In today’s society, the rapidly changing technologies and fashion styles demand to be bought. Our overly productive economy creates a surplus of goods that lead to a consumer-driven culture. The rush towards the newest and hottest items are forcing people to become increasingly unsatisfied with what they have, cultivating a desire for consumers to buy the next best thing. Annie Leonard lays out this cycle in a short video called “The Story of Stuff” which highlights the connections between consumer culture, and environmental and social issues.
Companies in our society today profit from our self-doubt, and entice us to feel or look better by buying their products.
It’s time for us consumers to reverse the role. This is where buying from second-hand stores can change the game.
Fast fashion, faster environmental deterioration
“Fast fashion” is the phenomenon of the marketplace providing fast and cheap fashion, and is a practice consumers have gotten all too accustomed with. Since the clothing is cheap, consumers buy more and use it for a shorter amount of time. There is less guilt about throwing out clothes because of the initial cheap price that makes clothing seem “disposable.” This relationship between people and consumerism has been studied and published by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. In a recent study, they have found that only about 21% of yearly purchased clothes actually stay in the initial buyer’s closet, which means Americans are throwing away more than 68 pounds of clothing per person per year.
Let’s talk about the life cycle of the shirt you’re wearing. If it’s cotton, it probably started out in a cotton field that was treated with large amounts of fertilizers, pesticides and energy during its cultivation. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, conventional cotton is one of the most chemically intensive crops, using 16% of all insecticides used for food and fiber production globally. Your shirt was then woven into a certain style or form, and dyed using large amounts of energy, water, and potentially toxic dyes.
The energy that is put into the production of our clothing also emits greenhouse gases, and then requires even more energy when being transported to the store. Once it leaves the store, it has a relatively short lifetime before it is
considered waste and often ends up in landfills.
A study published in the UK found that a t-shirt produced in India weighing 6 ounces used 700 gallons of water, 0.22 pounds of fertilizers, 0.01 pounds of pesticides, and 1.2 pounds of fossil fuels.
Shop Second Hand
While you cannot control the process of the making of your shirt, you can change its outcome. I challenge you to take a trip to State Street and walk past all of your usual shopping spots. Instead, take a step into Crossroads Trading Co. Here you will find a store full of fashionable and affordable second-hand clothing.
Your new shirt will be happy that you are supporting its extended life, rather than ending up in a landfill. You will be happy for finding unique clothing, and reducing your environmental impact as well as reducing sweatshop and child labor by supporting local stores rather than large clothing manufacturers.
Second-hand stores are present everywhere, although some might be harder to find under the shadows of large chain clothing companies.
Among some other local and trendy thrift and second-hand stores here in Santa Barbara are The Closet, Buffalo Exchange, and Destined for Grace. Online apps can also make it easier for you to shop, including second-hand store apps such as Vinted. Vinted allows users to upload pictures of apparel and accessories and sell it at whatever
price they want, with the option to change it and bargain with others. Buyers can online shop on their phone or computer for clothing and pay a small fee for the item to be sent to them. Buy/Sell/Trade pages are also trending on Facebook, in which local communities have ongoing sales of gently-used items at a lowered price for others to buy. As the saying goes, one woman or man’s trash is another’s treasure.
There are a plethora of trendy bloggers promoting eco-conscious fashion. Some popular blogger websites are Looking Fly on a Dime, Trash is for Tossers, Eco Thrifty Living, Ecouterre, Eco Warrior Princess, and many more. These influential bloggers give style pointers and tips to those shopping at thrift stores and second-hand stores, as well as tips on how to vamp up your old clothes or repair them, and how you can generally live a less wasteful lifestyle.
Besides promoting recycled fashion, many second-hand stores are passionate about other environmental issues, and want to give back. For example, when you shop at Buffalo Exchange, you don’t just get yourself a nice new shirt, you can also give back to the environment. If you decline receiving a bag with your purchase, Buffalo Exchange gives you a token in which you can choose from one of three local charities to give it to. Each token is worth five cents that Buffalo Exchange will donate to that charity.
On Earth Day, Buffalo exchange celebrates Earth Day by having a $1 sale. All items in the sale of $1 items go to various environmental causes. Last year, $49,158 went to The Fund for Animals.
If you are looking for something that you don’t think you would find at a second-hand store, try buying from a company that uses recycled materials! Indosole is a fashionable shoe company that uses old tires to make the sole of their shoes. They are helping prevent tires sit and pollute the environment at waste sites by turning them into something that we all need and use: shoes! They pair used tires with natural materials such as organic canvas, banana leaves, and grass to make stylish sandals and shoes.
ECOALF, a worldwide clothing company, makes their clothing out of abandoned fishing nets, post-consumer plastic bottles, worn-out tires, post-industrial cotton, and used coffee grinds! ECOALF uses these materials to make outerwear, swimsuits, shoes, and accessories. The goal of this company is to create a fashion brand “that is truly sustainable”.
Be the Change
As a consumer, you have the choice to change the end of “The Story of Stuff”. Make it a happier ending, and continue the lifetime of clothing by buying repurposed or second-hand clothing.
You have the immense capacity to change the culture of consumption. Demand that environmental and social justice are considered in the production of what you wear. You are the one that determines what the market produces; stand up for the things that can’t stand up for themselves. Give clothes a second chance at life, demand for recycled and repurposed products, and call attention to the waste and injustices of manufacturing companies.
Comment below on ways that you can be a more conscious consumer and reduce your waste and environmental impact!