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Stop Contributing to Slavery & Pollution: 5 Tips to Thrift an Ethical, Conscious, Timeless Wardrobe

Look down at the clothes you're wearing right now. Are they new?

Do you know who made them? No, not the brand. Who really made them? Who collected the fibers? Who sewed it together?

What about how much water it took to make them?

These may not be questions you've thought of when buying clothes - but they should be.

I remember being extremely upset when I was a kid and my mom suggested that we should go get clothes from Goodwill. I felt like that would be asking to get made fun of at school.

Nowadays, I brag about the pieces I find at thrift stores. Coming up with creative outfits and finding great pieces at a secondhand stores are definitely more trendy these days than they were even when I started thrifting back in college.

But it's more than just a change in fashion trends.

It's a complete shift from simply focusing on appearances, to being concerned about the impacts of getting that appearance.

The fashion industry hasn't been looking too hot lately in the categories that the mainstream is finally concerned about. Reports have brought to light some information that should make everyone reconsider retail therapy.

First, the fashion industry is a huge source of pollution.

This is a bit shocking when you consider the rallies we have against who we tend to blame for pollution, like big oil and international travel. But it's true. There's even an article titled, "The fashion industry emits more carbon than international flights and maritime shipping combined."

It's easy to place the blame elsewhere, but every time we buy a new piece of clothing, we become accomplices to 10% of the human carbon emission. Not only that, but check out these other facts about the wastefulness of the industry from Business Insider:

  • Clothing production has roughly doubled since 2000. While people bought 60% more garments in 2014 than in 2000, they only kept the clothes for half as long.

  • Washing clothes, meanwhile, releases 500,000 tons of microfibers into the ocean each year — the equivalent of 50 billion plastic bottles.

  • Many of those fibers are polyester, a plastic found in an estimated 60% of garments. Producing polyester releases two to three times more carbon emissions than cotton, and polyester does not break down in the ocean.

  • A 2017 report from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) estimated that 35% of all microplastics — very small pieces of plastic that never biodegrade — in the ocean came from the laundering of synthetic textiles like polyester.

  • In total, up to 85% of textiles go into landfills each year. That's enough to fill the Sydney harbor annually.

Read more here.

Those are only a few points from the list, but that's just the beginning.

And it only gets worse.

The fashion industry is the second leading funder of modern slavery.

Yup. Slavery didn't just magically disappear like the history books say. The clothes you're wearing right now are probably the responsibility of people - of children - who are modern day slaves. The supply chain of fashion has many moving parts - from the harvesting of raw material to the creation of the textiles to sewing the garments - and forced labor can sneak into any of them. Children tricked into labor at the promise of an education, Workers kept on debt bondage. And while the US may have the lowest rate of modern slavery, we certainly out-consume any other country, making us just as responsible because, well, demand creates supply.

So the question is - what can we do about it?

I mean, we may talk about rewilding a lot on this site, but we do have some limits in modern day society. We can't just start running around butt naked. We still (usually) have to wear clothes.

There are a few solutions to this, including buying from ethical companies that pay all workers living wages, like this one, or making your own clothes.

But I believe one of the best ways to counter slavery & pollution in the fashion industry is buying second hand.

We already have enough clothing circulating this world to dress all of us a couple times over. Stop feeding the beast by using the resources around us instead of creating more demand for new clothes.

After thrifting for nearly 10 years, here are my Top 5 tips to thrifting an ethical, conscious, and timeless wardrobe.

1. Look in unexpected places

The best place to find those vintage Levi's? The men's jeans section. The style of those jeans often gets them confused for mens, so don't be afraid to dig through. Bonus points if you know your measurements so you know which section to look in.

I also find the best flannels and t-shirts in the men's section.

2. Quality over brand

You want to look for pieces that are going to last - not just in how it's made, but also in how much use you're going to get out of it. Sure it's fun to find a high quality brand every once and a while, but focus more on what you need.

3. Find inspiration for outfits before you go

I LOVE pinning and screenshotting images of outfits that I want before I go thrifting. It helps to guide me as I'm looking. One time I pinned an adorable orange fall jacket and found a near replica at Goodwill the next day. On the other hand, I've been searching for a faux-sherpa lined denim jacket for MONTHS and I'm so glad I didn't just buy any denim jacket. I found the PERFECT one just last week.

4. Only buy pieces that totally light you up

If you aren't stoked about it in the dressing room, you probably won't wear it as much if you take it home. Now, that doesn't mean you can't take home a piece that scares you little and pushes the limits. Just make sure the majority of the clothes you buy are the ones that will be staples for your wardrobe.

Don't find anything you liked? No worries - at least you didn't waste your money or contribute to slavery.

Besides, patience is the key to finding the pieces of your dreams.


Seriously, don't be afraid of looking like a fool with your multiple trips to the dressing rooms. No one actually cares - and you might even inspire others to do the same. You won't know how a piece looks on you until you try, and it's better to know than to guess. Out of the 30 pieces I try on, I might only like 4-5.

Bonus tip: Know your measurements before you go

Thrifting is a great practice, but it does take a mindset shift.

Just the other day I went out to breakfast in an outfit I had thrifted locally and at first I got worried - what if the person who sold this item saw me wearing it?! (It's a very small town).

Then I realized - how cool. This little town that continues to pass around clothing to each other until it really isn't useful anymore, who chooses quality and ethics over trends, and I get to be a part of it.

So, while it may be easier to buy that $4 tank top online, consider the fact that it was most likely made by children who are in factories rather than have fun and being kids. Think about the amount of water that shirt has wasted, and the ocean it will pollute.

Then maybe, instead of hitting that purchase button, you put on a cute outfit you already own, call up your friends, and go on a modern day treasure hunt.

But if thrift stores aren't your jam, make sure to subscribe to be the FIRST to know about when I'm launching my online second-hand store. I'll be frequenting the amazing thrift selections out here in the West and sharing the best (and washed) items in my store.

In the meantime, share this article and include the best item you've ever thrifted.

In this picture below, the only things that aren't second hand are my boots (that I invested in to last for years), the beanie that I wear every day, & my Organic Fair Trade undies that I bought from Pact.