Much of mine and Ellie’s closets are secondhand. This can include hand-me-downs, thrifted items, or items picked up at a clothing swap. Secondhand clothing is usually our first resort when we feel like we need something to add to our wardrobes or our children’s wardrobes (usually through ThredUp since it is so simple to sort through).
Why do we think shopping secondhand is important?
1 – It gives the item a second life
The average American woman only wears items in her closet 7 times before giving or throwing the item away. This wasteful practice brings many barely worn items into thrift and secondhand stores. This has been compounded with the rise of fast fashion and cheaply made clothing. Access to inexpensive clothing makes it easier to overbuy.
2 – It keeps the item out of the landfill
85 percent, or 12 million tons, of unused textiles are carted off directly to U.S. landfills each year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. That’s more than 7 percent of our national landfill waste. This includes textile waste from garment factories (a good reason to buy from companies that repurpose deadstock fabric), someone tossing fabric in the trash at home, and cast offs from secondhand stores. Unfortunately, our secondhand stores are so overloaded that many sub par donations end up in the trash bin. Just because you donated something doesn’t mean that it went to help someone in need or went to another person for a second life. It may end up in a landfill.
3 – It keeps the item from being sent overseas to an already saturated secondhand market
Secondhand items that are deemed not ‘trendy’ enough for the American thrifting market are sent overseas. Japan often gets the next ‘most trendy’ round of cast-offs, with warm weather clothing going to Eastern Europe. The remaining cast offs are mostly sent to Africa where it provides cheap clothing to those in need. This practice has put the African clothing industry mostly out of business. When you have multitudes of cheap clothing available, there is no need to keep producing regionally traditional clothing.
4 – It can support local business
If you are able to find a thrift store that is locally owned, buying from a local secondhand store keeps money in local economy. We are big supporters of supporting local businesses since $0.68 of each dollar stays in the local economy as compared to $0.43 if you spend a dollar at a large business (Source: Civic Economics Study in Grand Rapids, Michigan). That’s a double win!
5 – It does not support brands unethical production practices since money doesn’t go directly to the brands that exploit workers
This was one of the many reasons I started shopping secondhand. Ethical clothing is a complicated issue and it has a learning curve and can have a steep price curve associated with it. When I decided that I didn’t want my money going to support practices like child labor, forced labor, or labor in unsafe working conditions, I stopped buying new items. Thereby, money that I spend on secondhand clothing does not end up in the hands of the companies continuing exploitive production. It was one way for me to vote against exploitation with my spending habits.
6 – It’s affordable
For us, this was maybe the biggest reason to start shopping secondhand. When I decided to stop buying new clothing, I was also in a season of life where we did not have a lot of money to spend. I had just had a baby and left my job and my husband was out of work. Clothes didn’t fit me the same way they had previously, so I needed to replace my wardrobe. This was not great timing to need new clothes, but I was able to slowly grow a wardrobe that fit me, that I felt good wearing, and that I could afford through thrift shopping.
The secondhand industry is not what most people think. We would encourage you to learn more about where your clothing goes when you donate it – you may be dismayed at what you learn. Most of the time, your donations do not go to ‘help others’, this is a smoke screen to make people feel good about giving things away and buying new things. Our recommendation? Keep the things you already own, buy less, buy thoughtfully and carefully, and buy to last.