Sustainable Fashion: More Than a Trend

When I went to my local discount retailer recently to buy jean shorts, I discovered several options that advertised that they were made with post-consumer recycled materials. I was intrigued and wondered how important these claims would be to other shoppers. Upon further investigation, I was amazed to find that sustainable fashion is trending upward.

Brands and campaigns that incorporate these themes are being rewarded.

Not only are more clothing manufacturers sourcing from post-consumer recycled materials, but many retailers that previously employed a “fast fashion” business model are having to pivot their way of doing business to respond to the consumer demand for secondhand clothing.

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The current business model for much of fashion retail is linear: buy new, use it up, throw it away when you don’t want it anymore. According to the World Bank, “Of the total fiber input used for clothing, 87% is incinerated or disposed of in a landfill.” This business model also emits considerable greenhouse gases. In 2018, creation of new clothes contributed 2.1B metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions—roughly 10% of worldwide emissions!

Sustainable fashion reduces that carbon footprint considerably, and employs a circular model: buy new, use it, donate or resell it to a secondhand retailer, another person buys the used item and reduces demand on new fashion production. Buying an item secondhand and keeping that item in circulation, instead of needing to produce a new garment, can reduce the carbon footprint of that clothing item by 82%, according to ThredUP.

ThredUP, an online secondhand clothing marketplace, says the resale clothing market is expected to double by 2025 to an impressive $77 Billion! Additionally, over 23 thousand retailers have said they are open to integrating secondhand sales into their business model. As a qualitative researcher, I am drawn to answer the “why” behind consumer behavior. I sought to understand what factors were driving this push, and moreover, why the push toward secondhand clothing matters to consumers.

Upon reading further, I found that consumers, especially younger Millennial and Gen Z generations are increasingly buying used clothing instead of new. Additionally, the pandemic year(s) has pushed 33 million consumers to shop resale clothing for the first time. Factors such as a higher priority for spending less on garments, a desire for higher quality materials that can be resold over disposable textiles, and an increased focus on sustainability have driven consumers to shift their gaze to resale clothing over retail.

Consumers are looking for their clothing choices to be more sustainable, and the growing resell industry is a big part of that. For the fashionistas who seek haute couture pieces and the most up-and-coming threads, just hang onto it a bit longer: “continuing to actively wear a garment for just nine months longer could diminish its environmental impacts by 20-30%”. (

What’s more sleek than rocking that drip while doing your part for the planet?

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