Is buying fast fashion second-hand ethical?
Image by our favourite circular fashion platform, Worn For Good.
If we were suddenly thrown into an alternate universe of superheroes and evil villains (entirely plausible with the way 2020 is going), Ethical Made Easy would probably be Captain Planet and fast fashion would be Hoggish Greedly. If you’re 25-years-old or younger and the Captain Planet reference has gone over your head, just think of fast fashion as EME’s arch-nemesis. Basically, we’re doing everything we can to stop fast fashion with our army of ‘Planeteers’ (that’s you).
But what happens when you’ve promised to never support fast fashion again, but come across a Zara dress on Depop (who have been experiencing a 90% increase in traffic since April thanks to COVID-19) that you really, really want to buy? Second-hand shopping is experiencing a bit of a resurgence right now, which is definitely good news in our books, but is buying fast fashion second-hand ethical? As with most things in the ethical fashion world, it’s not a black and white answer but we feel confident this article will help you with your decision.
The pros of buying fast fashion second-hand
When you buy any clothing second-hand you’re helping make the fashion industry circular. What does that mean? Well, when you look at the traditional life cycle of a garment, it’s produced, sold, worn and discarded in a linear fashion.
In other words, it ends up in landfill at the end of its life. This cycle has been fast-tracked by the relentless fast fashion industry. In fact, in 2017 alone, 24% of Australians admitted to throwing away an item of clothing after wearing it just once. Buying a piece of clothing second-hand keeps it ‘circulating’ in the industry longer, decreasing its chances of being sent to landfill.
The lower price point of second-hand clothing makes it accessible to more people. It’s important to remember that not everyone can afford a $80 dress from Zara, even if that’s perceived as the affordable option. Second-hand shopping also gives conscious consumers the opportunity to shop to their values if they can’t afford ethical and sustainable fashion (although we promise ethical fashion isn’t as expensive as you may think).
03. The money isn’t going to the fast fashion brands
Our favourite positive thing about buying fast fashion second-hand is that you’re not supporting giant corporations that you’d rather avoid. Instead, you’re supporting an important charity, or even a stranger on the internet who’s trying to save up some cash. Any option is better than giving your hard earned cash to a billionaire!
The cons of buying fast fashion second-hand
01. The second-hand secret
Hold up! Before you consider this our tick of approval, give this article a read. It explains that
Only about 5% of donated goods actually make it to the op-shop floor; the rest is sent to landfill (at a huge cost to the charity), or shipped overseas to third world countries (spoiler alert: it becomes someone else’s problem). This isn’t a reason to boycott op-shops (please don’t do that) or not make your purchase, but it’s a reminder of why we should boycott fast fashion in the first place.
The fast fashion industry is the reason we’re seeing so much fashion and textile waste. Yes, op-shopping helps reduce that waste, but ‘disposable’ fast fashion is making it an issue to begin with. In fact, the quality of clothing donated to op-shops in the last decade has dropped dramatically because of fast fashion, which ultimately affects the end consumer. People from low socio-economic backgrounds who rely on op-shops for important items like work clothes will be less likely to find what they need when the quality isn’t there.
Yes, accessibility is a pro, but in some instances, it’s also a con. Not everyone has access to the really cool vintage stores like the ones you find in the streets of London, and some of us don’t even have the time to leave our job or studies to go to an everyday op-shop and search through the racks for a gem. Not to mention the issue of size inclusivity in the second-hand world, with many vintage stores (in person and online) only catering to a specific size.
03. It’s still fast fashion
At the end of the day, you have to remind yourself this piece of clothing is still fast fashion. It’s made in huge quantities at a cheap rate with often low quality, chemical-laden fabrics.
It may not last a long time and it’s most likely been made at the hands of a vulnerable person who isn’t being paid a fair wage. When buying second-hand fast fashion, you aren’t supporting the brand directly, but it could be argued that you’re supporting what it represents.
So, should you buy the dress?
It’s still quite a grey area, isn’t it? You’re probably still looking for the answer to your original question: should I buy the Zara dress off Depop. If you want the answer to that, you’re going to have to ask yourself a few questions first. Will you love it and therefore take care of it? Will you get dozens of wears out of it? Can you sell it once you’ve finished with it? Is it a good quality fabric that might even biodegrade at the end of its life? Does it align with your values? If you can answer these questions with confidence, you’re probably onto a winner.
We have a hard and fast rule here at Ethical Made Easy: if you can’t wear an item at least 30 times it’s not worth buying. So that sparkly jumpsuit? Not exactly a winner unless you’re going to cherish it for the next 20 years (not entirely impossible if it’s a stellar piece). Or that unethical fashion company logo taking up space on a perfectly good pair of sneakers? Probably doesn’t send the right message to the world if you’re trying to uphold the values of a conscious shopper—but then again it’s a good starting point for a conversation about the benefits of second-hand shopping! We’ll let you be the judge.
So if you’re wanting to still purchase, a place we’d recommend looking at starting with is Worn For Good. A platform that circulates clothing from some of fashion’s industry heavyweights.