SEATTLE, Washington — Shopping for second-hand, recycled and sustainable clothing is one of the best ways to reduce the growth of the fast fashion industry. Oftentimes, these sustainable clothing stores/brands are small in comparison to the fast-fashion giants of the world. World Bank data shows that small businesses account for 50% of global employment and are vital to job creation and economic growth worldwide. By shopping sustainably, consumers have the ability to contribute to these small businesses fighting fast fashion and ultimately providing the world’s impoverished with decent jobs and living wages.
The Effects of Fast Fashion on World Poverty
Fast fashion companies often take advantage of the world’s impoverished, knowing they can get away with paying little wages and subjecting workers to dangerous sweatshop environments, for the reason of an increased profit margin. A 2021 article from International Law and Policy Brief discloses that; of approximately 75 million fast fashion workers worldwide, less than 2% earn a living wage.
By opting for second-hand purchases, one can give these pre-owned pieces an extended life, reducing waste and cutting down the number of garments a factory worker has to assemble rapidly. While fast fashion company Zara has more than 50 million Instagram followers, countless second-hand shops fly under the radar. Bringing attention to these sustainable businesses fighting fast fashion creates employment opportunities for those living in poverty and strengthens the economy overall.
3 Sustainable Businesses Fighting Fast Fashion
- Mayamiko, Malawi. This is a clothing company created for women by women, in an ethical and sustainable manner. The brand began in Malawi, Africa, where indigenous artisans that celebrate traditional African techniques inspire the designs. These designers even make use of locally sourced fabrics. The brand dedicates itself to providing the world with beautiful clothing that proves sustainable fashion increases the quality, design and overall value of such pieces. Not to mention, the empowerment of workers throughout the production process. A few of Mayamiko’s ethical promises include commitments against the use of forced labor or child labor and ensuring safe working conditions, living wages, reasonable working hours and a daily nutritious meal for workers. Mayamiko is a 100% PETA-certified vegan brand and is dedicated to advocating for better labor rights. The creation of the Mayamiko Trust works to “advance social justice and equality for women in Southern Africa.”
- Dorsu, Cambodia. Among the sustainable businesses fighting fast fashion is Dorsu, a company established in Cambodia. The clothing brand creates its garments from fabric remains that local Cambodian garment factories threw out. Dorsu upholds workers’ rights by providing its employees with living wages, permanent work contracts, reasonable working hours and adequate breaks. Dorsu staff also receive employment benefits such as “performance-based bonuses, higher rates during overtime, insurance for workplace accidents and paid leave for sickness, family needs and holidays.” The brand emerged upon the idea that “clothing should be produced in a way that embraces people and causes as little harm to the environment as possible.” The company creates its products for longevity and everyday wear. The company does not overproduce; it intentionally creates small collections of three to four pieces that are high quality, versatile and practical for everyday life, rather than exploiting workers to rapidly create massive collections with hundreds of clothing items.
- Nevernew, South Africa. Nevernew is a second-hand shop located in Cape Town, South Africa. In an interview with The Borgen Project, Nevernew owner Chantal Fourie said, “my store doesn’t only cater [to]a niche market. Nevernew stocks men’s and ladies’ festival wear, unique vintage pieces and practical clothing that you may need in your day-to-day routine.” Fourie explained that this strategy has helped her business to survive during the COVID-19 pandemic while many other businesses “mainly stocking pricey items geared toward wealthy locals and tourists” had to close down. Oftentimes, vintage shopping can be expensive, which contributes to the consumer appeal of the low prices that fast fashion companies offer. Nevernew is providing shoppers with a place to shop sustainably, fashionably and affordably. Second-hand shops like these open the market to more socio-economic classes, allowing more people to give used clothing a new life in their closets. Fourie told The Borgen Project that “the second-hand clothing industry is a circular economy which is very valuable and it also prevents millions of garments ending up in [a]landfill.” Not only is this thrift store fighting fast fashion but it also makes the process affordable and inclusive.
The Benefits of Sustainable Shopping
In an interview with The Borgen Project, a vintage shop staff member who would like to remain anonymous said the most rewarding part of working in the industry is “helping immigrants, convicts and people in the community that can’t easily hold or find work make money to live.” When The Borgen Project asked what the most rewarding aspect of buying second-hand is, the staff member said, “you’re not contributing to new production, that money is going to a local kid being employed in your community.”
Small businesses like thrift stores and recycled/sustainable clothing companies play a substantial role in job creation, the growth of local economies and waste prevention. Businesses such as these create a butterfly effect that seems small in the beginning, but actually, makes a far greater impact on the lives of those enduring unacceptable working conditions. If the popularity of second-hand shopping continues, these businesses fighting fast fashion could mean the difference between a minimally paying job and a career for an impoverished person.
– Madeline Ehlert