When I tell people that I haven’t bought any new clothes for over a year, most can’t believe it and to my surprise many people have no idea why I would do this. While there are several reasons why I made the choice to stop buying new clothes, the main reason was environmental impact. According to a War on Waste article; “If one million women bought their next item of clothing secondhand instead of new, we would save six million kilograms of carbon pollution from entering the atmosphere”. To me that seems like such a ridiculously easy way to help slow climate change, an issue we should all be doing everything we can to halt.
If that’s not enough to convince you, then what abut this stat- “One cotton T-shirt takes 2,700 litres of water to produce, that’s enough drinking water for one person for three years”. I find that figure absolutely staggering and the thought of buying a new shirt at that environmental cost turns me off the idea completely. If the environmental concerns alone weren’t enough, there are several other reasons why I love buying second-hand clothing. Below I’ve included an overview of these as well as a few tips that helped me create a wardrobe of second-hand finds that I absolutely love.
Why I refuse to buy new clothes
1. As mentioned above, the number one reason that I choose to buy my clothing second-hand, is that I’m stopping carbon pollution and land fill at my expense, while also saving previously produced items from landfill. Each year 80 billion new items of clothing are produced. North Americans lead the way purchasing 37 kilos per person per year, while Australians are second, buying on average 27 kilos of new clothes and textiles per person each year (stats from the magazine Textile World). These staggering figures contribute to the fashion industry coming in second only to the oil industry in terms of pollution.
What I find equally frightening is that many of these items are considered readily disposable and are discarded after only a few wears, with Australians sending a whooping 85% of textiles, roughly 23 kilos per person to landfill each year. In terms of donated clothing, only 15% is actually sold again in opp shops, with the rest used as rags, sent to landfill or sent to developing nations (~50%), which can be viewed as a form of exporting Australia’s waste (see this article for more).
As charities depend heavily on revenue from their opp shops, purchasing my clothing at these places rather than through large companies, not only saves some textiles from ending up in landfill but also means that money I spend on clothes ends up helping people rather than generating profit for big businesses.
2. I prefer to buy second-hand and vintage clothes, as you can readily find good quality items rather than new ‘fast fashion’ items that are only designed to last for a short time. I also like the feel of wearing something from another era that already has a story to it.
3. Buying second-hand has also saved me so much money! Being a tertiary student for nearly a decade this was a large part of why I originally looked for second-hand options. I bought the skirt below for $1 from the Salvation Army and I rarely pay more than $10 for a single item. When I think back to the amount of money I used to spend on new clothing I feel like slapping myself.
4. I find that buying from vintage and opp shops forces me to be more creative and imaginative with the items I select and match, leading to a more unique style. I love finding floaty floral skirts and vintage blouses and matching them with items I already have in my wardrobe. I bought the skirt below for $5 in New Zealand.
Where I buy my clothes
1. Second hand clothes markets. In Hobart my favourite clothes markets are the Re-loved Market and Overdressed Market and in Helsinki there are many outdoor clothes markets in squares and parks during summer. Above is a picture of the very busy second-hand market at Bear Park in Kallio.
2. Facebook Groups like Kallio kierrättää (also here) are clothing exchanges in my Helsinki neighbourhood, while in Tassie the Hobart Clothing Exchange Facebook page and Gumtree are great places to find a second-hand bargain and sell no longer needed clothing.
3. Opp shops like St. Vinnies, the Salvation Army, Lifeline and City Mission have a plethora of bargains in Hobart with the added bonus of your money going to charity organisations. In Helsinki I love Recci and UFF and they regularly have big sale days.
What I look for when buying second hand
1. Versatility– things that can be matched with different items in my wardrobe and can also be dressed up or down for different occasions. The yellow dress above is a perfect summer dress but can also be worn with boots and tights for colder weather. The same thing goes for the below floral top. In all pictures the only thing I’m wearing that is not second-hand is the leather jacket I bought 18 months ago.
2. For work neutrals are great. Black, white, grey and stripes can be paired in so many different combinations to give the illusion of a larger wardrobe.
3. Natural fibers. Two thirds of new clothes and textiles are made from synthetic fibres which are derived from petroleum. Not only do these fibres take a ridiculously long time to breakdown but they also shed micro-plastic particles into the waterways when washed. Ideally I choose items that are 100% (or as close to as you can find) cotton, linen or silk, as opposed to plastic based fabrics like polyester and nylon. Second-hand clothing made from natural fabrics can be a little harder to find but I like the challenge and as I don’t ‘need’ any new clothes it really makes me think before buying. Clothing made from natural fibres also lasts longer, contributing to less waste in the long run.
4. TRY things on! I have been caught out so often being too lazy to try things on in the shop, thinking it will fit and then getting home to realise it doesn’t fit or suit me. It’s especially a pain in cold Finland when you have so many layers to take off in the change-room, but I’ve now promised myself that if I don’t have the time or patience to try on an item then I don’t like it enough to bring it into my wardrobe.
5. Unique and beautiful pieces. I love that buying second-hand opens up a range of clothes from different styles and eras, giving you so many more unique options than ‘fast fashion’ provides. I look for items like the dress below- casual enough for daytime wear and in a colour that matches many items in my wardrobe but with an interesting twist.
6. Up-cycled. I love clothes that have been ‘up-cycled’ from vintage fabric into a more modern cut. Smoove Reworked Vintage is a store I came across in New Zealand who does just that. I stumbled onto the brand after buying one of their up-cycled dresses (below) in a second-hand shop- to me this is one step closer to zero waste clothing.
How I decide what stays in my wardrobe
If an item no longer “sparks joy” it goes. When I no longer want an item in my wardrobe I first try to sell it through a Facebook group directly to someone who wants it, secondly I’d try to give it to any friends that I fell may like and use it and finally if these options fail I donate it to a charity/opp shop.
I try to remove an item from my wardrobe if:
- It no longer fits- I’ve changed shape or it’s shrunken/stretched.
- It’s not comfortable, often I like the look of clothes on but they are not very comfortable to wear for hours on end.
- I’m ready to let go of something I’ve had for awhile that had some sentimental value to me.
- I no longer have the occasion to wear it- this happened with several items I brought with me from Australia that no longer fit my lifestyle in Finland.
- Related to this- it’s not practical for the climate.
- It’s a duplicate item. I used to have countless little black dresses. Now I have two and am about to donate one of them.
I hope this post has helped shed some light on the current waste in the clothing market and given you some ideas on how to reduce your footprint. If you’re eager for further ideas and inspiration check out this post by Trash is For Tossers!