Opinion: Is Second Hand Shopping Ethical?

Disclaimer: I've never been a thrifter.  Ok, maybe I went through a phase in highschool, but it lasted a nanosecond and I wasn't ever very good at it. I've always been jealous of those women who can pop into a thrift store, quickly scan the racks of clothing, and pick out an outstanding/vintage/only-5-made-on-Earth-hand-beaded-by-Galliano-himself-and-it's-only-$6 unicorn piece like that. I am not one of those women.

So perhaps this blog post is born out of jealousy. Maybe it's a thinly veiled way of making me feel better about my non-thriftiness. We all have our little ways of justifying ourselves and our habits; I've been in this industry long enough to have perfected mine...

thrift shopping

There has been a lot of talk lately about Second Hand shopping and how it's a much more ethical, and sustainable, way to shop.  First things first, I definitely do NOT disagree with that statement. Selling a garment or even giving it away so it gets a new life obviously extends the life-span of a garment significantly and the less water and other resources that are used to create new garments the better. 

With that said, I'm just going to make a teeny-tiny little argument about the way thrifting has evolved, just to be difficult (and because I'm an Aries and that's how we roll). Because really, thrifting today is nothing like it used to be, and that small fact is causing big issues in our society.

Question for you: how much clothing do you have in your closet right now that you could pass along to your daughter or son?  Anything that would pass the test of time?  Anything that you even love enough to keep that long?

Another question: have you noticed when you go thrifting that most of the racks are taken up with last months Forever 21, H&M, Zara trends, with very little actual quality fashion to be found?  I sure have.  I find it remarkably frustrating to pick through racks looking for treasure, only to be left with rejects of mall-brands, and at regular to *higher* prices even!   So where are the timeless, beautifully made vintage garments - and I don't mean "vintage" from 2015 or even 2000. Where did we lose real, quality clothing that actually lasted forever, was well made, was coveted and loved and cared for....and what's causing all the polyester buildup?

I don't think I need to tell you the answer.

Donating your used clothing to a local SVDP or Salvation Army is never, ever a bad thing, but I argue that having such an easy, socially acceptable way to dispose of clothing, combined with an industry churning out mega-discounted garments at alarming speeds, is teaching our society that buying and disposing (and donating is just a flowery way of disposing) of clothing in the same breath is totally acceptable. And here's the thing. It's just not. 

We have reached a point where we officially have more donated clothing than we have need. That sounds like a GREAT thing, until we dig a little deeper into where all of our unwanted, used clothing ends up. Sure, it's out of the landfill, but the harsh reality is that most of our unwanted clothing gets sent overseas, to African or Asian countries, and re-sold. Not donated, not passed out to those in need. And what about the garments that can't even be sold overseas? Those pieces MUST be donated or recycled or made into something, right?  I mean, someone paid for them to be sent all the way to Africa!   

Sorry, but nope. All those garments ultimately end up in a landfill, only now, it's on the opposite side of the world.           

Well, shoot.  

Ok, so now that I've made you feel shitty about donating clothing, what's a poor girl to do?! She can't just stop shopping *shudders* forever?! 

My answer to that is of course not. Shop! Shop at thrift stores, it's thrilling! It IS ethical and it IS sustainable, and it's definitely keeping coin out of the pockets of huge, corporate companies. But next time, try to find something made well, something that was made many years ago, made with care and love and ideally of natural fabrics, and take note of how different it feels compared to that cheap Forever 21 blazer.  And when you buy from thrift stores, stop and ask yourself if you would wear this piece over and over, share it, repair it, love it, or if it will just get transferred to another donation bin in a weeks time.

Actually, I ask that you do the same thing when you shop anywhere, for anything. Ask yourself where this item will end up. Do you love it enough to spend not just money, but your time on it. Would you repair it if it was damaged, or throw it away? Will it last long enough to lend to a friend, your daughter, your grand-daughter? Or will it fall apart with one use?  Even if you do end up donating it eventually, will you feel that you got your maximum use out of that item? Or was it bought on a whim, to be disposed of on a whim?

Now, I know this is NOT the easiest thing to do in a moment of "OMG I HAVVVEE TO HAVE THIS!!"  I've been there. I still buy many an item on a whim (spiralizer, anyone?) only to regret it later.  It takes a lot of work to re-train habits, and that's essentially what we are doing. Re-training our buying habits, just like you have to re-train your eating habits towards healthier foods after every big holiday. Think of it as a diet for your wallet, if that's easier, but I like to think of it as Voting with my Dollar. Each time I take a minute to stop and really think about a purchase, I'm actively making a choice to support the company I am purchasing from, and I try to be very aware of how my dollar will be spent by that company. Will it go towards the owner's family? Labourers' wages? Healthcare? Or something less productive? 

It's really as simple as stopping to think: Do I need this? Will I use it? Will I have it for a long time?  If you can answer yes to all of those questions (and let's be honest, really just the last two - you've already decided you need it or we wouldn't be in this predicament) then you have my permission to buy! (haha) But really, it's only those three little questions that are the difference between a cycle of mindless spending and discarding, and a thoughtful, curated (guilt-free) life. 

Does it get any easier than that?

Kait xx


P.S. If I still haven't convinced you, or you're just not happy with my argument,  here's a really really REALLY good blog for you to read from Sustainability in Style. Dooo it. 


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