At the beginning of last season, you might have noticed something different in your social media feeds. The hashtag #SecondHandSeptember, initiated by anti-poverty charity Oxfam, took over Instagram and to a certain extent, Twitter, to celebrate the many advantages of second-hand style. Celebrated by fashion tastemakers and ethical-living advocates, #SecondHandSeptember encouraged style lovers to dedicate the month of September to giving pre-loved fashion a chance. At the time of writing, almost 45k posts on Instagram were tagged with #SecondHandSeptember.
And the fashionistas decking themselves out in pre-worn designs are on the right track: in the current climate emergency that our planet is facing, choosing second-hand style is arguably the best fashion-related choice we can make for the environment. Using clothes that are already in circulation, instead of dedicating new resources to producing anything (even if ethically made) is, from a sustainability standpoint, a huge step forward in a world where consumption is out of control.
Our constant desire for new things and our reluctance to re-wear the same look has caused what some deem to be irreparable damage to the planet: annual production of clothing today amounts to a staggering 150 billion new articles of clothing. The average person wears a fast-fashion item less than five times. Globally, the average fashion consumer gets rid of 37kg of clothing every year (and in the US alone, 85% of textile waste goes to landfill or is incinerated).
This constant stream of frantic production, coupled with a throwaway attitude towards clothes, spells trouble not only for the environment (fashion’s contribution to greenhouse gas emissions, water depletion, and resource use places it firmly on the list of the most environmentally harmful industries in the world) but also for the workers involved in garment production. While many might be aware of the 2013 Rana Plaza tragedy, when a Bangladesh fast-fashion factory collapsed and killed 1132 people, you might not realise that luxury fashion carries many of the same human rights violation issues. DW’s recent documentary Luxury: Behind the Mirror of High-End Fashion, shows workers in Italy trapped in modern slavery conditions, working up to 13 hours per day to maintain high production levels.
Choosing used and preloved fashion helps slow down the fashion production cycle, lightens the strain we put on the planet’s resources, and contributes to freeing some workers from the shackles of their inhumane conditions. Second-hand fashion also means not contributing to the violent deaths of the one billion animals killed for meat and leather each year and 100 million animals who die for fur.
A lot of second-hand shopping (though not all of it) also takes place locally – in charity shops, vintage boutiques or through nearby Depop or eBay sellers who at least live in the same country as the buyer – meaning that the emissions connected to shipping an item all over the globe are cut out.
And fashion lovers are catching on. Retail analysis platform EDITED’s data from 2018 shows that online availability of products described as “second-hand” has gone up by a massive 429% since 2015, and US second-hand marketplace ThredUp found in its 2018 Fashion Resale Market and Trend Report that the resale market will be worth US$41 billion by 2022. The major disruptors in the field include resale apps such as ThredUp, Depop and Vinted when it comes to accessible fashion, and marketplaces like The RealReal and Vestiaire Collective for high-end, luxury designer items.
“I had no idea that fashion could be harmful to the planet before I came into contact with the work of sustainable influencers such as Kristen Leo, which led me to watch the documentary The True Cost and learn more about clothing production,” says Sarah, 35, a UK-based habitual second-hand shopper.
“Since then, I’ve turned to second-hand shopping, which I see as a bit of a treasure hunt: it’s much more fun and interesting than going to a mainstream shop.”
Sophie Davies, founder of ethical living blog A Considered Life, made 2019 the year that she only shopped second hand. Her experience was positive – and educational: “It’s made me realise how much unwanted stuff there is in the world. We often think of second hand as heavily worn or used up, but there’s so much stuff that’s never been taken out of its box or had its tags cut off. Items that have never been worn or used before they are donated to charity shops or sold online.”
If you’re interested in exploring the world of used, preloved, thrifted and second-hand fashion, here are three top tips to help you get started:
1. Take a virtual shopping trip.
Perhaps the best way to introduce yourself to the infinite possibilities that second-hand fashion can bring is to download Depop and Vinted, browse Vestiaire Collective and create an eBay account. Warning: all of the above are addictive!
2. Dedicate a day to thrifting.
The secret to being that person who’s always wearing something amazing that they found at the thrift shop is simply to visit as often as possible. Going once or twice won’t cut it – when the staff starts to recognise you, you’re on your way to becoming an expert thrifter.
3. Have a swap party.
Low on budget? There’s an easy second-hand way to solve that: grab all the clothes you no longer want to wear, ask your friends to bring theirs, and have a party where you happily swap ’til you drop. One person’s trash is another person’s treasure.
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