Fashion, Opinions

Is it okay to buy fast fashion secondhand?

It’s complicated.

words by: Natasha Marsh
Mar 2, 2021

Throughout the pandemic, I’ve been redefining my relationship to consumption. I’ve done multiple purges of my closet, garage and kitchen – donating gently-used items to charities or shelters and properly recycling all my e-waste. In a year where my social calendar was empty, it became very clear what clothes I was wearing and how few clothes I actually needed day-to-day. This cleansing process and researching the dark climate crisis we’re in, has led me to believe our overconsumption problem in the United States is too hard to ignore. In fact, 11 million tons of apparel goes to landfills annually.


Originally meant to clothe us and keep us warm, fast fashion has turned shopping into a mindless sport where consumers act on impulse or social media trends. Fast fashion has made us consume just to consume, while perpetuating this constant desire for newness. We are shopping more than ever now —and thanks to things like Marie Kondo and spring cleaning methods — we are discarding more than ever now as well. For many, donating has morphed into an emotional outlet that takes guilt out of purchasing new products after donating old.


As a result, the secondhand industry has been inundated with poor quality fast fashion pieces. It makes us think: Is it okay to buy someone else’s used fast fashion? Is it further moving the fast fashion monster and consumption culture? The conclusion, is not so black and white.


What Is Fast Fashion?

Fast fashion is quickly produced fashion taken from runway trends, designed with cheaper fabrics and shipped across the globe at rapid speeds to align with the trend’s quick timeline. Fast fashion encourages customers to never repeat an outfit, leading them to believe that in order to stay relevant, you must have the latest piece.


With their quick turnaround, a lot of corners are cut. The fashion industry produces a shocking four billion metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions and manufactures in bulk without considering the unsold product that eventually gets burnt or sent to landfills hourly. In fact, over half of fast fashion items are thrown away in under a year. Garment workers in this sector of the industry experience poor wages, long hours, and subpar safety conditions. So why would anyone buy fast fashion items at retailers or secondhand?


Accessibility Is King

Buying secondhand often acts as an entry point to sustainability for people whose financial situation won’t allow them to shop new items. Yes, one of the main selling points of fast fashion is the affordable price, but not everyone can afford a $20-$75 dollar jacket at Zara. Charity shops usually have semi-quality items priced as low as a dollar with great deals on outerwear.


By shopping secondhand, you get to enjoy trends when they come back in style without worrying about the carbon impact you’re making. The great concern about fast fashion is it’s depletion of resources and transit. Fast fashion is usually produced in India, Asia and parts of the United States; and spends time traveling to all parts of the world, furthering it’s impact on the environment. Sure a piece might be trendy, but more likely than not, the environmental impact is monumental. By purchasing at a vintage or consignment shop, you get to indulge in throwback trends without the trouble of adding to your carbon footprint.


Retailers Take a Back Seat

Secondhand clothing doesn’t use resources, energy or exports like manufacturers do. So by shopping at thrift stores or charity shops, you avoid giving money to the questionable corporations that originally made the items.


Is There an Alternative?

Most experts will agree that the best way to support non-fast fashion brands is to consume less and use what you already have. But if you must purchase, purchase smarter. Secondhand shops could be the smart choice. But keep in mind, if you’re shopping fast fashion pieces secondhand, it doesn’t counteract the social and environmental impacts of the fast fashion industry.


The way I see it is this: fast fashion propels waste. Secondhand shopping eliminates waste by giving garments a second or third life — therefore, eliminating waste (clothes) by fast fashion retailers is, in fact, OK. And as an added bonus, here are four sustainable fashion trends of 2021.


Photo via The Hundreds