Thrifting has gained immense popularity, especially amongst the younger generations. It has been advertised for years as a great alternative to fast fashion. In theory, buying second-hand clothes elongates the life cycle of clothing, thereby delaying the arrival of clothing to landfills. Thrifting also tends to be cheaper than buying new clothes, although its popularity has led to a rise in prices, affecting those who survive off second-hand stores.
In reality, thrifting is not as green as it portrays itself. It is comforting to think that the clothes you donate will end up in your local thrift store, helping someone in need or making somebody else happy with a rare thrift find. However, most of the clothes we donate do not even make their way back to the stores. Only about 10–30% of the clothes we drop off at donation centers make it through the sorting. The rest of it goes directly to the trash. Donating clothes does not redirect our clothes away from the landfill. Indeed, it leads most of them right to it. Now, this is not common knowledge; of course, the thought of donating our unwanted clothes excuses our overconsumption habits.
How many of us buy clothes weekly or monthly while barely touching most of the ones we already own? Most of us only wear about 30% of our belongings. It means that the clothes we constantly buy will end up directly in the landfill, being barely worn or used.
I’ve mentioned that most of the younger generation relies on second-hand clothing, but that does not solve the overconsumption problem. Even if you buy second-hand items, it doesn’t mean you will wear them long enough to make good use of them. You will still probably throw them away or donate them (which means throwing them away). The idea that thrifting is good for the environment feeds in reality into the overconsumption habits linked to the fashion industry. It is a sort of escape valve that we use to excuse fast fashion and the “need” to keep up with the latest trends.
Within the past few years, there’s also been a shift in the types of items one can find in thrift stores. Before, we used to find quality items that would last a while after purchase. That was the reason they made it to the thrift store in the first place: they had a long lifespan, far too long for what a single person could use. Now, you mostly find fast fashion items from brands like Forever 21, Zara or H&M, not to mention Shein items that didn’t even make the cut at reception. These brands make clothes that do not last, with the intent of being repurchased again and again. If one thrifts such items, they will need to repurchase the same thing after a few months anyway. And this is how the problem of overconsumption of cheap clothes now extends into the second-hand fashion industry! Thrift stores have just become another instrument of the ever-growing fashion industry.
The only way one can combat the atrocious impacts of this industry is to stop consuming so much of it “just because we are worth it”! We don’t need to own 6 different sweaters, or 10 pairs of jeans. Reducing our wardrobe and using each piece until they cannot be worn anymore is the right thing to do. Endless shopping, whether in fast-fashion stores or second-hand stores, will lead us nowhere.