The clothing industry has a big impact on the environment. As green issues move up the political agenda (with Europe’s current heatwave perhaps focusing minds), many consumers are looking for eco-friendly options. After all, the garment industry consumes more energy than both aviation and shipping combined, and is responsible for an estimated 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Add to this the problem of microplastics from synthetic fibres, plus toxic chemicals involved in the production process that all end up in the sea.

The problem is exacerbated by so-called “fast fashion“. New clothes are being purchased more and more frequently because of lower prices, and are being worn for a shorter time.

What do our readers think? We had a comment sent in from Gaby calling for a radical ban on anything in our economy that’s not sustainable. How much would the fashion industry be affected by such a demand? Are there enough sustainable alternatives out there for consumers?

To get a response, we spoke to Simone Cipriani, founder of the Ethical Fashion Initiative (ITC, a joint agency of the United Nations and the World Trade Organisation) and Co-Secretary of the United Nations Alliance for Sustainable Fashion. What would he say?

For another perspective, we put the same comment to Maria Spilka, founder of Mädchenflohmarkt, an online second-hand marketplace for buying and selling used designer fashion. How would she respond?

When I try to imagine what it would look like if everything unsustainable was banned, then I imagine going into a shop and finding it completely empty! It currently wouldn’t be possible. If I think through the value-added chain then I think, of course, first about the production of the raw materials; for example, the cotton plantations – starting there the practices are simply not sustainable, not for the environment nor for the farmers on the cotton plantations, also not in terms of being humane.

Production is often addressed in the media: where is something produced? What conditions are the workers under? Then there are also questions such as which chemicals are being used? And which transportation routes? When products are transported from Asia that is, of course, very damaging to the environment. Resources such as water are also used intensively.

So, all of this is unsustainable… For anyone who wants to know a bit more, I’d recommend the Netflix documentary ‘The True Cost’, that captures everything [about ‘fast fashion’] very well. I don’t think it would be possible [to make the fashion industry fully sustainable]. There would then only be alternatives such as wearing second-hand clothes or swapping or borrowing clothes, but it would no longer be possible to buy new clothes.

Next up, we had a comment sent in from Maria, arguing that “fast fashion” is simply a product of globalisation. As long as companies worldwide want to maximize their profits and customers don’t ask any difficult questions, nothing will change. Is she right? How would Simone Cipriani respond?

Should we only buy second-hand clothes? Are we too quick to throw out cheap garments? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!

Image Credits: (cc) pixabay – coachmetpassie

51 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. avatar

    Yes but on a condition EMP’s lead the way.

  2. avatar

    You mean kill the clothing industry? As well as the factories …? What are you planning to so with the jobless people as a result of the “only buy second-hand clothes”?

  3. avatar

    Oh stop these stupid questions. We live In a free zone… This eco terrorism is so stupid

  4. avatar

    Which brand of herb do you smoke?

  5. avatar

    Hmm… I don’t know… Tell me again, do they produce second-hand clothes straightforward?

  6. avatar

    Is this question for real…?! If this is a real debate subject, then I suppose the result in a few years will be everybody to walk around naked. (Not such a bad idea in the summer, though… :-P )

  7. avatar

    Where do I send the stupid question certificate?

  8. avatar

    There should be no limitations. The customers will choose. Either new expensive clothes or used for dimes. The top brand clothes are made by poor people working in near slave conditions.

  9. avatar

    It shouldn’t even be a topic.
    World economic engine is fueled by consumption .
    If you stop consumption world will collapse.

    • avatar

      or improve….

  10. avatar

    We need Fare trade market for cotton farmers , like they did with coffee farmers.

  11. avatar

    Don’t buy what you don’t really need and, if you really need it, keep it for long – this is the first rule of environmental friendliness and it goes for every article.

    • avatar

      I’m not a second hand women. For a while are secondhand cloding just fine but not for a lifetime. Poverty isn’t a party.

    • avatar

      my statement doesn’t state anything about buying second-hand…

  12. avatar

    No, we shouldn’t. Clothes made of sustainable natural fibers (as opposed to synthetic) should be encouraged. Positive reinforcement works better than fear. You do have a point, though. We are too quick to throw out our used garments, instead of donating them to those who really need them.

    • avatar

      donating to a church by the way…

  13. avatar

    Do something for people! The minimum salary in Eastern Europe is ridiculous compared to the cost of living! That’s why people are forced to buy second hand things.

  14. avatar
    EU Reform- Proactive

    Unfortunately, a very “poorly” phrased question to impress and discourage reckless consumerism globally!

