Why buying second-hand clothes matters

second hand clothes in the UK from Loop Generation
Second-hand clothes have a hugely positive social and environmental impact. They reduce carbon emissions, save lots of resources, water, and energy. They also prevent old clothing from ending up in landfills or incinerators. Plus they cost less, and who doesn't like a good deal, right? 
Whilst 63% of Britons say they have bought clothes second hand, half of these people say that second hand items comprise only 1-10% of their wardrobe. In fact, just one in five of those who have ever bought second hand clothes say more than 30% of their wardrobe is sourced second hand, implying fast fashion sadly still dominates.

According to research by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation more than half of fast fashion items produced are disposed of in under a year, while the global textile and clothing industry is presently responsible for 92 million tons of waste annually - a figure which is projected to grow to 148 million tonnes by 2030 writes the Global Fashion Agenda. The recent COVID-19 pandemic was heightening this challenge, and ushering in a corresponding waste pandemic, across the entire supply chain. The estimated 980 million items that were cancelled in Bangladesh will undoubtedly equate to a growing mountain of unsold pre-consumer stock. Meanwhile, international lockdowns have put a halt to the export of post-consumer textiles, into key reuse markets across Africa and Eastern Europe, and the sortation of used textiles has also ground to a halt in many countries. Both pre and post-consumer textile waste will stockpile indefinitely, and there is a considerable risk that these volumes will be landfilled or incinerated, once volumes peak, market prices collapse and local storage runs out.

environmental impact of second hand clothes

Fashion is worth £32bn to the UK economy, and Brits buy more garments than any other country in Europe, so it comes as no shock that many of those clothes end up in UK landfills each year: 300,000 tonnes of them, to be exact. This waste of clothing is destructive to our planet, releasing greenhouse gasses as clothes are burnt as well as bleeding toxins and dyes into the surrounding soil and water.

sustainability in numbers

People are buying more secondhand clothing than ever before and the trend is only going to increase. The latest research projects that over the next 10-years the second-hand clothing industry will more than triple in value. It is expected to grow from $28 billion in 2019 to $80 billion by 2029. Undoubtedly, the "most sustainable items of clothing are the ones already hanging in our wardrobes" as Orsola de Castro famously said. Let's keep them in the loop and #MakeFashionGreatAgain
Image: Venus of the Rags by the artist Michelangelo Pistoletto, 1967

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