In the world of sustainable fashion, one debate seems to rule above all others. What is the most eco-friendly way to shop for clothes?
To tackle this subject, I first have to state my obvious bias: I’m the co-founder of company that creates new clothing. The problem that I’m aiming to solve is in fashion manufacturing, where a whopping 20% of global industrial water pollution and 24% of insecticide usage takes place. As a consumer, I look for quality clothing that will last a long time, and when practical, I buy used.
But this debate is an important one – in a world where a retailer can sell a pair of jeans every ten seconds, we have to question whether global clothing consumption is sustainable. After all, producing every one of those pairs of jeans requires nearly 10,000 litres of water. If you can get your hands on one of the millions of pairs that have only been worn a handful of times, you are doing yourself and the environment a big favour.
So why purchase new clothing at all? To some people, the global market for used clothing is a unicorn industry that’s saving our wallets and the planet. To others it’s beginning to resemble fast fashion, with huge volumes of low-quality clothing being processed and sold off in bulk. The global clothing resale market is growing fast: it’s expected to reach $33 billion by 2031. However, the market for new apparel is also is also growing at a steady tick. More clothes for all, right?
As eco-conscious consumers, we need to ask where our dollars have the biggest impact. Buying so-called disposable fashion second-hand is not necessarily bad, but it does serve as excuse to produce more of it. Eventually, the environmental crisis in fashion has to be nipped at the bud. We need to value high-quality clothing and when we’re done with it repair it, re-purpose it, or pass it on to others.
As a social entrepreneur, I value long-term thinking. I believe that we need to set-up businesses that protect people and planet over the long-term by bringing consumers (and their dollars) in on the solution. It’s not that I think used clothing is bad, but I don’t want to buy a polyester t-shirt made with azo dyes just because it’s second hand. I would rather support the company that’s making new t-shirts with sustainable materials, so that they can shift the market away from harmful materials.
The debate will continue, because there is no right answer. My recommendation: when you buy new clothing, buy quality. Support brands that are environmentally accountable. When you buy used clothing, also buy quality. Taking disposable fashion out of the equation is a good step towards sustainability.