Updated: Mar 5, 2021
Buying second hand not only reduces the size of one’s carbon footprint, it also reduces the amount of money that individuals pay for their clothes.
“Anytime that we do not have to use resources to make new clothes that is better for the environment,” said Kathleen Moore, the director of sustainability at East Tennessee State University.
Fast Fashion is inexpensive clothing produced in rapid amounts by mass-market retailers to uphold the latest trends. Stores like Forever 21, H&M and GAP are an example of this harmful industry. These mass-market companies create high levels of textile waste, water pollution, use toxic chemicals and are a major source of the greenhouse gases that are overheating the earth.
“Over the last eight years, we (ETSU) have done a campus move out where we collect items for donations from students and faculty and staff,” said Moore. “We are getting pounds, I would say tons, of clothes and a lot of it is fast fashion.”
Fast fashion is one of the largest consumers of water worldwide. According to OpenAccessGovernment.org, it can take tons of gallons of water to wash the clothes during the creation process. The industry is also responsible for 30% of the plastic and pollutants in the ocean according to CTVNews.
One alternative to buying clothing, shoes or accessories produced from fast fashion is buying from second hand clothing stores. Second hand clothing stores are eco-friendly because they recycle clothes that would otherwise be polluting landfills and reduce the demand for fast fashion, which in turn reduces the pollution and chemicals used.
“I like shopping at secondhand stores because as a person who is constantly trying to be more environmentally aware, I know that the clothes I am purchasing are recycled and are no longer attributing to the constant pollution we as humans are creating,” said Alana Stout, a Plato’s Closet shopper.
According to Statista.com, while the United States holds the largest clothing market in the world, it is also home to the leading exporter of used clothing. In 2018, 64% of women over the age of 18 were willing to or are buying secondhand products according to Thredup.com.
“When you buy second hand you can buy high quality and it's less expensive,” said Moore. “The other thing is that it helps our local economy, because a lot of these places where you thrift are owned locally so the money stays locally.”
Eco-friendly shoppers can also find a variety of online secondhand stores for easy accessibility during this time of social distancing. Online stores such as Poshmark, ThreadUP and Ebay provide an easy way to buy recycled clothing.
Local second hand clothing store Plato’s Closet has made efforts to educate its customers along with providing recycled clothing and accessories. The Johnson City, Tennessee store has recently taken to Instagram to provide educational posts on the topic of recycling shoes and the harm that fashion has caused in water pollution.
“I think that with the world we are living in now, a lot of companies are taking on the social responsibility that they have just to reach out and talk about more sustainable options and resources,” said Plato’s Closet manager Kristin Lyons. “Not only does that look good for the company, but you are also educating your customers and hopefully convincing customers to go with the more sustainable route.”
Plato’s Closet has also started to sell items like metal straws to provide even more sustainable options.
“We’ve been making progress to be more sustainable,” said Lyons. “We are selling things that we find to be better for the environment. I know some other Plato’s Closets use reusable bags, but we don’t have those. However, we try to encourage our customers to not use the plastic bags unless necessary.”
There are a multitude of secondhand stores in the Southern Appalachia area. Stores including Goodwill, The Manna House Thrift Store, Salvation Army and many others are located all throughout the area.
“I talk to a lot of customers who bring in bags because they don’t want to waste plastic,” said Lyons. “There are customers who are aware that they are choosing sustainable options, but I think a lot of them don’t know when it comes to manufacturing and water sustainability or when it comes to saving resources in general. However, I do think they recognize it financially.”
Second hand stores are located everywhere and are an easily accessible way to buy well styled clothes and help the environment. The garments created through fast fashion are usually thrown away and end up in landfills within one year. Secondhand stores are one way to recycle these clothes and allow others to buy these fashionable clothing items without demanding the unsustainable processes of fast fashion.
Second hand stores buy or accept individual’s used clothing items and resell them for shoppers. This way these gently worn garments can continue to be used and less waste is created. There are multiple local businesses in the Appalachia area that resale popular brand name, gently used clothing for lower prices. While online secondhand stores do the same thing, local residents can support their local stores and be more environmentally friendly than buying online which requires shipping and extra packaging.
“Buy what you need, support local but also spend your money wisely as far as making sure you know the environmental footprint of the company you are buying from,” said Moore.