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Endless second hand shopping bad?

So on Instagram I’ve been asking questions about what you’d like to know about me or what you’d like to read on the blog. Well, here’s topic number one: second hand shopping.

The original question asked: “Do you think binging on second hand clothes is bad? Do you control yourself or does it not matter?”

So to second hand shopping, there are many levels, as with almost everything in life though. So I’m trying to cover multiple angles and create a nuanced answer.

Very very short history of consumption

First I want to dive into second hand fashion and sustainability for a while. Often we are being told, that second hand is always the best option and it’s the most sustainable one. But is it really?

To create a full understanding of this topic, let’s go back to the rise of (over)consumption.

Most of us have enough clothes to wear forever, but we still feel the need to spice up our wardrobe with new (to us) items. We do not buy out of need anymore, but out of a desire, which have been created by marketing. The history of propoganda, marketing and PR can be traced back to Edward Bernays. During the industrial revolution, more products were created than people would actually need for practical use. Companies needed consumers to buy new products more frequently and before a product was really so used or worn out that it needed replacement. This was the very beginning of the consumeristic society we live in now. If you want an easy and interesting explanation to this subject, I highly recommend watching this video by Tiffanyferg on YouTube.

Anyways, since then we have been buying more and more, until the point where we have so much that we can’t use or wear all the things we have. And because fast fashion has taken over the majority of the industry, clothes are so cheap that we don’t feel bad getting rid of them. Millions of tonnes of kilos are brought to second hand stores all over the world.

So history is most of the time a follow-up of events that can be seen as action-reaction. Also in this case, overconsumption is now tackled by a movement that is trying to consume more sustainably.

Second hand fashion and sustainability

Because of the rise in second hand shopping, more and more second hand shops are opening its doors. But where does all these clothes come from? From the neighbour that didn’t want her items anymore and dropped them of? Well, maybe. We assume that charity shops get their clothes from local people and that is mostly true. However, many charity shops are part of an organisation with many more stores in it. For example the Salvation Army in The Netherlands has eleven stores throughout the country. These stores receive around 300 kilos of textile every week, sometimes more, sometimes less. They don’t sort out all the items at the place where the items are handed in, it’ll be sent to central location somewhere in The Netherlands, where everything will be sorted out and afterwards be brought back to the stores. I do understand, that this is the best way to provide equal quality within all stores. It is also probably a little cheaper, to do everything at once instead of separated in the individual stores. However, the problem with this is, that the second hand items are transported once again, which causes greenhouse gasses etcetera. The Netherlands is a small country, but this probably happens everywhere throughout the world.

If we have a look at the luxury second hand stores or at vintage stores, they often buy their collection from over the whole world. There’s a huge rise of vintage clothing from Japan in The Netherlands. Or for example luxury stores in Copenhagen buy items from Italy and France.

We do not get our second hand items from our neighbours or local people, we buy them in stores from all over the world.

Endless consumption of second hand

Of course, buying second hand is still much more sustainable than buying something new. But it’s not fully guilt free. We cannot buy endless amounts of second hand items that we don’t need if we are supporting bizarre transport systems with it. I don’t see any problem in going to a flea market and buying preloved items from an old lady there or going to your sister or friend and giving their items a second life. And I know how we function nowadays, it’s hard to buy only out of need. I’m having a very hard time doing that. But still we should be thoughtful about our consumption pattern.

Controlled vs thoughtful consumption

So to end this whole article full of thoughts, I want to say that I think it’s always better to be thoughtful instead of controlled. I think it’s the same for food as for consumption as for any other desire. If you try to control yourself not eating the whole chocolate bar at once, you and up losing and eat it all. But if you’re mindful and think “it’s okay and I can eat it if I really feel like it”, you probably will eat only so much where you still enjoy it. I really enjoy “second hand shopping”, so I do not control myself in it. But the shopping does not always include buying items. We can go in stores, try out the clothes, think of ways to wear it and walk out with empty hands. The fun thing about second hand shopping to me is not only the part where I buy things, rather do I enjoy the whole process. So I’m mindful about my consumption, without trying to control myself, which allows me to not buy that much and enjoy my small but curated wardrobe.