"Having greater circularity of clothes could extend their life span and make fashion more democratic, which is actually true. But those expectations were not really fulfilled".
A lot of us have promised to never support fast fashion again by now – or at least try to – but it isn’t as easy as we thought it would be, is it? For example, recently, we got the news that there’s a new Zara on Depop, and I’m sure we would all find something there that we would really want to buy there. And we might think ‘well, it’s second-hand, so why not?’ and that’s my point here so come with me as I explain. Second-hand shopping is, as we know, experiencing a bit of a resurgence right now and that’s definitely good news, but have you ever thought about the real pros and cons of buying second-hand fast fashion?
The whole concept of second-hand fashion became very popular in the last few years and when it happened it seemed like the start of a new era, one with less waiste and more consciousness. It was a really big change as a practice that has always been considered inferior – even though it always existed – was redeemed and reinterpreted as a possible antidote to an increasingly consumer civilization. People came to the realization that having greater circularity of clothes could extend their life span and make fashion more democratic, which is actually true. But those expectations were not really fulfilled, because while the popularization of second-hand market did create a more responsible mindset in the general public, the bigger availability of clothes at lower prices ended up increasing the consumerism and people started to buy and sell huge quantities of clothes in a very short period of time.
And now not only is the second-hand market growing at three times the rate of the first-hand clothing market – and with turnover rising from the current $35 billion to almost triple up to $81 billion in four years – but also it is now set to eventually colonize the rest of the market, creating a space in which clothing rentals and fast fashion will remain stable and department stores and mid-to-low-end retailers will eventually lose ground – and there’s no way this is a good thing.
But it is not only for the reasons of affordability, the rising success of resell platforms is also based on the promise of an endless source of serotonin-boosting – comparing clothes and outfits on second-hand fashion has become an addiction-like pleasure, just like the one we feel from scrolling through TikTok for hours, thanks to all the new digital platforms. According to research, the number of items purchased and sold again doubled up since the start of the pandemic, showing that the practice of shopping to sell is becoming increasingly popular as a way to reduce one’s fashion footprint, a fact that is not technically negative, but shows how the buying and selling of secondhand fashion online has transcended the boundaries of pleasure and necessity, turning into a new form of compulsive consumption.
With all that being considered, while we still have to think about the environmental impact of that much volume of sales – even if in the case of secondhand it helps save on water waste and carbon emissions – the actual concern is about the buying habits of Gen Z. A generation that seems to care about the planet way more than any other before them, but yet they have many shopping choices that make it easier than ever to mindlessly consume – that doesn’t really make sense, right? We live in a reality where one in every three Gen Z consumers say they are addicted to fast fashion, and that’s when we can see the crazy dichotomy young consumers are facing today. The problem is far more coplex than I can say here, but let’s try: constantly dealing with such a big volume of buying and selling, the new generations are accustomed to overconsumption and we still have companies that remain very much tied to overproduction. In the face of all that, the thing is that while resale really does offer a path to extending the life of used clothing, the current model doesn’t inherently account for what happens to clothes when they do get discarded, or even guarantee that clothing is made more sustainably. And a very important topic: it doesn’t have any bearing on the volumes of new clothes made or sold on the new market.
With all that in mind, we can really get into the pros and cons, and I’ll summarize them all to just two things. The first one being accessibility. Yes, accessibility is a total pro if you look at it from just one angle, but if you change it up a little you may see that it’s also a con. ‘How?’ you may ask, and here it is: not everyone has access to cool vintage stores like the ones you in the streets of London or Paris, actually, some people don’t even have the time to leave their job, studies or chores to go and search through the racks for some cool pieces. And let’s not even dive deep into the issue of size inclusivity in the second-hand market – it could be a whole different, specific article.
And here it is, the biggest con: second-hand fast fashion is still fast fashion. It’s still made in huge quantities at a cheap rate with often low quality. It will probably not last a long time and it’s very likely to have been made by the hands of a vulnerable person who isn’t being paid as one should. I understand that when buying second-hand fast fashion you aren’t supporting the brand directly, so it might feel a little better, but in some way you’re still supporting what it represents.
All things considered, it’s quite a complex subject, isn’t it? If you’re still here, you’re probably looking for some answers like ‘should I or should I now keep buying second-hand?’ but hold on, we’re getting there – you made it this far, stay with me. If you want an honest answer, you’re actually the only person that can get to it – that’s not what you were expecting, I know. But ask yourself before buying anything: Will you love it and 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? Does it align with your values? If you can answer these questions and end up happy with your answers, go ahead and buy it. But if that’s not the case, maybe reconsider your decision for a while.
Changing our habits in general is never an easy task, it takes time and sometimes we take three steps forward and two steps back and it wouldn’t be different when we’re talking about our shopping habits – specially when we were taught a certain way. Buying second-hand is a great option, way better than buying in-store, we just can’t let it be ruined by old habits and turn a good thing into a bad one. It’s a complex and even a crazy path, but I believe we’re in the right one – we just got to stay on this one.