I have been studying sustainable fashion for several years now. I'm always intrigued to learn about technological innovations that are allowing a very dirty industry to begin to clean up it's act. While textile recycling and garment upcycling are wonderful solutions to ensuring that clothing doesn't end up in landfills, it does nothing to address the problem of us simply making and buying too many clothes for the earth to support.
My personal solution to addressing this dilemma is to buy second hand clothing 99% of the time. I've always enjoyed thrifting for the pure pleasure of unearthing a treasure in an unlikely place. In recent years, I've found it an incredibly practical solution to so many issues, both personal and global.
I have reached a point in my life where I do not really need more clothing. My closet is fairly full and all of my basic attire needs are met. That does not mean that there are not times when I do not want a new piece. During those times I hit up one of my favorite thrift of vintage shops.
Buying secondhand clothing is far more economical than buying new clothing. I specifically shop for items that are made out of high quality natural fabrics such as silk and cashmere. Purchasing such items new would be completely out of my budget but even a relatively expensive vintage find is still affordable. I prefer to refer to the pieces as 'nused' since they are new to me.
I hear the question posed almost daily, "Why should we pay more for sustainable clothing?" or "How do you convince people to pay more?" Quite frankly, I think this question is silly. It is completely unnecessary to spend more money to embrace sustainability. In fact, it is the opposite. Embracing sustainability can save you a tremendous amount of money because buying secondhand clothing is by far the most sustainable approach (other than not buying clothing).
I know that by purchasing items in thrift and vintage stores I am contributing to building a community of people who embrace clothing longevity (slow fashion) and am encouraging the practice to continue and grow. When clients or friends ask me where I found a specific piece and I let them in on the thrifting secret, I feel hopeful that I might begin to change some erroneous thoughts about what buying used clothing means.
I'll never forget shopping with an ex-boyfriend who was shocked that I wanted a pair of heels I found in a vintage store. I patiently explained to him a few simple facts. It is rare for me to find shoes (and clothing) in my size, that fit well, of a quality that I appreciate, in a secondhand store. When I do find them, and the price is right, I am likely to buy them as I acknowledge, "What are the chances?"
By the time these shoes hit the shelf of this store, they have not been on anyone else's feet for quite some time (weeks, maybe months) so any chance that a stray bacteria or fungus is lingering is negligible. When you buy new clothing, approximately 20 - 50 sets of hands have handled it on it's journey from crop to textile mill to garment factory to shipping to retail (just as a simple model) so new clothes are DEFINITELY not clean when you purchase them. I will wash or dry clean all items before I put them on, regardless of where they are purchased.
There exists in many communities a stigma linked to buying used, well anything really. Maybe that ex hailed from one of those communities but for me, looking at, embracing and occasionally bringing home a treasure that someone else has already found joy in is somehow comforting. There's someone in the world who shares similar taste with me, or at least they did at some point in their life. I'll most likely never know who they were but we have something linking us, the same way that I will with the next person who wears the things I donate, gift or sell when I have retired them from my collection.
I am a creative dresser, I always have been. In high school, my favorite accessories were a pair of scissors and fabric markers. I rarely follow trends and have always been and continue to be in love with fashion from the 50's and 70's. Shopping well curated vintage shops is a supreme joy for me because it allows me the opportunity to search for pieces that demonstrate my true style in a way that current designs don't seem to be able to. It also allows me to ensure that where ever I go, I'll never walk into a room where someone is wearing the same thing as me.
I continue to be excited at the launch of new sustainable companies and fashion tech advances but I will always look to second hand fashion before any other sources for the most eco-friendly option.