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Sustainable Clothing: Reuse, Reuse, Reuse

In a world where the climate crisis is rapidly approaching - no longer in the distant future, as proved by the recent earthquake in Turkey - a question on the minds of many is what they can do to help. One of the most concerning aspects of the climate crisis is the amount of waste that humans produce. A large portion of this, especially in the United States, involves clothing. 


This article will discuss the fashion industry’s problems and responsibilities, how to buy clothing sustainably, textile waste, and what the public can do about it.


The New York Times’s Vanessa Friedman brings up the question of sustainability and fashion, particularly when it comes to black tie fashion. She responds to a reader’s query on how to find responsible formal wear, as most sustainability efforts are currently targeted towards more day-to-day clothing or basics. Friedman cites two simple answers: “rent and re-wear,” naming a few celebrities who have rented or re-worn formal attire, as well as recommending some specific brands for readers to try, such as the RealReal and ReSee


This is especially relevant as the Grammy Awards were just last Sunday, where celebrities wore millions of dollars of clothing and accessories that took weeks, even months, to prepare and are likely not to be worn again. Awards season, and its fashion habits, will continue in February and March with ceremonies including the SAG Awards and the Film Independent Spirit Awards, not to mention the Met Gala in May, arguably one of the most influential fashion events of the year.


Building on Friedman’s response, thrifting or wearing secondhand clothing is more popular than ever, with nearly 75% of consumers in 2021 saying they have previously shopped or are open to shopping secondhand. Not only that, but almost 60% of first-time secondhand shoppers in 2021 said it gave them bragging rights, and 54% said they go out of their way to tell others that their clothing is secondhand. 


The stigma that used to exist around wearing “used” clothes, calling them “gross” or deeming that new clothes are much superior, is now out of style. If anything, owning secondhand clothing is a way to boost one’s style and have a unique piece they may not have found otherwise. It is even a way to connect with others in the secondhand community, perhaps helping others to fit in without the previous social expectations of constantly having to buy new clothes all the time that put up barriers for those in low-income households or even those who couldn’t spend that much money on clothing.


Further, now that more people, particularly younger ones, know the reality of humanity’s struggles with the climate crisis, they feel more responsible for doing their part. Consumers can do their research now, thanks to sites like Good on You, which break down which brands are sustainable and which are just putting up a sustainable front - a trend known as “green-washing.” 


43% of those who bought clothing from fast fashion stores reported that they felt guilty because of it. They say that the fast fashion industry instills this need in everyone to constantly be buying more clothing, especially clothing that they don’t need, allowing them to rake in billions of dollars in profit from several unwilling and unhappy customers. 


That is why it is beneficial for the fashion market to change its ways and invest in secondhand fashion to repair its customer relationship. Rebuilding that trust, along with joining a market that is predicted to more than double by 2026, reaching $82 billion, is a smart move for any business.


However, the responsibility does not and cannot rely only on the industry - individual consumers must do their part too. The EPA reported that Americans create around 16 million tons of textile waste annually. Another recent survey also found that Americans will throw out 81 pounds of clothing annually. 


But some people argue that they can donate the clothing they no longer wear to local thrift stores or Goodwill, where someone who needs it can buy it for a much lower price than regular retail. While this concept is a great way to keep clothing in circulation, the truth is that thrift stores don’t work the way many people think they do.


Troublingly only 50% of donated clothing makes it onto the racks of a thrift store, and even more concerning, less than half of that 50% is sold - making the total amount of clothing at thrift stores sold less than 25%. So what happens to all of this excess clothing? Well, it is usually thrown out anyway. Locations will even ship the extra dress to places like Africa, only for it to be dumped into a landfill, just as it would here, where richer countries can send their problems elsewhere and not be bothered with them or their ramifications.


Where clothing goes


Buying secondhand clothing or renting clothing will only get so far. This is where Friedman’s re-wearing comes in. 


A common saying in the sustainable clothing industry is “the best sustainable clothes are the ones already in your closet,” which is truly the optimal way to look at sustainable and ethical fashion. Many people in the United States have a surplus of clothing anyway, but, as mentioned previously, they think they need to buy more and more. One option is they can shift their efforts to more sustainable brands. However, in the end, they’re still buying more clothing, therefore adding to the problem: buying more means spending more resources to package the dress, often using plastic; shipping, a more frequent occurrence from an increase in online shopping, using more plastic and creating carbon emissions from the transport; potentially returning the dress, repeating the process; and using up the stock a store has, requiring them to buy more to stay in stock for other consumers with similar demands, therefore making a need for more clothing overall for the company.


As much as thinking and talking about where everyone’s clothing comes from seems shallow and unimportant, it is one of the most impactful ways individuals can affect how corporations treat the environment. If people band together and all refuse to support a company until it produces less waste and gives its workers better conditions, the company will suffer. If that same group of people instead decides to put their money and support behind an environmentally conscious company, then it will succeed and show other companies what the market is desiring right now, that being good quality, well-made, long-lasting clothing from companies that reduce their waste drastically and give their workers good working conditions and pay.


Because of what resources are available now about sustainable clothing practices, people no longer have an excuse to feign ignorance. The effects of the climate crisis are here and will stay unless humanity makes drastic changes, including lifestyle changes. While there is the issue of varying financial situations, there is an option for everyone to do their part, even if it’s in different ways: buying from sustainable companies, directly donating clothing to clothing drives, shopping at secondhand stores with different price points, even just spreading information to others about the harmful practices of the fashion industry and how they can help is beneficial to the cause.

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Tags: #fashion #sustainability #reuse #climate #thriftstores #shopsecondhand


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