Pros & Cons of Shopping Secondhand
by Melissa Caputo,
MAD Market CEO
There are four main reasons secondhand shopping is sustainable:
Reduced use of resources
Saving items from going in the landfill
Ethical treatment of workers
Accessibility of sustainable fashion
And there are a few downsides to shopping secondhand:
We still need to support ethical and sustinale manufacturing
We need to not give marketing to unethical brands by wearing large logos
We still need more solutions for the rest of the waste
I don't need to write yet another article on wastefulness in the fashion industry; I think we are all well-aware. Even if you haven't heard the stats on water consumption and textile waste, you can understand it from a logical perspective: each time a new garment is produced, resources are being used. There are a lot of non-sustainable practices, but even arguably better practices have their cons. Organic cotton is great until you realize how much water and land is used to produce it.
But when you buy secondhand clothing, nothing new is being produced. No new resources (or at least minimal resources to wash or mend) are being used.
On top of that, you're also keeping clothing from going to the landfill. Resources that'd otherwise be wasted are saved and put to good use.
Talking about resource waste in the industry? What about the stereotypically corrupt and abusive textile industry that systematically ensalves people to create your clothes? The treatment of workers will vary depending on what secondhand store you visit, but it'll be much easier to find companies that are treating their employees fairly. ThredUP is based in the US and is likely following US government regulations for fair workers' rights. Someday I'd love to tour all their facilities, but for now, we can consider them a safer alternative to the likely abusive overseas factories.
Beyond these advantages, there is a very practical, tangible plus side to secondhand stores like ThredUP: accessibility. Ethically-made and sustainable clothing is often expensive. It's a relatively new industry dominated by boutique brands, so prices are higher (although it's totally worth it). I love the ethically-made industry and I will support it whenever I am able, but the fact remains that the higher prices are still prohibitive to a lot of people. ThredUP gives access to a sustainable and ethical alternative to fast fashion. Additionally, people who may otherwise only afford low quality, fall-apart-in-a-month clothing can purchase higher quality, more stylish and long-lasting clothing, therefore reducing waste on another front.
If it weren't for this concern, I might shop entirely secondhand: I do believe it is still important to support ethical and sustainable clothing brands when possible. These are brands that are putting people first, creating viable and fair work and trying to innovate in the fashion industry.
Even though a lot of these people were exploited and mistreated, the fashion and textile industry still did employ over 57 million people worldwide in 2014 ( according to FashionUnited).We don't want that industry to go away, we don't want jobs to go away. We just want it to operate more fairly. So we have to continue to give our money (when we're able) to brands that are trying to change the virgin textile and fashion industry for the better.
We also need to be careful of supporting unethical brands. While you are purchasing clothing that may have originally been made unethically, you aren't giving your money directly to that brand. In fact, we may be telling them that they'll have to start doing things differently or the only clothes we'll buy are the old ones. But there is still a concern with repping these brands.
My solution? I won't buy heavily branded clothing from ThredUP. I wouldn't buy Nike or Chanel, with their logo plastered everywhere. I don't want to give them any advertising. But buying clothing with basically no visible branding? That's chill with me. When someone asks where it's from, I don't say the brand, I say "ThredUP, you should check it out!"
These are brands that are putting people first, creating viable and fair work and trying to innovate in the fashion industry.
On the environmental side, the success of a store like ThredUP is largely dependent on keeping the quality of the items high. So a large amount of clothing is still rejected. We still need a better answer for the rest of this textile waste.
In my ideal world, companies like ThredUP would join up with companies like Renewal Workshop and Patagonia to not only collect and resell high quality clothing, but to also mend and alter tarnished items. Until this cyclical industry is more robust, I'll do what I can to support these companies, as well as brands working to recycle old fibers, create more ethical alternatives and improve sustainability.
I try to purchase what I can from ethical brands. For pieces that I can't find, elsewhere but think would be a good addition to my wardrobe, I'll pickup at ThredUP.