Moving from fast fashion to thrifting

You won’t find any apple-bottom jeans in here. Waldemar Brandt via Unsplash

Fast fashion has won out over sustainable shopping, but thrift stores are still fighting

Fast fashion is one of the leading sources to economic growth in our world today. It is essentially cheap clothing inspired by the current trends on the runways, whether it is New York or Milan Fashion Week. The catch here is that it is much cheaper to buy in comparison to high fashion brands like Gucci or Fendi. A Gucci bag can range from $1,000 to $10,000. One can purchase a similar bag from fast fashion brands such as H&M or Zara for a significantly reduced price. The reason why fast fashion is a global powerhouse is due to the demand from consumers. There is a high supply, as well as high demand, which is interesting to see. It is important to differentiate between fast fashion clothing and counterfeits. Fast fashion is made up of knock offs which are completely legal. Counterfeits, on the other hand, copy the brand completely. Knock-offs are just a resemblance of the original piece of clothing.

If you go into a store like H&M, you will find cheap clothing. However, if you go into the same store the next day, you’ll find that there are brand new styles of clothing that are different to what you might have seen the day before. What makes fast fashion interesting to explore is that it has more seasons. Traditional high fashion is categorized into four seasons in two different groups, these being Spring/Summer as well as Fall/Winter. According to Sara Lepley of Business Insider, the fast fashion industry goes through 52 micro seasons in a year. This is due to the reality that trends change rapidly in the world of fashion. Every season at Fashion Week reveals new trends to which fast fashion brands must play catch up, thus recreating popular pieces.

The other side of fast fashion reveals a reality in which sustainability is seen as an empowering tool to help people as well as brands reduce the ways they affect the environment. Many believe that if everyone simply stopped shopping at fast fashion brands, the damage would be healed. This is not the case. The other side of fast fashion and sustainability showcases a world that promotes overconsumption. It is harder to shop sustainably in 2021 because shopping sustainably is a privilege. Sustainable and ethically sourced brands charge more for their products because sourcing materials is not cheap, and they also must pay their workers a living wage. It is common knowledge that fast fashion brands do not pay their workers livable wages in their factories.

Thrifting is one of the ways in which many people shop. However, it is important to emphasize that a lot of people who thrift do not do it to seem “cool” or “trendy” simply because it is seen as an aesthetic today – others thrift to promote sustainability. For a lot of low-income families, thrifting is the only way they can find clothing and products that are affordable to them based on their budget.

This is almost impossible today due to the rising prices of thrift stores. Thrifting today has undergone gentrification, because it is seen as a quirky practice to find vintage clothing by people from middle and upper classes. According to Time Magazine’s Olivia B. Waxman, thrift stores are a $14.4 billion industry today. The rising prices of thrifting are a result of an economic phenomena that has existed since the start of time. Thrifting has become a trend, which has simultaneously led to a high demand for it, resulting in rising prices. This makes it hard on those who depend on thrift stores as a means of survival as they simply cannot keep up with the increasing prices.

For the longest time, there was stigma when it came to thrifting, because people were purchasing used items. While the stigma is gone today, it has been replaced with gentrification and rising prices. According to the 2020 Resale Report by ThredUp and GlobalData, thrifting and the secondhand market is predicted to rise to be a $64 billion industry by 2024. The report states that this will not just include thrift stores such as Goodwill and Salvation Army, but also includes independent stores. Terry Nguyen states that thrifting will essentially lead to a decline in fast fashion; while this is a good thing, it seems much harder to visualize, as fast fashion is a large industry with stores in person and online.

The bigger problem is the reality that most clothes donated to thrift stores end up in landfills, leading to an even bigger problem: clothes that are not sold are often sold to developing countries or burned in landfills. In 2017, the Eileen Mac-Arthur Foundation emphasized the harsh reality that about 87 per cent of fabrics utilized for clothing end up in landfills.

As a response to the problems critics have pointed out regarding fast fashion, many brands have established initiatives that promote sustainability. The same way skincare and beauty companies green-wash their products, fast fashion brands also green-wash their clothing in order to make the public believe that they are truly sustainable. Green-washing is a concept in which corporations portray themselves as eco- friendly when they are far from it. Upon further inspection, one can clearly see that fast fashion brands are just using buzz words to appeal to the general public. H&M is famous for their recycling bins. The appeal here is that if a customer brings in their used clothes to recycle, they can then get a discount on their next purchase. The irony lies in the fact that H&M wants to reward the public for recycling by giving them discounts on their next purchases, making people buy even more clothes. The other side of fast fashion thus leads to a never-ending cycle filled with overconsumption, gentrification of thrift stores, and rising prices that low-income families are unable to keep up with. The other side of sustainability mirrors a harrowing world surrounded by green-washing and environmental degradation.


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