As a teenager, I loved stores like Forever 21, H&M, Old Navy, and Kohl’s because they allowed me to buy new clothes every month. I could afford to try out trends and buy staple items like jeans for less than $20. The thought how can all this be so cheap? definitely crossed my mind, but I never let the thought go far enough to illicit any kind of guilt.
The True Cost
After watching The True Cost, I made it a goal to reduce (if not stop completely) my fast fashion purchases. The thought being: if we slow the demand, then we would be telling fast fashion corporations to alter working conditions. Of course, the solution is not this simple. There needs to be a complete upheaval of the current system, and I’m not quite sure how we can make that happen as individuals. All we can do now is speak up and stop shopping at these stores.
Though the common consensus is that fast fashion items are not built to last, I actually disagree. To an extent. I have multiple clothing items from fast fashion brands that were less than $40 and have stood the test of time and excessive wear. I have jeans from Forever 21 that I bought 3+ years ago and still wear weekly. My favorite cardigan from Forever 21 is just starting to get holes in it, and I bought it at least 4 years ago. My black tank tops from H&M are not stretched out, despite me wearing them weekly. Yes, fast fashion clothing is generally terrible quality as it’s only made to last a few wears, but sometimes you can find clothing that lasts.
Style & Fit
This brings us to the thrift stores that resell these fast fashion pieces. I’m going to be honest. I still get excited when I see brands like Forever 21 and H&M at the thrift store. Why? Because there’s more of a chance that the piece will be fashionable and suit my body type. I love a good thrift store find- you know, something unique and vintage, but those are hard to come by. When I see a fast fashion brand label, that means the item will probably not look outdated and it might fit me better. This, of course, doesn’t take into account the fabric makeup of fast fashion clothing, but that’s a story for a different blog post.
So yes, I still buy fast fashion brands at thrift stores. I know some bloggers will say this creates a demand for those brands, but I don’t see a problem with it if it’s a store that only sells what is donated. These stores can be picky with what they display for sale, but they cannot request that donations be of a certain brand. However, stores like Plato’s Closet and Buffalo Exchange can request certain brands. They have an incentive to resell fast fashion clothing because they buy the clothing upfront.
Goodwill vs. Plato’s Closet
This is where my values become muddy. I have terrible luck with older or outdated brands at Goodwill, Savers, and other local thrift stores. I end up only buying clothing made by Forever 21, Old Navy, and Banana Republic (and that’s if I end up finding anything at all.) However, at Plato’s Closet I feel like I have more options. Nearly everything is stylish and modern, yet I had to deal with the guilt that I was still creating a demand for fast fashion clothing. If you watched my most recent Finding My Personal Style video, you would have seen that I had the best luck there for my summer wardrobe. I found a cropped tank top from Brandy Melville and a dress from Kimchi Blue (an Urban Outfitters’ brand).
The reason shopping at these kinds of stores creates a demand is because these stores track what sells and what doesn’t. If you, like me, buy a Brandy Melville top, then that store will be on the lookout for more Brandy Melville tops. They want to buy what sells at their store. And, as a seller, if you find that Plato’s Closet has been buying Brandy Melville tops, then you might be inclined to buy more for yourself because you know you can always sell them and make a little bit of that money back.
So I’m conflicted. I have no problem buying fast fashion brands from regular thrift stores, especially if the items fit me well and are what I’m looking for, but I’m still uncertain about buying those same brands from Plato’s Closet and Buffalo Exchange.
It’s ultimately up to you what you choose to do. I think the sustainability community often gets bogged down by trying to figure out what is the most sustainable way to live, and in these terms, to buy clothing. I think that blinds us from the truth. The truth is that every little bit counts. Every purchase made from a thrift store instead of directly from a fast fashion brand. Each time you find a new way to wear an old piece instead of buying another piece. Every time you say to yourself, no I don’t need that. It does make a difference.
Please keep in mind I’ve glossed over a few big ideas in this post with the intention of sticking to the main concept. With that being said, what are your thoughts? Do you buy fast fashion brands from thrift stores?