Updated: Jun 15
Is your thrifted piece better good for the environment than it is for your wallet?
Almost all of us are aware of the new thrift culture movement that seems to have taken over social media, especially Instagram. You may or may not have dabbled in the thrifting process yourself but it seems almost impossible to ignore this new trend that has swept over the fashion industry.
What is thrifting?
So, what is thrift culture and why is thrifting so popular all of a sudden?
In short, thrifting translates to purchasing items (usually clothing, accessories, or fashion items) that are either pre-used, discarded as surplus by fast fashion brands or even old items that are upcycled/repurposed and sold by thrift stores.
A lot of people seem to be indulging in thrift culture simply because they get their favourite branded clothes for off-brand prices, but is there more to thrifting than cheap purchases? Well, yes! Those jeans you bought for cheap off a thrift store instead of directly from a fast fashion brand, are not only gentle on your purse but also on the environment.
Fast fashion and its effects on the environment
To understand why thrifting, the alternative to buying firsthand, is good, we must first take a look at how purchasing from global fast fashion brands can be harmful.
Here are a few ways in which the fashion industry is causing harm to the environment:
The fashion industry is responsible for 10% of our greenhouse gas emissions which approximates 1.2 billion tonnes of greenhouse gasses released yearly.
It can take up to 10,000 litres of water to produce one pair of jeans
Fast fashion items are often produced in factories in developing countries like Bangladesh, China, India and Vietnam, with cheap labour and little to no enforcement of ethical labour laws which results in horrendous working conditions and even forced child labour at times.
85% of all textiles are wasted every year and end up in dumps, they are also a major cause of microplastic pollution in our water bodies as simply washing clothes can release 500,000 tonnes of microfibers every year.
The solution? Sustainable fashion, slow fashion, or fashion made to last, upcycling and of course, closing the loop by recycling. Brands like Patagonia have been one of the oldest companies in the fashion industry to emphasize slow fashion and repurposing all used clothes. They even sell their worn wear back to customers after upcycling it.
Now, the other way to counter this problem would be to purchase clothes that are already in circulation instead of purchasing new clothes, i.e. thrifting!
Thrifting in India and its benefits
Thrifting in India has taken up a whole new space and identity, which might be different from how it’s done in the rest of the world. In many countries, like the US, thrifting thrives on the existence of brick-and-mortar thrift stores where you have to physically go and purchase items. However, in India, 90% of the thrifting industry thrives online through Instagram accounts and websites. This means that they source the products for you, so you don’t have to scavenge for them yourselves.
In India, Gen Z, being the more eco-conscious and environmentally woke generation, seems to be the backbone of the thrifting industry, and has constantly propagated thrift culture. Therefore, most of these online thrift stores are also run by Gen Z and millennials. Here is how thrifting can be beneficial:
Think of it like this; if making one pair of jeans from scratch uses up 10,000 litres of water, by purchasing thrifted jeans, you’re ideally preventing the manufacturing of another pair of jeans, hence preventing a loss of 10,000 litres of water! So by thrifting, you are most certainly reducing your fashion carbon footprint while also being en vogue.
Thrifting, for one, seems to be the cheaper alternative than purchasing firsthand from sustainable and ethical brands, like no nasties, seams friendly, Goodearth etc since most of these brands come with a heavy price tag. This is also why thrift culture is seen as highly attractive to the younger generation as compared to the rest.
Many online thrift stores not only sell used products but also upcycle the garments they source. Stores like Repose and Sucre.fille are some of these stores that repurpose and upcycle the garments they sell.
For many buyers, the sheer convenience of thrifting in India is a big bonus. Ishani Sharma, 27 and an avid thrifter, tells us how she enjoys the thrifting experience since with the existence of hundreds of online thrift stores, she can simply purchase her desired product from the comfort of her own home. The shipping takes no longer than a week and thrift store owners clean, sanitize and often personalise each package and leave a darling note inside!
The possible downside
Like most things in life, even thrift culture can have a downside, the first one being over-purchasing. With a plethora of cheap options and so many stores to choose from, it is easy to get carried away and end up purchasing cheap quality items that are worn once and later discarded as waste.
Secondly, the demand for branded goods gives incentives to producers of first-copy goods. Which are basically fakes that look identical to branded items. Many thrift stores, knowingly or unknowingly sell fakes to satiate the customer’s demand for cheap, branded items.
Moreover, thrifting does not change the fact that the clothes in circulation still come from fast-fashion brands that use unsustainable, resource-intensive and unethical methods of production. Hence, while thrifting does increase the life cycle of these garments, it does not fully address the environmental and social issues regarding the production of these items.
The best way to tackle this would be to avoid over-purchasing and be conscious of the goods you do purchase. In the words of Lauren Singer, founder of Package Free Shop and Trash is for tossers, ‘love secondhand shopping but ensure that you invest in timeless, high-quality pieces that you will value for the rest of your life.’
(Also Read: A Fashionable Circular Economy )
Nair, N. N. (2019, November 19). Berkley Economic Review. Https://Econreview.Berkeley.Edu/.
Maiti, R. (2021, April 13). Fast Fashion: Its Detrimental Effect on the Environment. Earth.Org - Past | Present | Future.
Reichart, E. (2019, October 1). By the Numbers: The Economic, Social and Environmental Impacts of “Fast Fashion.” World Resources Institute.
Corbin, S. (2021, January 27). The personal, political, and environmental case for buying all your clothes secondhand. Insider.
I., Balchandani, A., Beltrami, M., Berg, A., Hedrich, S., & Rölkens, F. (2019, February 7). How India’s ascent could change the fashion industry. McKinsey & Company.