Second Hand Fashion; Is it The Same As Sustainable Fashion? Everything You Need to Know

by Bhagya L

The environment conscious customer in the fashion industry is rapidly gaining momentum. Especially since the pandemic this year, more consumers in the fashion industry have come to realize the importance of choosing sustainable options. And more people are joining the bandwagon to reduce their negative impact on the environment.

However, just like consumers, brands are also battling it out to make it to the top in sustainable fashion these days, and are launching sustainable collections to stay ahead.

Just how sustainable are these so called collections of fast fashion brands?

It is a good idea to buy second hand instead of brand new?

What exactly is second hand fashion? Is it the same as sustainable fashion?

The questions just keep on coming.

It’s time to clear the air.

What is second hand fashion?

Second hand fashion basically refers to clothing that was once owned and used by someone else.
Some people, more so among celebrities and known personalities, put up some of their used clothing items and accessories for re-sale. There are also other non-celebrities that sell their used clothes to family and friends. The person buying the used clothes becomes the new owner of the “second-hand” clothes.

It needs to be noted here that these used clothes, may or may not be sustainably made in the first place. In other words, there may pieces purchased from fast fashion brands as well.

Second hand fashion

Is it the same as sustainable fashion?

One of the biggest disadvantages of the sustainable fashion industry is that nothing is black and white. It is more of an umbrella term that includes many other concepts, including circular fashion, second hand fashion, recycled fashion etc.

Second hand fashion is considered as one among the many methods of adopting sustainable fashion. It is based on the premise that no new resources are exploited or involved when purchasing new clothes.

Second hand fashion

There are a lot of fashion activists that believe that second hand fashion is the ONLY way to practice sustainable methods in fashion. At the same time there are also activists that question the original source of these second hand clothes.

The question remains – is second hand fashion a reliable way to shop sustainable?

How sustainable is second-hand fashion?

To put things into perspective, let’s first examine what the attributes of ethical fashion are.

Ethical clothes are:

  • Typically made using natural, organic and sustainable resources,
  • Use sustainable processes in its make excluding any kind of environmentally degrading products and practices,
  • Are manufactured in fair working conditions for employees
  • Cause no harm to the environment, to animals and to human beings
  • Use the least amount of new resources.

Sustainable fashion

In that sense, how many of these points does second hand fashion fulfill?

It does not use any new resources for sure. It makes continued use of resources that have already been extracted. It also uses much less energy, doesn’t contribute to unnecessary packaging waste, doesn’t contribute to the pile ending up in landfills and also does not exploit any more workers.

However, it does not guarantee anything about how the clothes were made in the first place. Purchasing second hand fast fashion does not counteract in any way, the impact that fast fashion causes in the environment and in the society. It merely transfers ownership and prolongs the use of unsustainably made clothing. In that respect, since second ownership causes fast fashion to live longer, it also affects apparel industries and production in developing countries, where employees are continued to be exploited.

Sustainable fashion

Furthermore, second hand sellers, who are not very conscious with their choices, have little to no incentive to be mindful of their purchases, which is likely to increase fast fashion consumption.

All of this further points to the fact that fast fashion can never be sustainable. Second hand fashion, even though has a lot of plus sides to it in terms of new resource usage, it ultimately contributes to the culture of disposable fashion in many ways.

There is one good way to go about it though. When buying second hand, always choose high quality vintage outfits that are never likely to go out of style. Also, choose sustainably created outfits. They may cost a little more, but it certainly slows down the consumption of fast fashion and prolongs the age of ethical fashion.

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