Winter’s fast approach has sparked my annual purge. The summer’s strappy sandals and ripped, raggedy mini skirts have migrated to the back of my closet or nearest clothes donation bin. Puffers, parkas, and weathered boots have weaseled their way back to my most prominent hooks and shelves, as I prepare for the frosty (or at least below 70 degrees) months ahead.
It seems I am not alone in this shift, as my phone has become flooded with holiday sales alerts and ad campaigns positioned delicately before a fire. American consumption is nothing new, particularly with the impending threat of gluttonous stockings and abundant cornucopias of gifts beneath the tree. Yet, the accessibility of consumption has boomed in the wake of the Internet, particularly after a year spent, by many, in avid avoidance of overflowing shopping centers and brutish Black Fridays.
Now, merely scrolling through Instagram can yield a myriad of new trends and where to purchase them. Gone are the days of needing to leave your house to shop, now you need not even leave the app! Accordingly, as the world of fashion oscillates rapidly between trends, fast fashion thrives on unsustainable methods of exploitation, turning out heaps of clothes, ready to disintegrate shortly after shipping.
Still, there are alternatives. Ethical, sustainable brands (at least by comparison) that are not always egregiously overpriced… or vintage and thrift shopping! I will admit, I am an avid fan of the latter. I relish those perfect, gently-used finds that require only a quick wash and minor alterations. I adore the singular connection to an article of clothing I rummaged to find that has lived a life of its own. And while I am grateful to house it away from trash and waste, I often am faced with a bit of guilt for my greedy pride in being theoneto find it, theoneto possess it.
For the sustainability promoted by thrifting’s popularity, it has left many secondhand stores over-picked and over-priced, excluding much of their initial, intended consumer base. As fast fashion becomes the most cost-effective option, how can people be expected to shop sustainably? And how sustainable is a spontaneous purchase of dozens of gratuitous goods, even if they are “previously owned” and “pennies to the dollar?”
The deterrent of extensive, in-person searches has even been lifted, as apps like Depop create online spaces to thrift. What initially provided an alternative avenue to disposing of old clothes, has morphed to fostering miniature enterprises. Increasingly, users have turned to in-person thrift finds as a way of generating income online. “Bundles” and other purchasing options allow buyers to find high concentrations of quality, used goods while allowing the seller to turn a profit on the best clothing their local thrift shop has to offer.
Again, the eroding influence of consumerism compromises the merits of a supposedly sustainable shopping option. Capitalizing on an abandoned piece of clothes’ lifespan does maintain more sustainable use of resources and allows for distinct cultivation of style. But to truly shop sustainably would be to shop as little as possible. To honor the articles already in the closet, re-work the pieces hidden in the back of the drawer. Cultivating a collection of clothing is personal, creative. Each piece has its own origins and eventual expiration. But to shop sustainably is to dismantle that insatiable materialism of clothing consumption in the age of fast fashion, regardless of said clothing’s source.