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Why Thrifting is Good for the Planet, Not Just Your Wallet

On an average day walking down Sproul Plaza at UC Berkeley you’ll probably see an acapella performance, groups of tourists taking selfies, and students selling Costco pizza or Krispy Kreme donuts. Last Thursday, however something a little different was happening on the Savio steps: a pop-up thrift shop. Garb, self-proclaimed as UC Berkeley’s most relatable fashion blog, hosted the event for the second time ever, selling second-hand clothes ranging from three to seven dollars. The club launched their pop-up last semester, one year after it’s establishment. Diana Woo, External Vice President, explained that over time Garb has evolved into a blog that’s more than just about clothing and relatability. She said, “I think now we’re leaning more towards not only being relatable but inclusive as well. That includes dealing with issues and current topics that people are interested in like body positivity, cultural diversity, and the environment.”

Many think of Berkeley as a very environmentally-conscious community, but few Berkeley students understand the huge impact that the clothing industry has on the environment. Sarah Ye, Co-President of Garb, told me about this issue, saying, “a lot of people here know about things like compost and reusable straws but nobody really understands that if you shop at places like Forever 21 it’s not good for the environment.” Stores like Forever 21, H&M, Urban Outfitters, and basically any other big clothing retailer you can think of all fall into the category of fast fashion, which is the rapid mass production of super cheap clothing. Although the price tags may be low, the environmental costs are extremely high.

Even though the slow fashion movement of ethically and sustainably made clothing has been gaining traction over the past few years, not everyone can afford to spend $75 on a single pair of leggings made from recycled plastic water bottles. Consequently, as more and more people have learned about the negative effects of the fashion industry, more have turned to thrifting, which has dramatically increased in popularity over the recent years. However, this huge shift towards more secondhand shopping can’t only be attributed to environmentalists. Low prices and unique vintage finds attract people who end up unintentionally helping the environment. Here are three of the many reasons why buying second-hand is better for the Earth than buying new:

  1. Less clothing in landfills. Americans alone throw away about 10.5 million tons of clothing every year. It wasn’t always like this. Less than 100 years ago clothing used to be a big investment. In the 1950s people spent about 20 percent of their income on clothes. People would buy a few items of clothing per year and would take extremely good care of them to make sure they lasted as long as possible. Today, the opposite is true. The fashion industry is moving faster than ever. Instead of putting out new clothes and designs four times a year like they used to, retailers are putting out new clothes every single week. The amount of clothing produced has dramatically increased while clothing prices and quality have gone down. We are buying four times as much clothing as we used to but are spending 17 percent less because we buy clothes that quickly fall apart or goes out of style (or both), and so we throw them in the trash and buy something new. Studies have shown that 60 percent of the clothes made worldwide are made from synthetic materials (e.g. polyester, nylon, acrylic) a.k.a. plastic. When thrown away, they often sit in landfills for hundreds of years, if not forever. Buying secondhand means you’ll be keeping plastic out of landfills and positively contributing to the decrease in worldwide textile demand and subsequent waste.
  2. Less resources used and wasted. You may not believe me when I say this, but the pair of jeans you may be wearing right now took roughly 1,800 gallons of water to make. The production process of making one pair of jeans also generated greenhouse gases equivalent to driving over 80 miles. Similar numbers apply to tee shirts, skirts, and most other articles of clothing; this is much more energy and water intensive than what is commonly believed. Through thrifting, you keep the resources invested in all of these clothing items from going to waste.
  3. Less pollution. About 90 percent of the cotton grown for textiles is genetically modified, which means it is heavily reliant on pesticides. In fact, almost 20 percent of pesticide use worldwide is for use on cotton plants. These chemicals contaminate nearby water supplies and acidify the soil. The dyes used in the textile making process also pollute water supplies. They are often dumped directly into nearby rivers or lakes because this part of the process is often outsourced and carried out in underdeveloped countries where environmental regulations may not exist or be effectively enforced. Lastly, the production of the synthetic fabrics releases nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas that is 310 times stronger than carbon dioxide. By switching to second hand shopping, the money you spend won’t go toward supporting an industry that is characterized by water and air pollution.

Simply switching to thrifting isn’t going to completely solve all of the problems within the fashion and textile industry, but it is one way we can work to minimize our own carbon footprints and make small steps towards a better future. If you are privileged enough to be able to choose between shopping at Urban Outfitters or Goodwill, I’d advise you to think about the planet and choose the latter.

Garb plans on hosting another pop-up thrift shop on Sproul later this month, so make sure to check it out to support a great organization and do some sustainable shopping.

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1 Response

  1. Brianna T says:

    I definitely agree with the three main points stated. All these fast fashion stores aren’t good but we keep buying for the affordable prices. I think people should turn to becoming perhaps a minimalist when it comes to clothes, or renting clothes that way you aren’t necessarily keeping and throwing out old or unused clothes, all while being able to change up your style.

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