Are you looking for a great way to reduce waste and pollution? A simple technique would be Re-wearing clothing. Each garment purchased second-hand reduces the need to make a new one. One of the many reasons second hand clothing is great, because it reduces the amount of energy required to produce synthetic fibers like polyester. Pollution’s caused from the transportation of new clothing traveling over great distances can also significantly be reduced when clothing is re-worn/re-used. This can also reduce the amount of items that end up in your trash can and ultimately in landfills.
Thrift stores make it easier to know where your money is going. To track the money you handed over for that brand-new Old Navy polo, you would need to trace the brand back to the corporation behind it, the assembly factories used by the corporation, their textile providers, and those textile providers’ raw materials suppliers—at a bare minimum. In evaluating all these steps (and the many others involved in the production chain), there are numerous considerations to keep in mind: Was your farmer using environmentally responsible methods? Was your seamstress of legal working age, paid a fair wage to work in a safe factory? Is the corporation behind it the kind you want to support, or one whose views you wouldn’t like to see perpetuated?
In short, it can be a bit of a nightmare to track the impact of your seemingly trivial purchase. However, with most thrift stores, this burden is greatly reduced. For better or worse, the original purchaser’s money has already supported the whole chain of production that led to your second-hand Old Navy polo.* Since most thrift stores in Europe, North America, and Australia rely heavily (if not exclusively) on donated clothing, this means you only have to question one link in the whole chain—the store right in front of you.
*Personally, I feel no qualms about buying second-hand from brands I’d avoid otherwise, since none of my money will end up oiling their machine. Still, there’s no sense in abstaining from firsthand Nike purchases if you’re going to serve as a walking billboard by wearing their logo everywhere you go.
Many thrift stores directly support charity. It’s no coincidence that in Ireland, the term “thrift store” doesn’t even exist—they call them “charity shops” instead. In America, the best-known thrift stores are Goodwill and The Salvation Army, organizations which provide services to the unemployed, homeless, and disabled. In Europe, NGOs like Oxfam commonly use thrift stores to raise funds for humanitarian aid. By shopping at these kinds of establishments, your clothing purchase can go from supporting Third World child labor to supporting Third World children’s education.
Thrifting is cheaper. One of my all-time favorite dresses that I wore for years cost less than $1. Do I really need to explain to you why more money in your own pocket is a good thing?
Secondhand clothing is often higher quality than comparatively-priced clothing. As mentioned in the environment section, this means you’re contributing less to landfills—but it also means less frustration over incidents like your brand-new shoe breaking the first time you wear it. (This actually happened to me with some Urban Outfitters flatforms. I was not impressed).
Thrifted clothing offers more room for uniqueness. While it’s not the end of the world to see some other guy sporting the same sweater as you, most of us would choose to avoid such incidents, if possible. Since thrifted clothing infrequently comes in multiples, you’re much less likely to bump into someone wearing the exact same thing. In addition, there’s bound to be lots of clothes that were produced decades ago, or on the other side of the country, or in some other circumstance that makes them different than what the average shopper is buying off the sale rack at the mall.
Thrift shopping allows for more creativity. Thrift stores are notorious for the wacky and bizarre items they often contain. (Remember Macklemore’s footed Batman jammies?) While these items can be downright eyesores, many just need a person with vision to re-interpret them in a contemporary way. For some, this may mean simply adding the right accessories; others may completely reconstruct their garment with shears and a trusty Singer. Either way, thrifting can allow one to do more than mindlessly mimic what one sees on the display-window mannequin, by providing more varied and interesting materials as inspiration.
In short, thrifting is more environmentally and socially responsible, and personally rewarding. What are you waiting for?
The Ecologist, the US National Library of Medicine, and Fashionista.