There is a myth in fashion right now that secondhand clothing is always more sustainable. But even secondhand clothes have an environmental impact – especially if those clothes have been made in a fast fashion supply chain. So, is it okay to buy fast fashion secondhand? The answer is of course nuanced, but when it comes down to it, secondhand fast fashion is not more sustainable. Here’s why.
On the one hand, shopping secondhand can help reduce waste in the fashion industry, by keeping clothes out of landfill and extending their lifecycle. But, on the other hand, this does not counteract the significant social and environmental impact of fast fashion garments. And therefore, shouldn’t be seen as a perfect solution to this sector’s inherent unsustainability.
Statistics show that we are now throwing away more clothes than ever before. And unfortunately, donating old clothes has emerged as a new way for people to justify buying more than they need. As a result, the secondhand clothing sector has become flooded with poor quality fast fashion garments.
And only 20% of the clothing donated to charities actually gets sold there, according to the Council of Textile Recycling. What this means is that we have is a huge landfill problem as well, because this is where much of the remaining clothing winds up.
With op shops now crippling under the pressure of our junk, then, Business of Fashion also points out that “the mass influx of cheap hand-me-downs from Western countries has had a negative impact on local apparel industries and production in low-income countries.”
Which is why fast fashion can never be sustainable – even if it is donated once it wears thin and even if it is bought secondhand. These pieces ultimately perpetuate a culture of disposable fashion. So, when we buy them secondhand in the name of “sustainability”, we are actually contributing to an inherently unsustainable system.