Sunday, June 8, 2014

The Joy of Secondhand Denim; or Why I Don't Buy New Clothes

The Joy

     Recently I have been seeing more in the media about the toxic chemicals and irresponsible manufacturing processes  in textile plants around the world that are causing major water pollution and hazardous or even toxic working conditions. National Geographic did a piece on this fairly recently. There is so, so much information out there that I would have to do a ton of research to give a decent analysis, and that's beyond the scope of this post. Some of the main points are so clear, though, that for the purposes of my blog I will simply summarize: The farming and industrial processes used in making new clothes cause a lot of pollution. The processes used to dye, stone wash, and bleach tons and tons of denim clothing articles of all kinds cause particularly significant problems for workers and local water sources.

Photo National Geographic

     The insatiable hunger for new fashions is everywhere. In the west, it is part of a constant cycle of discarding last season's trends and buying up the of-the-moment looks. This means that the 'outdated' items are trashed (I observe that much of the stuff that is sold is poor quality, intended to last one season and be trashed) or given away. I have read about the global trade in used clothing, cast-off by the US in particular. There was this piece last year. It has a profound effect on the economies of the world, and frankly, makes me ashamed. This all reminds me of a thoughtful blog post I read last year called Everything You Didn't Want to Know About How Jeans are Made. At the time, it gave me new determination to continue my practice of not buying new clothes.

     Because this sort of information can be hard to respond to! It's terrible, and we may feel guilty, but what can we do about it? We can't choose not to wear clothes, or to not clothe our families. I think when people see an overwhelming problem and can't see how they can help, they just downplay and/or ignore it. I bet there is a psychological term for that. (There is. See 'Denial'). But let's try to find some responsible and feasible reactions that regular people can do! I have a few things in mind.

     First, I found this article with some encouraging new science about how some of the pollution from indigo dyes can possibly be dealt with. Science! Yes, there is so much that we could do as humans to protect and care for our world, and to protect and care for our brothers and sisters we share it with. The modern Catholic Church is very clear in its support of ethical science as a way in which humanity can carry out our jobs to steward the earth and to love the poor. (For example, #2293 in The Catechism of the Catholic Church). So, somebody get going on wastewater treatment and non-toxic manufacturing processes! Homeschool research opportunity! Trinity School Project Week topic!!

     Second could be a response like the one here in this upworthy vid about toxic waste from fashion production that I saw on facebook yesterday. They suggest to pressure big companies and to look for labels on new clothing items that indicate certain standards of manufacturing. There is info in the news about more sustainable cotton production, and about making high quality products, instead of fashion that is designed to be trashed, because 'durability is the first tenet of sustainability' That may be something some of us have resources to do, and some of us may end up having a passion to take leadership in this way.

     Third, is my response. I am already a thrift shopper. I love to go out alone, to dig in and search, discovering things that I am looking for, or discovering unexpected treasures. I also love getting the most I can on our very limited budget. I admit to a glow of pride when I tell my husband what I was able to get for our family, and how I used my own cleverness with coupons and sales at my favorite Goodwill to pay the least possible. But, this question of pollution puts shopping for secondhand clothing in a different light. We may not be able to change what manufacturers do, or to change what consumers want, and what our insatiable culture keeps buying and selling. But I can change what I buy! If I choose to buy second hand clothes whenever I can, items that have already been manufactured and sold once, then I am not adding to the pollution burden. In fact, I am decreasing the amount of discarded clothing produced. So, something to think about.
Peace, Love and Thrifted Jeans

     In that blog post I referred to above, Holly on My Years of Fabulous! ended by making this pledge:
“To Mother Earth, I promise that I will never, ever buy a new pair of jeans again — no matter how flattering they are, no matter how buttery soft and yummy they feel, no matter how much they are on sale and now matter how small they make my butt look.  In exchange, I would like you to promise to never rain on one of my children’s birthday parties again.  Twenty sugared up children hitting a piñata inside our small house gave me nerve damage.  Thanks, Holly.”

So, give it some thought. See if you can make a conscious decision to at least look hard at second hand options first, before buying something new. Or, make a more radical committment like Holly. And throw your lot in with me, and meet me at the Salvation Army thrift store!
See how happy we are, being at peace with the Earth ;)


  1. Claire, you visited my blog so I wanted to see yours! I just loved this post, so informative. I was about to order llbean rain jackets for my kids but I am going to challenge myself to find something consigned. You have a fun blog and beautiful family!

  2. Hi, Stephanie. Thanks, what an encouraging comment! It is always nice to make friends with families who are a few years older than yours, and get a hand-me-down system! I hope you are able to find the coats you need. Say a prayer before you start looking!

  3. Claire! I found two rain coats for my older girls before they went to Catholic kids camp! Both about $12 in great condition :) thought you would get a kick out of my find! I sure am proud! God bless


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