To clear the air, no, I’ve never listened to Macklemore. That doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate his ideas about equality and, in this case, shopping.
Personally, I am no thrift shopping expert. Only going once and feeling overwhelmed by the selection, the practice isn’t always for the faint of heart. With time and patience, thrift shopping for clothing is a valuable and often overlooked way to benefit the environment.
Data from Huffington Post shows that 16 to 18 percent of Americans go to thrift stores for clothing every year. Beyond just the cheaper prices, always a great bonus for college student budgets, they can also result in some unique finds.
With worldwide efforts to lessen countries’ carbon footprints, all efforts begin at the individual level. Acting as a place for humanity’s hand-me-downs, thrift stores are eco-friendly in lessening potential waste going to landfills.
While many natural fabrics like cotton break down easily, manufactured synthetic textiles include polyester, spandex, nylon and rayon. Though these fabrics eventually break down, it may take between 20 to 200 years to fully biodegrade them.
Along the same thread, pun fully intended,, when every new item of clothing is manufactured, there are a certain amount of emissions produced in not only the creation of that product but also in the shipping required to get it out to local retailers.
One clothing industry magnate made the claim that fashion is the second largest polluter in the world, second only to oil. The exact numbers for making this claim are unknown, the fashion carbon footprint is tremendous. Determining that footprint is an overwhelming challenge due to the immense variety from one garment to the next, taking into account the extreme amount of natural resources used in extraction, farming, harvesting, processing, manufacturing and shipping.
Even for natural fabrics, the large amount of water intake required to supply the constant demand for new clothing. According to The Guardian, a single T-shirt and a pair of jeans takes about 20,000 liters of water to make.
When weather conditions also come into play, the quality and quantity of products can be severely affected. Also, the pesticides used in cotton farming and the toxic dyes used in manufacturing create more obvious problems, damaging water sources in countries such as Indonesia and Uzbekistan for the neighboring ecosystem and population.
Millennial desires for the latest fashion at cheap prices isn’t helping this problem. Stores such as Forever 21 and H&M have fueled the recent trend of “fast fashion,” clothing is designed to be moved as quickly as possible from catwalk to store, leading the way in actual disposable clothing.
As someone who has purchased many clothes from these stores, it’s particularly worrisome because the trend creates demand for and then constantly churns out massive amounts of cheap clothes, ultimately accelerating carbon emissions and global warming.
Any area of the textile industry has a role in its carbon emissions, but an easy place for consumers to start is with their clothing. Whether that’s buying from thrift stores or even decluttering their wardrobe and donating clothes back, every effort counts.
Until the industry decides to look toward eco-friendlier practices, maybe people should hunt for their next favorite piece of clothing in the second-hand rack.