I don’t mean to toot my own horn, but I am a pretty awesome op-shopper. I pop them tags like there’s no tomorrow! Op-shopping, thrifting, second-hand rummaging, whatever you want to call it, has taken a rise in popularity and the trend is spreading like wildfire. My prime minister just admitted to wearing a thrifted jacket at the Vodafone New Zealand Music Awards, and Macklemore’s thrift shop rap still sets crowds on fire.
But as an ethical fashion enthusiast, I’ve been asked the questions: Is op-shopping ethical? Should I buy second-hand or ethically made? These questions got me thinking. Naturally, I did my research, thought long and hard during yoga on the beach, and have come up with a few theories to replace my usual answer to these questions: “ahhh, ummm, well the answer is yes and no”.
When you shop second-hand, you’re diverting clothing from landfill, using up resources that are already available, giving a garment another life, donating to charity, and decreasing the demand for fast-fashion. This is awesome of you! But, the thing is, second-hand shopping relies on other people to buy fast fashion. How I like to make all my decisions is by asking "If everyone in the world was living life like this, would it be sustainable?". Unfortunately, if you ask yourself this question when op-shopping, the answer is no. But the positives of op-shopping cannot be forgotten either. When I talk about clothes shopping, I use the analogy of traffic lights. Op-shopping is ‘orange fashion’, or ‘fashion neutral’ if you like - a play on the words ‘carbon neutral’.
That brings us to ‘green fashion’. You guessed it: buying ethical fashion. Ethical fashion is fashion that is designed and made mindfully with minimal negative impact on people and the planet. Our power as consumers is far greater than you know, so when you purchase a garment from a company who embodies these values, you are saying to the world: “this is what I want! This is what fashion should look like!”.
Your buying decisions lead to a greater demand for ethical garments to be made. Ethical fashion companies also trade differently to those in fast fashion, meaning the ‘ethicalness’ is not just in the clothes. They may release only one collection per year, instead of one per week. They might donate a certain percent of profits to charity, or implement schemes to offset their carbon emissions. This brings me back to the underlying question: If everyone in the world was buying ethical fashion, would it be sustainable? Yes.
So, with green and orange fashion now explained, and red fashion being the obvious (fast fashion), where does that leave us? I still op-shop; I LOVE it. But I also mix this with a healthy amount of ethical fashion purchases (only once I’ve mulled over my need for the garment first). To be honest, op-shopping gives me my shopping ‘fix’. Especially since I live in New Zealand, there aren’t many ethical fashion stores to visit. I miss the experience that comes with shopping. Clicking buttons on my computer all the time doesn’t cut the mustard, and op-shopping fills this void.
Staying in the orange light of fashion it totally okay, and if you choose to do this 100% of the time, power to you! There’s no right or wrong, and your values will be different to mine. Regardless of where your ethics lie, next time you go to make a purchase, ask yourself five helpful questions:
- Do I need it?
- Will I wear it 30 times or more?
- Can I buy this at an op-shop?
- Does my financial situation allow me to invest in ‘green fashion’ right now?
- Where did I buy my last purchases? – keep a traffic light balance