Shopping for new clothes? Try thrifting instead

By Tera Wilson Nov 15, 2019

 As we head into the winter season, it becomes increasingly difficult to get out of bed, bundle up and step into the weather that just gets colder and windier.

This is the sort of weather that makes me want to do nothing but put on as many layers as possible and lay down by a fire with a mug of hot chocolate.

Unfortunately, I have responsibilities that force me out into the cold, and that makes it tempting for me to splurge my next paycheck on nothing but fuzzy sweaters, snuggly socks and poofy hats. 

Yet the environmentalist and human rights believer in me knows buying new clothes supports a lot of extremely problematic industries.

First, I’d have to get rid of some of the old clothes in my closet to make room for new ones.

These clothes are all less than a couple years old, and would likely end up in one of three different places: a landfill, a donation company or a local thrift shop.

A landfill would spend years decomposing the clothing and releasing methane emissions and a company would send the clothes to a developing country, which would contribute to undermining local textile companies.

But if the clothes were donated to a local thrift shop, they could potentially be bought by someone of need in our community. 

After donating old clothes, the next step would be to go shopping for new ones.

It’s estimated that up to 97 percent of new clothes are imported, often made in developing countries like Bangladesh, China or Vietnam, according to True Cost.

These countries have labor laws that are much less protective than the United States’ laws, which means workers are frequently exposed to harsh, disease-causing chemicals with little personal protection equipment, according to Clean Clothes.

As stated by clean water organization Drop4Drop, these chemicals then often make their way into our water systems.

Most frequently, water is used to remove excess dye from garments, and the wastewater from garment production makes up anywhere from 17-20 percent of industrial water pollution.

Even if we buy clothes from the US textile industry, which supports more than half a million jobs, we still run the risk of supporting an industry that’s unethical to its workers.

Garment workers can be exposed to high noise levels, lots of cotton dust and poor ergonomic conditions.

 “The environmentalist and human rights believer in me knows buying new clothes supports a lot of extremely problematic industries.”

According to Bizfluent, these can cause problems such as hearing loss, respiratory diseases, carpal tunnel syndrome, and anxiety.

I could try to buy clothing that comes from a company that touts their sustainability efforts, but ensuring that they aren’t “greenwashing” (making false claims about the ecological benefits) for the sake of driving their prices up is a difficult and time-consuming process.

But for Illinois Wesleyan students and those in the Bloomington-Normal area, there’s plenty of nearby options for lightly used clothing.

A quick search on Google for “thrifting in Bloomington-Normal” returns tons of results for the conscious consumer.

There’s the well-known Goodwill, and more local shops such as Butter Twice and Again, 2 FruGALs Thrift, and the Advocate BroMenn thrift shop, which is within walking distance.

While the best thing you can do for the environment is to stick with your old clothes, if you must buy more, make the choice that’s right for our environment, local economy, human rights and for your wallet.

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