Regardless of where you live, your life has almost certainly been drastically affected by COVID-19. Whether you’ve fallen ill, lost one or more loved ones, lost a job, have begun working or studying from home, and/or lost countless hours of sleep worrying, nothing will ever feel quite the same when this pandemic is over. And if you’re a first responder or healthcare worker, I can’t even imagine how you get through the days, and can only offer heartfelt gratitude.
Collectively, however, we can take comfort in the knowledge that the best scientific minds on the planet are working tirelessly on vaccines, reliable testing, and effective treatments for this horrific virus, and that at some point in the not-too-distant future, life will slowly start returning to something resembling normal.
For most of us, that day can’t come soon enough. The ability to share physical space with friends, family, classmates, and work associates sounds like a huge luxury. And hey, now that we’ve witnessed the significant atmospheric results of burning less fossil fuel, we’ll even be inspired to drive less and walk or use public transportation more often. What a silver lining it would be if these dark months of COVID-19 actually taught humans to take proper care of the earth. Time will tell.
On the other hand, it’s almost definite that when we start getting out and about again, we’re going to want to celebrate, and when humans celebrate, we often dress up in new clothes. So in the spirit of Earth Day, here’s something I hope you’ll consider: try to buy at least one of your “new” garments secondhand.
Now, if you know me, you may know how much I enjoy thrift shopping. But my initiation into the world of used clothing didn’t spring from any great desire to save the environment; it was strictly financial. In other words, when I, as a college student, attended a semi-formal dance party in a faded khaki jumpsuit purchased for a song at the local Army-Navy surplus (and accessorized with lots of thrift-shop jewelry) it wasn’t because I liked it better than the more typical outfits other women wore. But the price was right.
Over the years, though, I developed an appreciation for well-made, vintage and unique garments. Thrifting became a hobby for me, as did transforming old jeans into skirts, and sewing funky, homemade patches on worn-out items. But until recently, I bought most essential clothing and gifts at traditional retail outlets.
Then, in the fall of 2019, I re-entered the conventional workforce after almost twenty years of freelance writing and parenting. As you might imagine, that decision invoked a fair amount of personal anxiety. Which only increased when I landed my first job interview and realized I didn’t own a single pair of professional trousers. So I headed for the mall. But every pair of slacks I liked was also quite pricey. I had a bit more luck at Nordstrom Rack, where I found and bought the one pair of pants that fit both my taste and budget. But, of course, I knew I’d need more slacks when I actually started working.
Luckily, a few days later, I came across an online ad for thredUP.com and checked it out. Wow! In a few clicks, I was staring at the exact same pants I’d recently purchased—gently used—at a far lower price. The site made it super easy to search for brands, sizes, and colors too, and I ordered two pairs of trousers on the spot, which arrived on my doorstep about a week later. I found the entire shopping experience simple, rewarding, and enjoyable.
But the reason I’m writing this post is because of a letter from James Reinhart—founder and CEO of thredUP—which was included in the shipment. It talked about the tremendous amount of waste generated by the fashion industry, and the disastrous effects waste is having on our environment. It went on to say that if every American bought just one used clothing item in 2020—in place of something new—we could eliminate nearly six billion pounds of carbon emissions.
Of course, I did more research, and was most distressed by what I learned about so-called “fast-fashion.” This is trendy clothing (usually made from synthetic fibers) designed to last one season at best. After several washings, fast-fashion garments tend to fall apart and lose their fresh look, so they end up in the trash and then in landfills (along with millions of tons of other discarded textiles), leaching dye and other chemicals into the groundwater. And if these garments are incinerated instead, they release CO2 into the atmosphere. The fashion industry alone is responsible for a huge amount of the emissions responsible for climate change.
Sobering, for sure. But the good news is, we can start improving on this situation right away, if we’re willing to change our attitudes a bit. Many of us were raised with the belief that special clothes (and gifts of clothing) are best when they’re brand new. We Americans have a love affair with “untouched” and “unworn” items. Perhaps it’s a cleanliness thing. But let’s be honest: as soon as clothing or shoes are worn on the street—much like automobiles—they’re no longer new. But that doesn’t mean they’re not fabulous!
So, as you prepare for post-COVID reality, please join me in a pledge to purchase at least one secondhand clothing item instead of a piece you’d normally buy new. You’ll do the planet a favor, save some cash, and probably have a little fun as well.