My sister is a thrift shop junkie. And I tell you, her fashionista status is not hurting for it. In fact, intense thrifters have a knack for style, and it doesn’t matter whether they shop Stella McCarthy, Gap or Salvation Army. If you have good taste, this dose of green living is for you. Because the fashion industry – innately – ain’t green at all.
In fact, clothing production as it stands is an environmental nightmare. It banks on the fact that today’s harem pants will be last season’s fare after a lowly two wears, and then they can lure you with the next chosen trend. Now, your harem pants that seemed so cool are relegated to the back of the closet, a giveaway pile or even landfill (although I hope not!). It’s the phenomenon called “fast fashion,” the clothing equivalent of fast food.
The constant rate of consumption in the fashion industry is what has made HUGE companies like H&M and Forever21 successful. Afterall, it’s quite painless to dispose of a $7.99 top after a couple of wears. But what is the cost of fast fashion? Well, environmentally speaking, cotton itself is the most heavily sprayed crop in the world (the USDA reports that one-quarter of all pesticides used nationwide goes toward growing cotton). The manufacture of polyester and other synthetic fabrics is even worse, an energy-intensive process requiring large amounts of crude oil, all the while emitting volatile organic compounds and solvents, particulate matter, acid gases such as hydrogen chloride and other production by-products into the air and water. Why, you ask, is this permitted? Because we outsource fashion production to countries with lax standards. Thus, another toll is human. According to figures from the U.S. National Labor Committee, some Chinese workers make as little as 12–18 cents per hour working in poor conditions in order to produce our cheap clothes. No wonder they are poorly made!
The thrill of a cheap find need not be wasted on a “made in china” piece mass marketed for a huge chain store. Cheap finds are a thrift shoppers impetus. And what’s even better, your find will be uniquely yours and you won’t have to worry about donning the same digs as your frenemy to the next soiree. But, when it comes to fashion, the best statement you can make is: No new clothes! Vintage finds, passed-down couture and refashioned thrift pieces will be better made than anything current, no doubt, and you will be contributing to the prolonged life of products already in the system without supporting the waste and exploitation of fashion’s “new” favorites.