Saving the Planet with Second-Hand Style

Written by:

In a hypothetical colony on Mars or the Moon, or in the tiny environs of a space station, resources have to be almost completely reusable. Nothing can go to waste. Imagine how efficient and smart it would make life here on Planet Earth if we lived the same way?

Unfortunately, we’re in a web of complex social and economic models that make such lifestyle changes difficult to implement and even more difficult to convince people to adopt. Some of these die-hard habits create numerous long-term consequences to the environment. The current state of the fashion industry is a prime example of this.

In a social climate which persuades the masses to always be on-trend and have a fresh look, “fast fashion” has taken the world by storm. In order to meet the demands of consumers’ tight budgets and desire to constantly update the contents of their closets, brands are mass-producing cheap clothes to the point of excess.

Repairs to inexpensive clothes like these are often not cost-effective, and sometimes not easily done due to the nature of certain fabrics. They are also hard to re-sell. What’s happening to these unwanted fast-fashion pieces? According to this 2016 article featured in Newsweek Magazine,

“If you’re an American, (you’re)… likely to throw those old clothes in the trash. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 84 percent of unwanted clothes in the United States in 2012 went into either a landfill or an incinerator,”  writes Alden Wicker.

Just how much waste is that exactly?

“In less than 20 years, the volume of clothing Americans toss each year has doubled from 7 million to 14 million tons, or an astounding 80 pounds per person. The EPA estimates that diverting all of those often-toxic trashed textiles into a recycling program would be the environmental equivalent of taking 7.3 million cars and their carbon dioxide emissions off the road.”

If you’re a bit of a clotheshorse, you’re probably no stranger to shopping vintage. More people are making second-hand their first stop for their latest fashion finds, not just because they’re looking for something special, but also because they don’t want to contribute to the environmental crisis of clothing waste. I spoke with three women whose closets and wallets are devoted to second-hand and vintage style.

Christy Lorio is a writer and graduate student in New Orleans. Her blog Slow Southern Style features a variety of street style and fashion in the region. She’s been an avid vintage shopper for years, and has now made a pledge to buy only second-hand in 2018.

“I first became interested in second-hand and vintage clothing in high school. This was the mid-90s, back when secondhand clothing still had a stigma attached to it. My group of friends just discovered thrift stores and how incredibly cheap everything was. I didn’t get much of an allowance (if any) from my parents, so I needed a way to really stretch my dollars. Plus this was the time when ’70s fashions were abundant and cheap, so it was great fun finding one-of-a-kind items that you couldn’t buy at the mall.”

Lorio thinks that second-hand is the easiest and most affordable way to shop mindfully.

“I try my best to purchase clothing that is ethically made, but the supply chain for most stores isn’t transparent and I can’t always afford to buy from smaller, eco-friendly companies. Buying second-hand is relatively guilt-free.”

It also has affected the way she builds her wardrobe.

“I … end up focusing on the style of my clothes rather than the label, and I have clothes in my closet from stores I would typically either not have access to or that I wouldn’t consider shopping at. I have a nice mix of designer pieces, vintage and mall brands that would be out of my budget otherwise.”

Emily Griffin is a senior stylist for Stitch Fix and a freelance illustrator. Like Christy, she started shopping second-hand at a young age.

“I’ve loved vintage/antique things for a long time, and started buying vintage jewelry and decor from local stores in junior high. I was always at half price Wednesdays at Salvation Army and looking around Goodwill in high school, and even more in college when I no longer had a dress code.”

Griffin uses the recurring cycles of trends in fashion to her advantage.

“I like feeling like I found something unique that doesn’t contribute to fast fashion – and it feels especially good when you find it for a super low price. I know that there are some trends I don’t have to spend a lot on because I’m knowledgeable enough about vintage to know that I can find similar for less and in a more sustainable form.”

Carla La Porta’s second-hand style began because she has always loved clothing and art from the past.

“I started getting interested in thrift/vintage shopping when I was a teenager back in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. I was looking for a way to express myself through clothes. Being an artist, my main concern was to be an original and one-of-a-kind. Shopping at stores like that provided me with unique options that I would not find at regular stores. Plus I enjoyed the hunting, discovering and finding unique pieces and the experience you have at places like those.”

