What’s The Most Sustainable Way To Buy Clothes? Charity Shops vs Secondhand Shopping vs Slow Fashion

We all know by now that the fast fashion industry is pretty awful for the planet, right?

Not only is it responsible for 10% of the world’s carbon emissions, meaning it contributes to global warming in a big way, but it also adds to water pollution and to the masses of materials that we send to landfill every year. 3.1kg of textiles are thrown away each year in the UK per person, in case you were wondering!

And as if that wasn’t enough, producing a pair of jeans and a t-shirt requires up to 20,000 litres of water, a valuable resource that we can’t afford to be wasting.

So on a planet that could do with a clean up of carbon footprints and some space to get hydrated, it’s our responsibility as eco fashion activists to embrace a smarter style of shopping. From slow fashion brands, to your local Oxfam and even online secondhand shopping, there are a whole host of options out there for those looking to have a kinder wardrobe!

The question is though:

Which one should you be opting for first? Which is the most sustainable?

What’s the most sustainable way to buy clothes?: Charity shops vs secondhand shopping vs slow fashion

Shopping Pre-Loved Online

There are so many brilliant benefits to thrifting online, whatever your style or budget. From guilt-free high street shopping on Depop to luxury investments at bargain prices on Vestiaire Collective, preloved fashion makes shopping sustainable simple. Not only does it mean that you’re keeping a piece of clothing from going to landfill, but also that you’re not supporting harmful and unethical fast fashion brands, even if you end up wearing their clothing! On top of that, no new resources have been used to create pieces, even though you end up with something new to you and to your wardrobe. No extra water. No extra cotton or polyester. No extra carbon.

One of our favourite options for staying stylish without the environmental impact is shopping through Ebloggers. This forward-thinking platform partners with some of your favourite fashion influencers to sell their clothes on and a proportion of profits from each and every sale goes to charity.

As far as the “cons” of online secondhand shopping are concerned, there aren’t any major ones. However, it’s important to keep in mind that you likely won’t have control over how your item is shipped to you: It could come wrapped in single-use plastic and come through an unsustainable courier. Plus there’s no way of knowing where your money will go with platforms like eBay, Depop or Vestiaire Collective. Whilst it’s not going directly into the pocket of any fast fashion giants, it could well go towards the seller funding their next shopping spree at Primark!

Supporting Slow Fashion

With less than 1% of used clothing being upcycled into new garments, supporting brands who prioritise the planet is a powerful way to make a difference. As we explained in this TikTok slow fashion brands are those that incorporate three core values: 1. Ethical and fair production, 2. Sustainable production and 3. Creating pieces that will last and not end up in landfill.

Here at Wearth London, we stock a whole host of brilliant slow fashion brands. From Before July’s stylish yet sustainable pieces that are completely made by hand, to Playa’s organic beach-day essentials. By buying from these types of brands instead of fast fashion, you’re helping to show some love to businesses that truly care about the planet and the people that work for them. Plus, you’re cutting down on everything from water pollution to the use of plastic-based materials.

The potential downsides of shopping slow fashion are that it’s often not as affordable as shopping secondhand. Plus, whilst they may be eco-conscious, you will still be consuming something new, instead of using something that already exists. However, it is a totally brilliant option when looking for something specific or if you want to buy a piece that will last for years in your wardrobe.

Charity Shopping

Likely the most affordable of them all, charity shops (like all of the options in this blog) mean that you’re not giving your money to unsustainable and unethical businesses. Plus, as well as using an item that already exists instead of new resources, you’re giving money to a good cause! Whether it’s Cancer Research or Bernado’s, there’s something particularly wonderful about getting a new piece and knowing that you’ve done something positive in the process.

However, there are some ethical issues relating to charity shops. Whilst you may imagine that any clothes you donate end up on the shop floor, this is actually not the case. A large proportion of donated clothes are sold to other countries, often those with a less developed economies. Whilst this can support local sellers and their families, some question the dependency that this creates between “the west” and poorer areas. On top of this, charity shops are sometimes not accessible for all sizes, which is an obvious downside.

So, which should we be choosing?

The truth is, there’s no perfect answer to the issues within the fashion industry. Online secondhand shopping, charity shops and slow fashion each have their huge benefits and their disadvantages. So it really is up to you which you opt for, based on your budget, what you need from the item and what you want your money to go towards!

Personally, we like opting for a blend of all three of the options we’ve explored. That way we get to find hidden gems in charity shops, find stylish but affordable pieces through online secondhand shopping and get high-quality, life-long items from slow fashion brands.

What’s your favourite way to shop for clothing sustainably though? Are you a thrifting expert or an independent brand icon? Let us know on Instagram @wearthlondon.