The other day, someone asked me in the comments how thrift stores can be more sustainable. By nature, thrift stores are a lot more sustainable than the typical fast fashion establishment. While making an already pretty sustainable organization even more sustainable seems counterintuitive, there is always room for improvement.
Be Open About the Thrift Stores Business and Policy Practices
Not all thrift stores are created equal. While we assume that all thrift stores are open books about their business practices, some may be more secret and less ethical than others.
I personally refuse to shop/ donate/ encourage shopping at Goodwill or The Salvation Army because of their deceptive advertising tactics and open hostility towards the LGBT+ Community. You might not care about that, and I understand. Though, the worst thing (PR wise) a company can do in midst of a scandal… is withholding information.
It makes intuitive sense to withhold information when your organization might be in the midst of a scandal. Less information = Less chance for people to talk about scandal… but the practice of public relations and the study of human nature shows that it may actually exacerbate the issue.
The best thing an organization can do is create a story with as much accurate information to the public as possible. A fish is to water as people are to trust. It’s difficult to comprehend how vital it is to our survival until it is gone. Withholding information destroys trust and in turn makes a company economically and ethically unsustainable.
Therefore, no matter your beliefs on a topic, a company giving as much accurate information in the midst of a scandal, is more trustworthy, ethical, and overall more likely to be sustainable.
Have a Burn-Free Policy
Thrift Stores get a LOT of clothing. Most of it never sells. The most common practice of thrift stores, when they don’t sell their clothing, is to throw it away, burn it, or donate it to an even more economically underprivileged area. Usually, the third option is always the best. However, it doesn’t take into account the policies for the organizations that THEY donate to.
The best policy a company can have is to donate any scrap clothing to recycling mills that take old garments and shred them to make new things. If this isn’t already a thing, this is a really good market opportunity for anyone interested.
Designers Need to Focus on Customers
This has nothing really to do with thrift stores themselves, and more on the companies that produce clothing in the first place. The larger industry of fast fashion tries to come up with as many designs as possible in any given season. That’s why when you’re shopping at a fast fashion store and you find that one garment that -almost- is exactly what you are looking for, you settle on it.
Designers can make a name for themselves by standing out from the rest of the crowd. Standing out = recognition. Recognition = Increased Profits. Though, today, with everyone trying to stand out by “being different.” The ones who will stand out, in the end, are the plain ones. That’s why I started Bottle Thread. We’ve reached peak standout, and I wanted to go back to basics.
Hence, a lot of the waste problems cannot be solved by thrift stores. It is, in fact, a band-aid to the problem. The problem is the fast-fashion industry, not excess clothing sold at a cheap price. To solve the fast-fashion problem, we need to look at the designers, and the companies they work for.
We as consumers must demand better clothing, and unfortunately getting all of your clothing at a thrift store may not be doing much to solve the larger problem regardless.
What you can do instead:
- Buy new clothing from sustainable clothing brands
- Recycle your old clothing
- Only buy what you can use with multiple outfits
- Have a plan for your wardrobe
- Don’t buy on impulse
Though, by far, the best thing you can do for the industry is starting your own sustainable clothing line… or support one that already exists. The problem is not the product, but the system that it is made. If you want to enact REAL change, you can do so by creating your own businesses or helping out the ones that are already solving the problems you care about.
Luckily, I have resources for both of those types of people. I wrote a lot more about thrift stores in my new book: Slower Style. If you click the link below you can get a 15% discount code. Every book comes with a discount code for the sustainable fashion business course as well as 20% off and free shipping at bottlethread.com.