This Friday was Black Friday, America’s holiest holiday of discounts, unbeatable deals and camping outside department stores to be the first person in line for something you definitely don’t need. The American consumer is obsessed with getting new things all the time, but our attention span is about as unsustainable as the industries that are producing everything we keep buying.
The holiday season may be sold to consumers as the season of giving. But underneath all that, it’s truly a season of buying. America’s shopping addiction is only getting worse with instant access through online stores, many of which quickly replicate high-end fashion products in a way that’s cheaper to produce, cheaper to sell and can be mass distributed around the world immediately. Fast-fashion stores like Fashion Nova, H&M or Forever 21 built a business model around the throw-away mindset that shoppers have — we buy with each new fad and get rid of it as soon as it fades. The footprint of our fleeting infatuations with different articles of clothing isn’t just imprinted in the racks of our local Goodwill stores, but in a massive carbon footprint and lots of environmental damage.
The average person living in America throws out over 80 pounds of clothes a year, according to Huffington Post, for a grand total of 26 billion pounds of clothes that make their way to landfill. Even clothes that are donated are often thrown away if they can’t be sold, or shipped to developing countries and end up in landfills there. The World Wildlife Fund estimates that one cotton t-shirt requires 715 gallons of water to produce, while Treehugger says each pair of jeans can use 1,800 gallons.
Overall, consumers are buying more clothing than ever before and keeping it for less time. Our short attention span and demand for new items are driving up expendable resource uses and outsourcing production labor to countries where wages are low and sometimes child labor is employed. Eighty percent of all clothing is manufactured by workers between the ages of 18 and 24.
The good news is that thrift and second-hand stores are on the rise, whether for their admirable mission to repurpose clothing or simply because they’ve become trendy in recent years. Thrifting, which may have previously been looked down upon by teenagers, has switched roles to be a popular pastime. It’s become increasingly popular among young adults who realized that they can save a significant amount of money and find unique, one-of-a-kind clothing by looking around a Goodwill or Salvation Army, albeit time consuming.
Thrifting, in fact, has become so popular that it’s inspired new companies selling second-hand clothing to pop up online and in storefronts. Depop, which has 13 million users, is an app that allows anyone to create their own “store,” sell their clothes and ship them to buyers. ThredUp, which until recently had a location in downtown Burlingame, sent patrons money for donating used clothing of good quality and brand name. Even at my high school, our leadership program has organized clothing drives and held “pop-up thrifting events” on campus, where students can get donated clothing for free.
It’s possible that the thrifting trend will come and go just like the fads that created the fast fashion industry. Optimistically, it has taught a younger generation that buying secondhand is not just beneficial because it slows the fashion industry’s negative impact on the environment, but because it’s a more unique way to express yourself. A shift in mindset has also allowed for second-hand shopping to be seen as a conscious choice rather than a necessity based habit.
I’m not sure that everyone sees the spike in teenagers frequenting second-hand stores as something benevolent. It may turn out to be another thing we use to criticize Gen Z and Millenials for; our short-lived obsession with thrifting is another example of entitlement and taking away from people who really need it. I think we’ve proved the opposite. There exists an excessive amount of clothing and anything we can do to prevent more from being produced is clearly good. Besides that, teenagers spending money at second-hand stores helps to keep them in business and actively saving the planet from drowning in a mountain of clothes at the hands of fast-fashion companies and the American consumer.
Josette Thornhill is a junior at Aragon High School in San Mateo. Student News appears in the weekend edition. You can email Student News at email@example.com.