There’s no doubt about it, climate change is the biggest crisis we will ever face. According to climate experts, we only have 12 years to change our ways before the environmental changes we have caused to this beautiful planet of ours become irreversible. That’s not to say that we have 12 years to start doing what’s right; it means we have to act now. Even if we reduce our emissions as fast as possible, we will barely be able to keep global warming below 1.5°C. That figure seems tiny, but at just 1°C warming, at an increase of 0.2°C every decade, we are already experiencing the destruction of our Arctic ice and warm water corals.
It may blow your mind, but the fashion industry generates more greenhouse gases than all international flights and maritime shipping combined. It is also the second biggest consumer of water, and generates 20% of all wastewater. Evidence shows that as much as one third of all the clothes we buy, end up in landfill. The average lifespan of a garment bought in the UK is just 2.2 years — I bet you’ve got cans in your kitchen cupboard with a longer lifespan. It’s a huge amount of waste generated just by us not being thoughtful about the clothes we buy.
It’s really hard not to sound doom and gloom when faced with these facts, but that’s the harsh reality we are living. Do not lose hope however, things are changing. Vintage fashion is saving the world — we always knew it was good for more than just, well, looking good.
There’s been a massive boom recently in secondhand clothing apps and websites. Apps like depop, which has more than 10 million registered users, are not only helping people sell their unwanted items but giving people an easy alternative to high street fashion outlets. The concept of depop is quite simple: it operates kind of like Instagram, but for selling and buying clothes. You follow people/shops that you like the look of, have a home feed to scroll through, and a search option when you’re looking for something in particular. Its goal is to connect buyers and sellers to make transactions more friendly, less impersonal. If you’ve not yet, go and read the article we wrote about it here.
In the US, thredUP operates in much the same way as its cousin across the pond. ThredUP is designed more like an online shop however, with less of the Instagram/social media app aspect to it. Setting themselves up more like your typical online clothing website, they have repurposed and rehomed over 65 million garments to date. Whilst depop offers a direct interaction between the seller and buyer, thredUP acts as the middleman. They send you a bag for your unwanted clothes which you send off, then they appraise them and send you money for them. ThredUP then customises them, fixes any damage to the clothes like missing buttons or small holes, and post them on their site to be bought. Simples.
Image source: https://www.urbanoutfitters.com/en-gb/vintage-clothing
Interestingly, younger generations seem to be leading the charge in secondhand clothing. This is probably down to two main factors: the first, the millennial generations are hyper-aware of the effects of global warming. We see what the damaging and ineffectual climate policies have done to our environment, and are fighting for the future. This generation can see that the people who have been in power for the past century have done little to nothing to help what is clearly a climate emergency, and seem to be leaving the consequences of their actions for us to deal with. It is very telling that the leading person in the climate debate at the moment — Greta Thunberg — is only 16 years old.
The second reason is that we are computer literate practically from the day we are born. Our generation is undeniably so much more comfortable with the concepts of apps and online shopping than that of our parents and grandparents. Case in point, around 80% of depop users in the UK are aged between 13 and 24. To us, depop or thredUP are natural choices. In the same way that the high street might have been the go-to for your mum when she was growing up, we turn to our phones. We use Facebook to find clothes exchanges near us, Instagram to get inspiration for our fashion choices, and depop to buy them.
Charity shop sales also seem to be rising. Traid reported a 30% rise in turnover from 2017 to 2018. No longer the fusty old granny shops of before, charity shops have had the biggest glow-up thanks to the sustainable fashion movement. Most recently, ASOS Marketplace announced that you can now buy direct from charity shop giants Oxfam and Barnado’s, as well as the previously mentioned charity Traid, on their platform. Shopping whilst saving the planet and giving money to charity gets a massive tick from us.
ASOS isn’t the only big name in retail taking note of this enormous opportunity to capitalise on the ecological movement. Many well known high street brands have launched vintage or secondhand clothing lines: Urban Outfitters have Urban Renewal; WEEKDAY recently introduced Re-made; and in Sweden, the H&M group are currently trialing the selling of vintage pieces from its & Other Stories brand, with a view to expand to other markets in the future. This just goes to show how much of an impact we, as individuals, can have when we make the sustainable, ethical fashion choices. Do you think that an of these retail groups would have launched these ecological offshoot brands if they didn’t think that the tide was turning against their fast fashion models? Absolutely not.
The other factor to consider when talking about vintage versus fast fashion is the quality of clothing. The nature of the fast fashion model means that it is quick and cheap to churn out, only to be worn once and then thrown away. What a lot of people don’t realise is that, even if you do give your £5 Boohoo dress to a charity shop, the chances of it actually being bought and worn again are abysmally small. Even in charity shops clothes have a shelf life, and it’s about two weeks long. The materials that make up that cheap dress are obviously unrecyclable, and after it has spent two weeks on a hanger in the charity shop it will go to landfill. People just won’t care for a piece of clothing that they spent under £10 on, compared with a better-made, longer-lasting but therefore more expensive garment. This is something that we have lost: the emotional attachment you feel to piece of clothing you have invested money in. When you have spent less than an hour’s minimum wage on something, where is the incentive to look after it, to fix it when it breaks, or loses a button? The ‘make do and mend’ mentality is something we would do well to reconnect with. Older clothes were often made with much higher quality fabric and thread. Clothes produced by fast fashion outlets are very rarely made from single fibre materials, meaning they are less durable, whereas vintage clothes were built to last - and so they have.
Fast fashion is destroying our ecosystems, our environment, and our futures. This is why we need to change our habits when it comes to how we consume fashion, and this is where vintage and secondhand clothing comes in. By closing the loop, by operating on a circular fashion model, we can start to make things better. We can start to lower the emissions we produce by the decisions we make with our money, and our fashion choices.
So go on, save the world! SHOP VINTAGE
BY JOAN CROWLEY