass produced inexpensive clothing that emulates styles that recently hit runway. It is a manipulative industry that throws out new trends way too quickly for anyone to keep up with, causing consumers to spend too much money on poorly constructed clothing made in sweatshops, some out of animal fur and using synthetic textiles.

There is no shortage of documentaries showing the ugly side of fast fashion and all the resources it wastes. A popular documentary, “The True Cost,” showcases the people who make the world’s clothes and how clothes impact our society.

One method for reducing our carbon footprint and switching over to a sustainable and ethical lifestyle is buying clothing through secondhand shops. According to the Climate Action Business Association, 40 billion pounds of clothes are produced every year, and one kilogram of cotton requires 20,000 liters of water to make one T-shirt and a pair of jeans.

Not buying from fashion brands like Forever 21 and H&M removes yourself from the toxic fashion industry process. Buying secondhand also gives clothes another chance at life and gives consumers cheaper options in clothes.

The purpose of a secondhand shop is to reuse gently used clothes to give them a second life instead of being thrown out into landfills. Just like everything else, clothes require a lot of care. For a piece of clothing to have gone through so many steps just to be thrown away is not only a waste of money, but a waste of the Earth’s resources.

In a recent article by The Good Trade, author Audrey Stanton talks about the resale market for secondhand clothing and how it is just a pit stop for fast fashion before it ends up in landfills. Fast fashion is still fast fashion no matter if it’s new or secondhand. It is made out of cheap material and without ethics, so sporting these fast fashion brands, even if secondhand, gives others the idea to buy their own similar pair at fast fashion brands.

I rarely ever buy fast fashion clothes anymore and if I do, I make sure it checks off some qualifications: Is this an item I will wear more than once and will the material last?

I recently bought a pair of luxury jeans from a secondhand shop that were about 80 percent off the original price. The jeans were made of durable denim which will last me years, and they were stylish yet casual enough for me to wear comfortably.

However, there’s also a negative side to shopping at a secondhand store. The ethics of buying fast fashion clothes in secondhand shops is still a grey area, because even though you aren’t directly paying the fast fashion company, it still went through a toxic cycle and that you are inadvertently contributing to. It feels like a lose-lose situation in the world of fashion.  

In America, 90 percent of clothing made from cotton and polyester have health and environmental impacts from the manufacturing and production process, according to a research paper by Rachel Bick, Erika Halsey, and Christine C. Ekenga.

Textile dyeing results in additional hazards as untreated wastewater from dyes are often discharged into local water systems.” according to the researchers. “The average American throws away approximately 80 pounds of clothing and textiles annually, occupying nearly 5 percent of landfill space.”

When fast fashion is sent to secondhand shops, it’s just another step in its life cycle before it ends up in the trash. Although clothing from fast fashion outlets will be a bit more affordable, the cheap material will eventually wear out and end up in a landfill.

Ethically made and sustainable clothes are making their way into the fashion industry and although they are a bit pricey, they are made to last, to wear every day, out of sustainable textiles and in ethically conscious factories. These types of clothes can also help change the way we shop.

Buying fewer clothes that are made to last for years and can be worn everyday, no matter the current trends, is more sustainable than buying cheap clothes that ruin in the wash. Everlane, an online clothing store, has pledged to stop using newly manufactured plastic in packaging and in clothing made of synthetic fibers.

The fast fashion epidemic is a continuing problem that will probably never disappear due to its low costs. But, as our institutions begin to change and consumers find more ways to shop ethically, it will not be uncommon to buy expensive, yet sustainable clothes that last longer and will still be stylish in next year’s trends.

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