Good Friday morning! As promised, I’m back with another post for you!
In 2016, a survey showed that Americans throw away about 26 BILLION pounds of textiles per year. Think about that. Somewhere in the world, a poor farmer was paid a slim amount for his water- and pesticide-drenched cotton crop. Then children and other workers (making far too little to live on) put in long hours weaving, dying, cutting and sewing that cotton into shirts. We popped in to a fast fashion retailer and bought one of those shirts because “it’s just a couple bucks and I really like that color.” We wore it a handful of times, and because the shirt was cheap, when it started to show wear we didn’t feel bad about just tossing it out. Now multiply that by 26 billion pounds, and repeat year after year.
Retailers compete with each other, so keeping prices low is a priority for them. To do that, they have sacrificed both the quality of goods offered and the wages paid to everyone on the supply chain. The obvious answer is to buy from retailers who use fair trade labor practices, which insure that everyone along the supply chain was paid a fair, livable wage, and that no child labor or unsafe workplace practices were used. I’ve written several times about the importance of buying fair trade to provide safe, meaningful employment for people (I’ve linked to one of those posts, but to read more about it, use the little search window to find all of my articles on fair trade, or check out the FSF Pinterest boards), but let’s be honest, fair trade isn’t cheap. I mean, that’s the idea, of course, but in a world where we’re used to $10 tee shirts from Old Navy, there can be some sticker shock!
So lets say we decide to stop being part of the problem and get off this crazy cycle. What can we do without going broke?
- The first step, if fair trade is out of your budget, is to evaluate if you really NEED another shirt, pair of earrings, etc., or if it’s just a want. If we can really be honest with ourselves, that hard truth alone will stop us from about half of the purchases we make (or is that just me…).
- Cotton is recyclable: If you have a clothing item that has reached the end of its life, read the label. Synthetics and blends can be reused as dust rags, but 100% cotton can be recycled. Most cities have single-sort recycling bins, and cotton can be tossed out with your milk jugs and soda cans.
- When you really do need to buy something, or when the itch for some retail therapy gets particularly bad, the next best thing to fair trade is second-hand. Purchasing second-hand keeps textiles out of landfills, and satisfies our needs without contributing any more of our hard-earned money to the un-fair trade cycle.
Here are some of my favorite second-hand shops and sites. If you want to find second-hand clothing and accessories near you, a quick internet search for “consignment shops near me” or “used clothing near me” should reveal what’s available in your area.
- Donation sites like the Goodwill, Savers, or Salvation Army stores. These are also great places to donate gently-used goods. You can find anything from nice designer brands to crazy, off-the-wall fashions. My son and I have a tradition of going to the local Goodwill every summer when he finds out what color team he will be on at camp. For a couple dollars each, we can get him a week’s worth of tee shirts in his team color, the stranger the better! After camp he uses the shirts for work projects and things, and some of them even make it into his regular rotation. This year he did some of his back-to-school shopping at Savers and Goodwill, too. He was able to stretch his back-to-school budget a lot further!
- Ragstock: Ragstock is a Minnesota-based company with stores around the upper-Midwest area where they buy and sell vintage and recycled clothing. They cater to a younger crowd, and are a great place to get unique, funky fashions.
- Once Upon a Child: Once Upon a Child is another upper-Midwest chain. They buy and sell gently-used clothing, equipment, toys, and shoes for babies and children. When my son was young, I loved shopping there for the things kids outgrow before they wear them out, especially dressy clothing. They’re part of the same company as Play it Again Sports (used sporting equipment), Plato’s Closet (clothing for teens/young adults), and Style Encore (clothing and accessories for women).
- Thred Up: If shopping online is more your thing, Thred Up is the best! They buy and sell better brands of clothing, like Ralph Lauren, J. Crew, and Calvin Klein. They even have a luxury tab where you can find designer brands, gently used and deeply discounted. I have both bought and sold from Thred Up many times and have been happy. They even offer returns if you get something and it doesn’t look or fit like you expected. (The hyperlink for Thred Up will take you to a referral page. If you sign up on their site, you and I each get a $10 credit. Just so you know.)
- The Real Real: If designer brands are more your speed, then The Real Real is for you! They sell vintage men’s and women’s clothing, shoes, and accessories (hello designer handbags!), as well as artwork and home accents that are all designer brands, certified authentic, and deeply discounted because they’re used. I have bought and sold with them once, and was very happy with my experience. (The link on this one is also a referral link)
That should give you a good start shopping for gently used goods! If you know of other shops and sites, leave them in the comments! Thanks!