Everyone wants to save money. Whether to fit within a budget or to have more money to buy things that we like. It’s why we are so often attracted to the lowest priced items. Most of the time, lowering the price of a product (production costs) requires not to care about sustainable development. As a result, sustainability is often in opposition with saving money and cheaper products have the worst impact on the environment. On the other hand, in some cases sustainability and saving money harmonize perfectly.

A few years ago, I was working at the Respecterre boutique during one of the balade gourmande week-ends. While I was behind the cash register, serving a client, some guy said aloud, “I didn’t know that you have to be a multimillionaire to respect the earth”. He was surprised to see the higher prices for eco-friendly clothing offered by Respecterre.

Obviously, no need to be a millionaire to buy a few eco-friendly apparel a year. It’s a choice. But if you want to have a complete eco-friendly wardrobe and own as much clothing as the average North American, it’s true, you have to be wealthier than average. In this sense, this guy was totally right. At the same time, he could not be more wrong.

What if I told you that when it’s time to buy clothing, there is a way to make a good move for the environment and save as much as possible.

What is this miraculous solution? You probably know where I’m going with this.

Buy second hand clothes.

Why is it good to buy second-hand clothes?

It is very simple. Reusing garments destined to end up in landfills reduces the production of textile waste and reduces the consumption of new clothing. Even if a second-hand item is not an ecological garment in the first place, the damage is already done. The garment has already been made and its impact on the environment will not be greater if it’s used longer (unless it’s a synthetic fiber garment that produces microplastic pollution every time it’s washed). Increasing the lifespan of clothing will directly reduce the amount of new clothing. Less new clothes, less impact on the environment.

Unbeatable prices

Even though new fast-fashion clothes are offered at a very low prices, it is impossible to beat the prices of second-hand clothes. Off course, these clothes were donated. If they were donated on the spot, they cost absolutely nothing to the store that resells them. If they come from a sorting center, the store probably paid a low price for a large amount of clothing and a transportation cost.

I recently forgot to bring a cap and jacket during a sales trip to western Canada. Here’s what I found at Value Village in Nanaimo.

plus $0.35 of taxes for a total of $7.33. This is not a purchase that encourages sustainable development. By cons, these clothes will have a second chance and no need to buy new. We limit the damage. In an industry that literally does a lot of damage, it’s worth it. In addition, it did not cost much.

Toxic products ?

Are there toxic products in second-hand clothes? Most likely not. Because these products (heavy metals, nonylphenol, etc.) that are on new clothes are washed away. A dozen washes is probably enough to remove them. It’s a safe bet that the average second-hand garment has been washed more than that.

Good condition?

Are second-hand clothes in good condition? Employees sort through donations before the clothes arrive on the sales floor, but it’s still possible to find some that have holes. You just have to inspect the pieces you want to buy.

Over-consumption?

Does purchasing second-hand clothes favors over-consumption? One could think that the more we buy used clothes, the more people will give them. Then, there will be more consumption of new clothes.

Au contraire, 85% of used clothing ends up in landfills. A good proportion of these clothes could be donated and reused without buy anything new. If more people gave and bought old apparels it would have a diminishing impact on the consumption of new ones.

About the author Ugo Dutil: I grew up at the ecovillage “La Cite Ecologique” from 1 to 11. I decided to go back and live there when I was 25 years old. I like this way of life that allows us to prioritize human relationships over material possessions. I’ve been working with Respecterre since 2013. Minimalism and responsible consumption, especially in textiles, fascinate me.