Buy ethical brands or buy second hand and vintage?
One of the questions I am often asked by friends who are just getting into ethical fashion is "Should I buy second hand and vintage clothes or should I buy from ethical brands?" It's a really good question and one that doesn't have a perfect answer. Buying second hand and vintage is great from the point of view of keeping clothing in circulation and preventing them from ending up in landfill. It is probably the most sustainable way to shop because we don't need to use any additional resources that haven't already been used.
However, one of the opposing arguments I often hear is that in buying second hand and vintage we often don't support those ethical brands who are trying to make a difference and are doing things more ethically and sustainably. This can mean that these brands struggle to stay in business because those who are aware don't buy from them and those who aren't aware continue to buy from the more established, well known and largely more unethical retail brands. I do feel for the brands who are trying to do things better as ethical fashion is a difficult market for them when it is kind of an oxymoron that fashion can ever be sustainable. Whatever fashion is, it will always require resources of some kind to produce. But there are definitely more sustainable ways of doing things and some of these brands are really trying. Veja are well known for their innovative solutions to sustainability issues in the trainer market. They use sustainably sourced wild rubber from the amazonian rainforest which naturally biodegrades and is a better alternative to plastic in the soles of their shoes. They also have a vegan range of trainers made from organic cotton and recycled materials. Other ethical companies such as Know the Origin have full traceability of their products from seed to garment. They use organic cotton and GOTS certified non-toxic dyes in their production processes and they are certified with both GOTS and Fairtrade International. Many of these companies have spent years working on how to make their products as sustainable as possible and their smart innovations are definitely commendable.
Something else I think is particularly important is supporting those who currently work in the fashion industry. An estimated 60 million people are employed by the fashion industry globally and if we don't buy from the companies they work for, they could easily lose their jobs and livelihoods. I don't particularly want to shop with some of the more unethical brands who don't pay a living wage, so this is when I think supporting small ethical companies who are doing their bit to help improve the lives of others by paying a living wage is particularly important. Brands such as People Tree are doing some great work preserving traditional skills by employing those with traditional skills across the developing world. These traditional hand skills are also carbon neutral and better for the environment. Many ethical brands across the fashion industry are doing great things in the industry to improve things for both the planet and the people who work within it. They are really paving the way and showing up some of the big guys!
I was interested to know what some of your responses would be to the question and so I asked the question on my instagram account "How do you prefer to shop — with ethical brands or second hand and vintage?". I got a range of responses but the consensus seemed to be to buy the majority of our clothing second hand and the rest from ethical brands. Let me know what you think and let me know some of your favourite ethical brands in the comments.