I didn't grow up buying second-hand clothing at all. I didn't pay much attention to the environmental impact of the clothes I was wearing before. That changed completely in 2016 when I watched Andrew Morgan's documentary "The True Cost" and learned about fast fashion. I now buy second-hand clothes whenever possible.
Second-hand clothes have a big positive social and environmental impact. They reduce carbon emissions, save lots of resources, water, and energy. They also prevent old clothing from ending up in landfills or incinerators.
Buying second-hand clothing is great for your wallet and the environment. You can save a lot of money and find beautiful pieces nobody is currently wearing.
The second-hand clothing industry is independent of the traditional clothing market and has been gaining a lot of traction recently, having exponential growth all around the world. You can now find affordable and stylish pieces in thrift stores, resale shops, and online marketplaces.
Buying and selling second-hand clothing is an environmentally friendly practice. It is one way to make fashion more sustainable.
The fashion industry is responsible for the huge consumption of water, energy, and natural resources. It also creates large quantities of pollution, hazardous chemicals, micro-plastics, textile waste, and greenhouse gas emissions. It is very costly to the environment when no sustainable materials or renewable resources are used.
On the other hand, the second-hand clothing industry reduces the ecological footprint of fashion. It saves resources, pesticides, and fertilizers, reduces carbon emissions, and pollution.
Here are the major environmental benefits of buying second-hand clothing.
1. Lower greenhouse gas emissions
The fashion industry lead by fast fashion is one of the largest polluters in the world. It is responsible for 10% of worldwide carbon emissions, according to the recent report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.
The global fashion industry emits 1.7 billion tons of CO2 each year. This represents more than all air and sea travel combined. And at the current pace, the fashion industry greenhouse gas emissions are expected to rise by 50% by 2030.
According to the 2017 report by the American Apparel Association, each person that buys second-hand clothing can prevent more than 500 pounds of carbon emissions every year. It reduces one's water, waste, and carbon footprint by more than 80%.
Needless to say, people, in general, should rely on second-hand clothing more often. You can go to the typical flea market and other traditional resale shops, or buy online.
There are now tons of new apps and marketplaces to find stylish and affordable clothing in excellent condition.
Check out our ultimate guide on how to sell old clothes to find out the best places to shop second-hand clothing.
More often than not, consumers will wear new items only a few times before donating or selling them to the second-hand market. You can then find great well-preserved products for much less than the listed price, which is good for the environment and your wallet.
2. Keeping clothing from landfills
Buy second-hand clothing to prevent more clothes and textiles to end up in landfills or incinerators.
Fast fashion is responsible for huge amounts of textile waste each year since it started in the 1980s. Cheap, trendy, disposable clothing encourages throwaway culture among consumers.
Americans alone generated more than 16 million tons of textile waste in 2017, according to the recent report from the United States Environmental Protection Agency.
This amount of waste is close to 10 times bigger than in 1960 and doubled over the last 20 years.
Only 15.2% of all textile was recycled in the U.S. in 2017. The large majority of textiles ended up in landfills to decompose or be incinerated.
“The major impact of the industry comes from ever and fast-increasing clothing consumption that has further accelerated with fast fashion since the 2000s.”
- Dr. Elena Karpova, University of North Carolina, Greensboro (UNCG) Distinguished Professor in the Department of Consumer, Apparel, and Retail Studies (CARS)
"Today, most textiles and apparel are considered disposable, as they are considered inexpensive to produce and do not hold long-term worth. There has been economic pressure on designers and manufacturers to produce fashion faster and cheaper under a relentless demand."
- Dr. Jung E. Ha-Brookshire, University of Missouri Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Studies in College of Human Environmental Sciences
Luckily, consumers are now becoming more conscious of the social and environmental impact their fashion habits have.
Second-hand clothing is gaining popularity again, following the reuse, repurpose, recycle, and repair philosophy of sustainable development.
Read up our article on second-hand clothing being ethical to found out how popular it has become.
Second-hand clothing is an important part of the whole fashion industry as it makes it less wasteful overall. It plays a key role in reducing fashion environmental impact.
3. Reduction of water and energy consumption
Water is not only needed to grow crops for natural fibers such as cotton, linen, and hemp but also used for dyeing and other textile manufacturing processes.
The Ellen MacArthur Foundation reported in 2017 than all textile production worldwide including farming uses almost 100 billion cubic meters of water annually.
As reported by WWF, 20,000 liters of water are needed to produce one kilogram of cotton, the equivalent to a single t-shirt and jeans.
Almost 20% of the world's wastewater is produced by the fashion industry, according to the U.N. Partnership on Sustainable Fashion, 2018.
Reusing clothes is an amazing way of reducing the amount of water used for clothing production, as no new garment fabrication is necessary. Clothes with a higher lifespan that are durable and worn for a long time also have a reduced environmental impact.
The 2016 report from the Nordic Council of Ministers found out that the reuse and recycling of over 100,000 tons of used textiles save 70 million cubic meters of water by negating the production of new textiles and materials.
4. Minimizing the use of hazardous substances
Cotton is the primary raw material used in the fabrication of textile and apparel worldwide. Unfortunately, it requires a large amount of water, pesticides, and fertilizers to grow.
The production of 1 kilogram of cotton used in the apparel and textile industry for garment manufacturing requires up to 3 kilograms of chemicals.
According to the Pulse of the fashion industry report (2018) by the Global Fashion Agenda, cotton farming consumes 4% of worldwide of nitrogen and phosphorous fertilizers, 16% of all insecticides, and 7% of all herbicides.
These very toxic man-made chemicals pollute groundwater and waterways. Plus, they contaminate large areas of land, having a disastrous impact on ecosystems, the health of workers and communities.
It's not realistic to think that our society is going to step away from fast fashion and consumerism entirely. But new policies that encourage more second-hand shopping still have the power to reduce hazardous chemical usage considerably.
The environmental benefits of second-clothing are not negligible. The fashion industry is already doing a lot of work to reduce its environmental impact.
As consumers, we have to keep demanding transparency and openness from fashion brands and retailers to make better-informed purchasing decisions.
By shopping for more second-hand clothing, the money you spend won’t go toward supporting a highly polluting fashion industry. This makes a huge difference by supporting a community of recycling and up-cycling.
Buying second-hand has become a popular trend in fashion for valid reasons. The second-hand clothing market is fast-growing and will play a major role in limiting the terrible damages that textile and garment production is causing.
The second-hand-shopping trend advances sustainability in the whole fashion industry by reducing the production of new clothes. It creates a more regenerative and circular textile economy.
Marketplaces allowing you to buy and sell your old used clothes are now numerous on the internet. Poshmark, ThredUp, Depop, Tradesy, and many more are becoming very popular for their humongous selection of second-hand clothes and accessories.
What are your recommended places to shop for second-hand clothing?
About the Author: Alex Assoune
Alex Assoune (MS) is a global health and environmental advocate. He founded Panaprium to inspire others with conscious living, ethical, and sustainable fashion. Alex has worked in many countries to address social and environmental issues. He speaks three languages and holds two Master of Science degrees in Engineering from SIGMA and IFPEN schools.