If you have been visiting my blog for some time, you know that I have promoted shopping at second-hand stores for a long time. Why? Because I believed that it was one of the best ways to buy clothes sustainably. But after talking about the whole second-hand industry with my friend Muthoni, who lives in Kenya, I realized that buying second-hand clothes is not necessarily the best option. In fact, it seems like an eco-friendly idea if you live in Europe or North America and see only one side of the story. Also, my issue with second-hand fashion stores is the second-hand fashion trap. As the clothes were affordable, I would buy even what did not necessarily suit me. And I still felt superior to those who shopped at Zara. What an ego trip, huh?
Second-hand fashion is an industry that we don’t talk about much. According to Muthoni, the influx of cheap, pre-loved clothes killed the Kenyan textile and shoe market. And the rise of the middle class and the appetite for imported products didn’t help either. The situation got so serious that in 2017 the Kenyan government launched a new program, “Buy Kenya- Grow Kenya Strategy.” It is supposed to entice people to buy local products to support the local economy.
My friend’s sustainable fashion behavior comprises buying fewer clothes, focusing on quality, and wearing them until they “fall apart.” And I agree with her. As someone who has less than 33 pieces in my summer closet, I learned to make more from less. I buy fewer clothes than I used to and focus on a few brands that really fit me. And by that, I mean that they reflect my lifestyle: I can wear them to work and/or during the weekends. Maybe it is easier to have a small closet when you do not have to wear formal/business clothes at work. But I have a child, so my wardrobe needs to be versatile and functional.
The Second-Hand Fashion Trap
What is the second-hand fashion trap?
I would go to a luxury second-hand store and buy Gucci jeans because they cost 50 Swiss francs. And I would ignore that they did not fit me. But I could not leave them in the store for such an amazing price, could I? Later, I would spend more money on alternations. In the end, there were only a few pieces of second-hand clothes that I would really wear. No matter how minimal or sustainable my wardrobe was, it was not working for me.
Until this spring, when I decided to tackle my fashion choices differently. I wanted to feel comfortable in my skin, attractive, and like myself. So what did I do? I started by giving away all clothes I kept for the wrong reasons: the label, sentiment, or price tag. After I got rid of 2/3 of my spring/summer closet, I felt empty and “naked.” But it was worth it. I went online and got new, sustainable clothes. My main conditions were: color (it had to fit my color palette), fit (it had to suit my body type and fit me perfectly), and material (as sustainable as possible). It took time and didn’t come cheap, but I feel great when I dress up now. I feel sexy and authentic.
If you wish to do the same, here is my advice on how to shop sustainably at regular stores this summer:
2. Choose sustainable materials such as linen, hemp, ethical sick and bamboo, upcycled/recycled or organic cotton.
3. Style over fashion: choose garments that will survive current trends. That applies to colors as well. Don’t buy a dress in pastel color if pastel colors don’t suit you.
4. Relax. Go slow. Don’t push yourself just because being sustainable fashion is currently “in fashion.” If you really want to be sustainable, you have to change your habits. And that takes time. So start slow and you have a better to become a conscious, aware, engaged, and responsible consumer.
Of course, the ideal fashion brand that I would support would use sustainably grown and sourced materials and ensure traceability throughout the whole supply chain, good work conditions, and pay a fair salary. Of course, some brands are better at that than others, but ultimately, the ball is in the consumer’s corner. We have the power to choose where we put our money.