My love of fashion and my love of the environment are often at odds. While I love textures, colors, patterns and the combination of the different mediums, the environment pays the price for the mass production and consumption of garments. Crude oil is extracted for synthetic fabrics, organic fabrics require large amounts of water and pesticide and yet the final product of all of this environmental labor often ends up in the back of the closet after a couple months, eventually to meet its fate with a dumpster. Not only does the environment take a hit from fast-fashion, but workers in the garment industry are also often not paid fair wages and work long hours in facilities that don’t meet American safety standards.
Sustainable fashion, “a movement aimed at making the fashion industry more environmentally responsible by changing the ways clothes are designed, made, transported, used and discarded,” is gaining traction around the world, even amongst elite fashion brands such as Gucci. In contrast to fast-fashion, which is defined by seasonal trends and mass production, sustainable fashion, also referred to as “slow-fashion,” focuses on using environmentally friendly materials and locally sourcing labor.
While I am in full support of the sustainable fashion movement and industry, increased standards also mean increased prices. Leading brands in the industry, including Reformation and Dear Frances, often have prices that are two to three times higher than standard brands. For those of us who don’t want to spend a thousand dollars on a pair of shoes, there is an alternative that balances the values of fashion and sustainability: second-hand shopping.
I initially started second-hand shopping in the seventh grade with a fashion-forward friend of mine, with little understanding of the budgeting benefits, the environmental benefits and the statement I was making. In the past year, second-hand shopping, commonly referred to as “thrift-shopping” or even “thrifting,” has become immensely popular. Back in 2012, when Macklemore first came out with his song “Thriftshop” the idea was niche, alternative and even novel. In large part, thanks to Youtube stars such as Emma Chamberlain, Ellie Thumann and Olivia Jade, thrift shopping has become common amongst high schoolers. In years past, I have roamed the industrial-chic racks of Urban Outfitters, nearly salivating over floral maxi dresses and chunky cardigans, even though I had read accounts of this brand participating in the aspects of the fashion industry which I don’t condone.
In December of 2017, I made a New Year’s resolution to quit fast-fashion cold-turkey. With the exception of my swim and soccer team uniforms and gifts that I have received, I have managed thus far to stick to Goodwill, hand-me-downs and my limited sewing skills. Not only have I saved money and helped the environment, but I have also been able to develop my personal style and explore the bounds of my expression given the low-risk (low cost) nature of thrift shopping.
When I travel, I seek out Goodwills, interested to see the regional changes in the styles and brands on the racks. Walking through aisles of clothing seeking a second life has become a soothing, anthropological and sensory experience that fills me with comfort and delight as I imagine the people who the clothes used to belong to, the circumstances under which they bought the clothing and the possibility behind each garment. Thankfully there are many thrift stores within only a few miles of Weber. For those who don’t like the thought of wearing used clothing, recycled fabric and sustainable brands are increasingly affordable and always keep up with trends!