    As “Pedro” above correctly commented, one should not take this question “literally” but in context! Be sensible and curb blatant, glaring, flagrant and wasteful consumption & over-indulgences- of & in the 1st world foremost!

    These have the money & “buying power” to waste!

    Even people in 3rd world countries are selective nowadays when buying previously worn clothing from “1st world consumers”. Most are collected by NGO’s under the pretense of “donations” for the poor- which in fact are sold per container loads to street & backyard vendors in “underdeveloped” countries for a profit.

    There are numerous examples in the 1st world of what would count to waste & overindulgence- hardly needed to maintain our present western lifestyle.

    I wouldn’t recommend specifically buying “2nd hand clothing- maybe consider to just wear it a few seasons longer!

    A good example for the EU would be to do away with their extravagances of their 2 EU parliaments of Brussels & Strasbourg- but be content with one venue a year only!

    Have a look around you!

  15. avatar
    Nancy Verrees

    It’s easier said than done. Not everybody has the courrage to wear second-hand. There should be more promotion on bying second hand, just to make people aware that nithing’s wrong with second hand. Not only for clothes but also furniture and other materials.

  16. avatar
    catherine benning

    Should we only buy second-hand clothes?

    When the new American UK royal, the one dedicated to charity organisations and the ‘rights of women,’ decides to buy used clothes from her local Oxfam shop, rather than spend tax payers funds on an idiotic £50,000 or more grotesque and in serious poor taste, evening gown, then I will give serious thought to used undies.

    This is another question to insert into the mind of Western populations that spending their hard earned on their own well being is an evil waste of third world money.

    It is also another way to reduce the ability to keep our own production lines busy so all of us can continue to survive by local factories making clothes for us to look good. Here is another inserted mind flash into persuading us to be ragged and help climate change, whilst sending the wealthy another round of your hard cash.

  17. avatar

    Every body should be free to decide by himself

  18. avatar

    If no-one bought new, they’d be no 2nd hand

  19. avatar

    no, I’ll never let the environmentalists tell me, what to dress !!!

  20. avatar

    How can there be 2nd hand clothes if no-one buys new ones ?

  21. avatar

    I doubt corporations would like that very much. There is so much poverty in the EU, even the people with low wages, that second hand shops are thriving businesses anyway.

  22. avatar

    Obviously no: no 1st hand, no 2nd hand.

  23. avatar

    absolutly not…
    big clothing companies have millions of slave children in Bangladesh, India,Thailand and other places working for our wellbeing…
    lets keep them working…

  24. avatar

    The impact comes from the general way of life not just the clothes. Magazine ads tear up pages from trees etc the whole capitalist plan destroys the environment, and everybody is OK with that, me included, one day second hand will be third hand, four hand etc its like going for brain surgery with a butter knife

  25. avatar

    If we all wear second-hand clothes, who will wear the clothes to be first-hand in the first place? Savings is the mother of misery.

  26. avatar

    Like every (EU) politician, we should purchase second hand clothing. Looking at Ursula von der Leyen, we definitely need to follow the example of our leaders, also spending less money via reusable hairdos. (Grin)

  27. avatar
    Szo Cik

    Let’s just buy less clothes and wear these longer. This is a simple philosophy. It’s about awareness. What we need are activities that inspire a high level of ecological awareness. That should be cool, not new t-shirt!

  28. avatar

    Who buys the clothes that we buy second-hand?

  29. avatar

    Clothes made by local taylors and second hand clothes if they are in good condition

  30. avatar

    No, we just should buy less clothes.

  31. avatar

    Take it to its logical conclusion, then it becomes self defeating!

  32. avatar

    The first places to look are the second-hand shops and only if I can’t find what I need there will I look for a new item, and then I’ll get good quality that will last well.

  33. avatar

    In the US, returning clothes only destroys them, they are not resold, or anything.
    This is insane.

    • avatar

      they are send to third world countries where they are sold as second hand, I’ve seen it!!!

    • avatar

      My relatives in the US tell me a different story.
      I have not seen any US brand in Europe’s second hand shops, and there are plenty!

    • avatar

      there is a thriving second hand market in the US, both commercial and private. Not just in clothes, but just about anything. Craig’s List is widely used in the US and Facebook Market is gaining strength. eBay began the internet use for the market in the 90’s. I can remember going to second hand stores in the 60s with my father. There were clothes for sale, but we were looking for tools.
      In Spain, the second hand market has been gaining strength, has been there for at least a decade.

    • avatar

      thank you for confirming!

  34. avatar

    We are already buying second-hand clothes from the big fashion retailers :D

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