Where Do your Ethical Fashion Dollars Make the Biggest Impact?

Second-hand clothing and new ethically made clothing are two great options for ethically conscious consumers – both divert profit from fast fashion retailers and starve the beast of it’s insatiable desire for the quick turnover of low quality products.

Of course, both buying new and second hand have associated costs and benefits.Let’s consider a few of them.

Second-hand Clothing


Photo credit: Green Society Campaign


  • When you buy clothing second-hand, even if it was not ethically produced, you are diverting waste from landfills. Buying second-hand means that the materials are reused which decreases environmental impact. Buying used clothes can reduce the more than 1 million tonnes of textiles thrown away every year
  • If you choose to buy second-hand clothing, it means that the traditional fashion industry will not be supported.
  • Many thrift stores like Goodwill and The Salvation Army donate some or all of their profit to local charities.
  • Thrift store finds will bring unique pieces to your wardrobe.
  • Buying used clothing is usually a more affordable option than buying new clothes.
  • Buying locally helps reduce your carbon footprint by eliminating transport.
  • Thrift store buys allow you to freely experiment with styles that suit your unique personality!

    Image credit: Refashionista, see more thrift store finds and repurposed clothing ideas from her blog.

  • It’s a great fun activity finding vintage treasures.
  • Many thrift stores are locally owned and operated – supporting the local economy and people.
  • There are many new ways to buy used clothing online. Sites like thredUP make it easy.
  • You can join a clothes sharing program that removes the entire buying and selling process from wearing used clothing.  Check out Le Tote for an example.


  • Anytime new products are purchased preferentially, the used clothing market shrinks and more clothing is being discarded to landfills.
  • Garment companies will have even less reason to focus on quality – because they don’t want the garment to last for multiple rounds of buying and selling.
  • You are not supporting local designers who are trying to build a responsible supply chain.
  • It can be very time consuming and difficult to find specialty sizes.
  • Clothes sharing programs and some thrift stores rely heavily on laundering and dry-cleaning, potentially allowing dangerous chemicals to seep into the environment.

New Ethically Made Clothing


People Tree




Nicole Bridger


  • By supporting ethical fashion you are sending a message to non-ethical producers. If the traditional retailers understand what customers are seeking, they may be encouraged to make improvements to their own supply chains in order to retain your business.
  • It means that more money is coming into the ethical fashion industry.
  • Encourages new, talented designers to enter the field.
  • Supports the livelihood of marginalized peoples around the world.
  • Supports the development of better agricultural practices, the use of traditional materials, and the preservation of traditional artisanal methods.
  • Worldwide, most garment workers are women. By buying ethically produced clothing you allow these women to earn a proper wage to support their families, send their children to school, and live decent lives. Studies have shown women who are able to support themselves independently are also much less likely to suffer domestic abuse.


  • Anytime new products are purchased preferentially the used clothing market shrinks, and more clothing is being discarded to landfills.
    image06Image Credit
  • Even recycling textiles has an environmental impact (energy and water dependent).
  • Land used for producing organic cotton is not being used to produce food, potentially leading to food scarcity in vulnerable parts of the world.
  • Traditional retailers will often label something as ethical or sustainable when only minor improvements have been made, or major improvements have been made but only to one facet of the garment’s life cycle. For example,  Levi’s waterless jeans saved more than 1 billion liters of water per year!  Awesome – but chemicals used in the dying process are still very harmful in the environment.
  • Ethically produced garments often require more shipping and packaging compared to used clothing, all adding to their carbon footprint.
  • It is hard to measure the impact of every step in the process. Even if the clothes are sewn ethically, was the cotton grown in an environmentally friendly way? What dyes were used? And in many parts of the world, transparency issues and corruption can allow for non-ethical production to slip into the supply chain.
  • Less second hand clothing will re-enter local market.  Unsold clothes are generally shipped to developing countries where the local textile industry suffers while it also adds to landfill issues.

Click on the image above to see more information about what it costs to dispose of clothing.

Only you can weigh the pros and cons for you and your family. But both buying second-hand and ethically made clothing are great options!  Perhaps, a mixture of both options is the ideal way to drive change in the fashion industry.

What do you think, is it better to buy non-ethically produced clothes second-hand or to buy new clothes from an ethical supplier?  Can you think of anything we missed?  Share your views below!

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