Are charity shops an answer to help sustainable fashion?

Sustainability is such a hot topic at the moment and the focus is often on buying more sustainable clothing from brands which have proven their supply chain and ethical with regards the treatment of their workers. But what about the clothes that are already in circulation? Can we not use those again – by recycling or shopping in charity shops, to not buy new but to re-wear the old?

Sometimes I think that the focus on the new means that we forget about the clothes that are already in existence. If you think about it – there are approx. 225 tonnes of textile waste being disposed of in Ireland alone each year*. That is a crazy amount of textile waste just being destroyed each week and surely some of this could be worn again. Now, not all of it could be worn again and I totally get that, clothes do get torn, worn beyond repair etc., but would it not be better if we shopped more preloved clothes rather than them going to landfill.

Are charity shops an answer to help sustainable fashion?

I will be sharing more of my thoughts in the coming months about how to be more sustainable and how to rent clothes etc. but today I wanted to talk more about charity shop shopping! Charity shops have changed a lot in the past 20 years. I remember shopping with my granny and they all had a certain ‘smell’ in them. Okay, some still do have that scent… but so many do not. They have modern clothes – some on trend and some that could be great basics or great items to tailor.

I for one until a few years ago was someone who didn’t go into charity shops. They just didn’t even pop into my head, I always went to high street retailers or shopped online. It was only when I started reading more about how my clothes were made that I started thinking about where I purchase my clothing. I tried looking towards ethical brands but where I live they were not easily accessible to shop. And also often the price tags were high – I understand why but the reality is that not everyone can afford to buy those brands. And then the world of charity shops started opening up to me.

Charity shops were interesting. They can give you a renewed sense of fun with clothing and also I think to help you to think outside the box with regards what you can do with a garment and how you can style it. Shopping in charity shops also has made me pull out my old sewing machine to make some changes to some pieces that I bought… now I’ll be honest that some of them looked worse than when I started so it’s still a skill I am working on!

I am not saying that charity shopping will solve the clothing issue – but I do think that by shopping less ‘new’, it will help. Of course, the fundamental issue needs to be resolved with regards having an ethical supply chain and decent warehouse working conditions, but as a single person it can be hard to make a difference and by not buying as much new I think I am making a teeny tiny difference. And surely using something already in existence is less taxing on the environment than something being created? 

You don’t need to sacrifice your sense of style by shopping in charity/thrift stores, you just need to be prepared to take a good nose around and sometimes take a step back to see what can work for you and how. What do you think? Do you shop in charity shops – do you think that it could help the sustainability of the industry?

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