The New York City-based actress finds vintage clothing to be a better value than what is readily available today.

“It usually is cheaper in the case of thrift shopping and it is not something you would find at a regular store. . . And in the case of vintage most of the time it is a way better quality since it was done in the past when it wasn’t mass-produced.”

These days, there are a variety of options for shopping second-hand, and everyone has their preference. One of the more recent developments in vintage shopping has been the rise of Instagram sellers, many of which Emily looks to for the right pieces.

“For true vintage, I love eBay, though it can be time-consuming and you have to know what you’re looking for and the measurements that you need. I have saved searches for my favorite colors and materials that I check regularly. I also love instagram vintage shops: @naninvintage is huge, @smallneeds, @esmesdrawertoo, and @iamthat_shop are some of my favorites. For second-hand name brands, it’s usually a mix of eBay and Poshmark or Depop.”

Christy likes to mix up sourcing from online and boutique retail shops.

“I tend to stick to my tried and true favorites. I like Etsy for vintage clothes, Buffalo Exchange for a little bit of everything, Thredup.com for mainstream mall brands, Materialworld.co for upscale brands and Swap, a local high-end consignment store here in New Orleans. I also frequent Goodwill and N.O. Fleas, a local thrift store where all proceeds go to animal rescue.”

Carla became devoted to shopping second-hand through her work.

“Since I attended fashion school back in Brazil and I’ve been working in fashion designer’s boutiques in Manhattan for the past 18 years, I collected and shopped a lot. For the past 2 years I’ve been working at a vintage shop in Brooklyn and since then I only shop at thrift/vintage shops.”

Even the most resourceful of second-hand shoppers has pieces they no longer need. What do they do when it’s time to make space in their closets?

Resell, Repurpose, Recycle

“Once I’m done with an item, whether I’ve grown tired of it or it doesn’t fit anymore, I try to sell it first. I’ll make the rounds of buy/sell/trade and consignment stores and if no one wants them then I’ll donate to a thrift store,” says Christy. “A friend of mine used to host clothing swaps, which can be great fun. I’m also toying with the idea of taking old t-shirts I don’t wear anymore and turning them into underwear. I’ve found a few tutorials online, now I just need to make time to do it.”

Space Making Party

“So I have this thing called Pay What You Wish. My girlfriends come to my house, we drink coffee or wine, and I let them shop from my huge closet and collection and let them give me what they want. Pretty much I already wore everything or was photographed (in it) before, since I’m also an actress/dancer/performer…We are helping each other and I make space for future new dresses (my obsession.)” -Christy

For Emily, the process of elimination is still a work in progress. “I’m still figuring this one out, unfortunately . I sell a lot on Poshmark and donate clothing, and try to ‘Marie Kondo‘ it – but I like shopping and holding onto things a lot.”

If you’re considering delving into the world of secondhand, here are a few tips from seasoned shoppers:

“It’s important to mention that before I buy anything I ask myself a few questions:
Do I really need this? Do I have something similar already? Will this integrate easily into the rest of my wardrobe? How much will I actually get to wear it? Is the fit perfect? Do I feel comfortable in it? Does it make me feel confident? If I can’t answer yes to most or all of those questions then I don’t buy it.” – Christy

“I’d say to get a good idea of certain pieces or colors that you’re looking for and start looking around either online or local second-hand stores for fun! I think it’s important to go in excited to search and try things on, but it’s a little less overwhelming when you know the colors and fabrics you’re looking for. Once you’re comfortable with knowing what you like and what measurements you need, you can take more risks (since some vintage/second-hand shops don’t accept returns.)” – Emily

“Go out there. Take a day off and make a list of thrift shops and vintage shops (in your area) and go on a hunt. Drink coffee so you have energy or have a good breakfast before you leave your house and go on a day of fashion adventures. Try many items and enjoy the process of finding something very original and unique.
It is the thrill of the hunt. I also suggest to wash everything before wearing it. And get ready for the many compliments along the way!” – Carla