Image source: Harvard Business Review
Sustainability. A word of ever-increasing prominence, particularly since the United Nations set their sustainable development goals in 2015, and the climate emergency has picked up pace. The Gen Z response has shown itself most prominently in the overwhelming rise of sustainable fashion. Sustainable fashion is a hot topic; new trends based around thrifted finds are circulating as a counter movement to the infamous fast fashion brands (Shein, , Zara, etc.).
The 2020s have arrived and hit us in the face with the realization that, as a planet, we might not in fact know how to handle a crisis. To meet the current demand for consumption, textile production creates more than 1.2 billion tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions each year. There is lots of conflicting advice out there on how to reduce how much the average consumer should buy, causing widespread confusion and an overall lack of accountability for the individual. Furthermore, the viability and long-term endurance of this movement can stand to be questioned.
For instance, the whole trend of capsule wardrobes seems quite a sensible idea, in that it allows you to have a minimalistic lifestyle and maximize your clothing options in different ways, cutting down on unnecessary spending and last-minute outfit-related decision paralysis. However, this may have a negative effect on those who wish to step outside of their comfort zone as they enter new phases of their life and experiment with clothing. It’s excellently put as such: “It’s self-knowledge and self-confidence expressed through what you choose to wear.” This does not mean in any way that one should be defined by their style, rather, that clothing can be a unique outlet for self-expression. Just words don’t work for everyone.
To add to the problem with the capsule wardrobe, at times oppressing your impulses to go shopping can actually backfire and result in even more uncontrollable impulses taking hold of the individual at random intervals. This is especially a problem given the ubiquity of online shopping and “cheaper” options. It’s like one step forward, two steps back.
Now generally, vintage and second-hand shops such as Depop or Vinted, or local charity shops, are highly recommended for many reasons and do encourage less fast-fashion buys. Thrift shopping allows the consumer to avoid unethical and controlling strategies of manufacturers, decreases environmental pollution and saves resources, and even creates opportunities to solidify a sense of community ( intimate exchanges, history of garment, etc.). This does take significantly more effort than a big retailer, as there needs to be more trust between the seller and the consumer (which is not always easy to establish), the product not always be in the best condition ( worse than expected), and the item is limited so you usually have to make a snap decision – this once again may be falling into the trap of impulse buying. Because, as everyone reminds us constantly, thrifting is more cost-effective.
Interestingly, according to the Minimalist Vegan, “the key to being an excellent thrift shopper is being alerted of products as they become available. This quite often means shopping at thrift stores consistently, signing up for email and social notifications, and seeking opportunities. If you’re not careful, being “connected” to marketplaces may become an unhealthy habit—to the point where you consume more than you need.”
On another about second-hand shopping, it can retroactively affect those who need it the most, making it yet another toxic way to shop.
Many people run shops with the sole purpose of buying only to resell, especially getting bargains on higher-end clothing at cheaper small businesses then hike up the price for their own online store. According to an interview with Refinery29, “Any ‘90s and ‘00s labels get snapped up quickly and the quality overall has slipping while prices have been driven up, meaning people who shop there due to necessity, or for a more sustainable alternative to the high street, are priced out by savvy resellers. I’ve also noticed a lot of Depop sellers calling things 'Y2K' or 'vintage' when just recent fast fashion.” This effectively signifies that thrifting has been gentrified (very apt wording by Refinery29) for a trend-searching demographic that treats thrifting as “the new trend”. This becomes especially distressing when one considers those of lower income who increasingly rely on thrifting to cover their basic needs – literally clothing themselves. (This is a helpful, first-person account in Vox.)
Even besides that huge glaring issue, the packaging, repacking, and energy used on transportation for thrifted clothes can those of firsthand shops, or at least rival them. In The Telegraph, a seller has stated that, “People buy off us because they do not have to spend hours sifting through boot sales. They want instant gratification and see how clothes can be styled before buying.” Thus, in-person shopping, if circumstances allow it, is encouraged – for your own convenience and comfort in being able to try it out then and there, as well as for the planet’s wellbeing.
Finally, let us discuss investing in the so-called sustainable brands (Reformation, House of Sunny, Lucy & Yak, etc.). Even if they are indeed controversy free and treat their workers properly, buying microtrends from sustainable brands is still an issue, as even sustainable brands use some level of cotton/polyester and consume a lot of water. The emphasis is on circulation in general. Globally, it’s estimated that $500 billion of value is lost every year through and a failure to recycle clothes. Unearthed estimates that “between 2000 and 2015 the number of times an item of clothing is by around 36%. In the UK, the average person owns 115 items of clothing, but 30% of these clothes have not been worn within the past year. Being about the item of clothing is quite then, as these brands cost a pretty penny.
Of course, this is all a learning process, but having a measure of the kind of clothes that you are likely to wear as well as the kind of style that you want to embody should help you avoid buying for the sake of buying, even if it’s a bargain.
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