Fast fashion and its implications are some of the hottest topics present in the sustainability movement; our society’s general pattern of linear consumption hits a peak in terms of fashion, where an article of clothing from six weeks ago has already lost its credibility in the fashion world. We, as consumers, all fall victim to this ‘trendy’ line of thinking at some point, even as thrift stores such as Value Village and Goodwill become more popular.
One of these stores has capitalized on this popularity online; thredUP boasts its inventory as the largest online thrift and consignment store in North America (although they also have store locations in the U.S.). Launched in 2009, thredUP has recently released a ‘Fashion Footprint’ calculator that allows you to determine how eco-friendly your closet really is, similar to a Carbon Footprint calculator. While the tool requires you to be completely transparent about your shopping habits, it does quite well on taking other aspects of sustainable clothing into account.
For instance, you will be asked to rate how many clothes you buy secondhand, how many you return, how many you buy online, and even how many you rent. Additionally, thredUP accounts for your laundry habits, such as whether you wash cold, air dry, or take your clothes to the dry cleaners. Finally, the calculator also asks what you do with your old clothes – whether you throw them out or donate them to a store much like thredUP itself. After you answer these questions, your ‘score’ will be calculated – you can be anywhere from a Green Queen to an Eco Newbie. It also provides you with an impressive list of suggestions to help you reduce your impact.
In general, these tips are mainly along the lines of “Buy your clothes secondhand and from sustainable, eco-friendly brands”. ThredUP offers a range of brands that provide the resources for this, such as Girlfriend Collective, Allbirds, and Good on You. They also encourage you to rent clothes instead of buying them (Rent the Runway) and be more conscious of your laundry habits (Grove Collaborative). This list is presented in an aesthetically pleasing infographic, with links to these resources, that for a moment make you feel like you know everything there is to know about fast fashion and how to solve it.
This empowering feeling is a positive step, but it does act as a little bit of a bubble around the realities of the fashion industry and how humanity really operates. Even if we know our clothes are being made in Vietnam, by underpaid children in unsafe work conditions, we still buy them despite our efforts; they might be cheaper, more sanitary (in our heads), or simply more fitted to our own preferences. This effect is echoed largescale on the business side of things; while certain businesses are taking steps to become more ethically and sustainably conscious, it is hard to do so when competing against companies that are focused solely on economic profits: “These innovators are faced with competition from businesses that are focused on reducing costs and maximizing profits regardless of the environmental or social costs,” (Fixing Fashion, 2019).
Of course, it’s much harder to be concerned about the wasteful nature of the fashion industry when you’re unaware of the stats; there are massive environmental impacts that result from our need to buy and throw away a new wardrobe every six weeks: “Textile production contributes more to climate change than international aviation and shipping combined,” (Fixing Fashion, 2019). Socially, fashion has encouraged companies to cut corners with regards to their pay and working conditions; this is likely due to the fact they aren’t being held accountable for their actions. Additionally, “those who work in or live near textile manufacturing facilities bear a disproportionate burden of environmental health hazards,” (Schoenherr 2019).
These critical effects aside, the appeal of stores like ThredUP is that they offer cheap prices and the reassurance of being sustainable in your fashion choices – but are you really? The reviews are divided. While influencers and fashion media praise the store, singing its praises: “With a nearly 90 percent markdown, you’ll find all sorts of high-end, ethical fashion labels here—but at knockoff prices,” (The Good Trade), actual consumer reviews warn potential customers away: “You’ll probably have better luck, better prices and better service at your local consignment store,” (Trustpilot, 2020). The complaints range from poor customer service to low-quality deliveries. However, these reviews may be favouring their distaste for the lack of customer profits over the actual sustainability of the brand; customer service aside, it, and other stores like it, does provide an opportunity for customers to sell/donate their old clothes rather than throwing them away, as well as shop secondhand.
Overall, your experience with ThredUP depends on your expectations. If your main goal is to make a profit from your gently used clothes and accessories, you might find better luck elsewhere. But if you genuinely want to reduce the textile waste you produce and recycle your old clothes, it might be a great option; the Fashion Footprint calculator can also help with quantifying this value and aiming to decrease it. In action, it could be a great motivator in our fight against the cycle of fast fashion.
February 13th, 2020