Image taken at Go Jo Recycled Clothing
“The more we satisfy the shopping craving with second-hand, the less goes into landfill.” That’s Guy Trebay, New York Times Culture and Style writer. Here at Ethical Style Hunter we totally support this sentiment. No one actually knows how many tonnes of textile waste ends up in landfills globally, but the figure for China alone has been estimated at 26 million tonnes per year. In the UK, used clothing accounts for around 350,000 tonnes of landfilled textiles - that's an estimated £140 million worth of clothes sitting in the ground. In Hong Kong, residents are throwing away the equivalent of of 1,400 t-shirts a MINUTE. New Zealand sends almost 2.5 million tonnes of waste to landfill each year. Four percent of that - around 100,000 kg - is clothing and fabric. Because the second-hand market encourages people to donate or sell rather than dispose, buying pre-loved garments reduces waste to landfill and gives us an ethical option to keep our wardrobe fresh without participating in disposable-fashion culture.
There are other benefits to buying pre-loved clothes too. Producing textiles for clothing requires heavy use of our precious natural resources like water, oil, soil and energy. Buying second hand means no new materials are used to create the garment. It’s been estimated that if everyone in the UK bought one recycled woolen garment each year, it would save an average of 1.6 million litres of water and 480 tons of dye chemicals!
As for the garments themselves, there is usually more handwork, more attention to detail and a durability that you don’t see in today’s disposable fashion environment. As Rebecca Emily Darling from Huffington Post notes “These days, even dresses that cost hundreds of dollars boast barely a millimetre of extra fabric, and a quick look at the interior of these garments reveals that regardless of the quality of the design, they were constructed with heightened attention paid to saving the manufacturer money. These days clothing is cheaper to make but not always cheaper to own, and it is only by wearing vintage that a person has the chance to experience true luxury construction at a less-than-luxury price.”
Vintage also provides the wearer a sense of individuality; you’re far less likely to have an awkward game of 'who wore it better' in the office if you’re not buying from chains stores.
We love the concept of investing in fewer, higher quality garments that cost more but help us reduce our personal clothes waste. But for those other items you need to bulk out your wardrobe, or to help express your personal style, charity and recycled clothing store finds are a great inexpensive alternative to disposable fashion.
Head To The Fancy Suburbs
Because charity stores source their clothes locally, it’s worth going to the shops in fancy suburbs where it’s more likely that higher end brands and good quality clothing will drift in from the surrounding leafy suburbs (Ponsonby Road / Remuera Road Hospice Shop anyone?). Two of my favourite wardrobe items are a sequin DKNY top and a 100% silk printed bomber jacket I bought from the Remuera Road Dove Shop for $20 each.
Where Do Clothing Bin Donations Actually Go?
I was surprised to learn that Savemart, rather than op shops, manage the contract for most of the clothing bins you see around Auckland City. Savemart is a private business that sells insane volumes of second-hand clothes up and down the country. They donate to Child Cancer Research (just over NZD $3M since they opened in the sixties) and send unsold but wearable items over to Papua New Guinea (although it's unclear whether this is done for charitable purposes or as a way of conveniently dealing with textile waste). They also own the Textile Recycling Company which sells rags to industry (mechanics etc.), so if you’ve got fabrics you want to throw away, but aren’t good enough for the op shop, it’s still worth putting them in the blue clothing bins instead of your rubbish bin because they’ll get sorted and reused.
It’s a good thing when any business figures out how to turn a profit by doing something that happens to be good for the environment (in this case diverting clothes from landfill), plus Savemart provides an affordable clothing service. However if you would prefer your donated items to end up with a charity, consider going into the op-shop of your choice and dropping them off in person instead of putting them in the big blue clothing bins.
Not Prepared To Dig?
If you’re not prepared to rifle through mounds of op-shop clothing to find those special, good quality items, there are plenty of businesses that have done the work for us. You’ll end up paying more than charity stores, but it’s all high quality, far cheaper than buying new, and you’re still supporting a sustainable fashion culture. A few of my favourite stores are Tatty’s , Recycle Boutique and Go Jo Recycled Clothing. Designer Wardrobe also offers a curated online shopping experience for buying (and selling) those preloved thirsted-after designer garments. I like that you can also post photos of ‘wanted’ items, and it makes a good change from good old TradeMe.
Ethical Style Hunter would like to run a monthly spotlight on great second-hand clothing stores, and we’d love to hear from you too. What are some of your top scores and stores that should be celebrated? Send us a photo of your best thrift shop score or better yet you modelling it. Get in touch - firstname.lastname@example.org
And in the meantime - go pop some tags!