Saving the planet with pre-loved fashion

How investing in second-hand clothing can further the cause of sustainability

By Sian Rowlands

Published: Thu 2 Jul 2020, 7:00 PM

Last updated: Thu 2 Jul 2020, 9:00 PM

Whether you love designer pieces or are addicted to fashion, buying new outfits need not be your only option. Second-hand clothing stores have seen a major resurgence recently - and we're not talking thrift shops!
Modern boutiques specialising in perfect condition, pre-owned fashion have much to offer: from high-street pieces to designer and luxury labels. But pre-loved fashion isn't just great for the wallet, it also has wider-reaching 'green' benefits that everyone should be aware of.

Environmental fallout
Did you know over 10 per cent of global carbon emissions are caused by the fashion industry? In fact, it's one of the biggest environmental polluters after the oil and gas industry. All fashion items begin their lives in factories, and the production process takes a huge toll on the environment. If they have any natural material like cotton in them, we have to consider their pre-factory life as well; for example, all the water used to farm cotton - one of the thirstiest crops in the world.
Around 20 per cent of industrial water pollution is caused by textile factories dumping waste, plus, usage and washing of synthetic clothing creates plastic microfibres that end up in our waterways and pollute the ocean. Studies show that humans now consume a credit card's weight of microplastics each week.
It's not just water pollution; it's water consumption too. There are 750 million people who don't have access to clean drinking water, but the impact of dyeing fabrics and growing cotton, for example (which takes around 20,000 litres per kilo), accounts for around 1.5 trillion litres of water consumption per year.
Our culture of 'one-time-use' only compounds this problem, with the average lifespan of even high-fashion items getting shorter (currently, it's about 2.2 years in the UK).

Tackling carbon footprints
According to the Waste and Resources Action Programme, changing the supply, use, and disposal of clothes can reduce carbon, water, and waste footprints by up to 20 per cent. Switching to pre-loved clothes and thereby extending their life by only a few months can reduce each footprint by up to a further 10 per cent!
In the US, 20 per cent of all retail stores are already focusing on selling pre-loved clothes, but surprisingly in other fashion hubs, such as the UAE, it's under one per cent - even though consumers are generally open to wearing and buying pre-loved fashion. Many have suggested that if there was a wider range, particularly in the high-fashion, designer, and luxury brands, they would consider this better value and be more likely to go through with a purchase.
When talking about sustainability, we immediately zone in on plastics and cars, but rarely think about how much of a carbon footprint our clothing actually makes.
The fashion industry is changing, with disruptive shifts towards a more environmentally conscious business model. This trend of buying pre-loved items gives clothing items new life and meaning, and helps people develop a unique style, while owning an item with a beautiful history. Most of all, it will help us reduce fashion's negative impact on the world.
(Sian Rowlands is CEO at Dubai-based pre-owned fashion boutique Retold.)

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