In Discussions, Money, Shop Quality Series, Shopping, Style

Shop Quality Series: Millionaires shop Secondhand: Thoughts on Fast Fashion and Shopping – Part One

This is part of the Shop Quality Series.

Fast fashion is not just about price, it is about everything related to the whole concept of “fast fashion” and why it is so destructive.

Millionaires do shop for used clothing

How do you think they became rich? Certainly not by spending the money before they’ve earned it, nor buying an aspirational lifestyle before they’ve achieved it.

Thredup, a secondhand site reported that 36% of their shoppers made $250K – $1M a year. Now making a high income obviously doesn’t mean you’re a millionaire, but it’s safe to say that even at high incomes, people are buying used for various reasons.

“Another 21 percent makes between $100,000 and $250,000 annually, and 10 percent are millionaires.”

Well.

I actually only first heard that millionaires shopped for used clothing in this book – The Millionaire Next Door – I was floored at 23. It was a mental, financial awakening that rich people weren’t necessarily ones who LOOKED rich, but the ones who had money in the bank.

All clothing, just like with depreciating assets, are no longer new once they are owned / worn once / used lightly.

So why not let someone else take the financial hit of the cost, and snap it up secondhand? I am close to being a personal millionaire (it is inevitable, just a question of time, really), and I shop secondhand (now) almost 99% exclusively for clothing and style especially.

Shopping second allows me to:

  1. Find unique / rare pieces (vintage is my jam!)
  2. Buy things for a fraction of the original price (I’d rather pay $150 for a $3000 sweater than $50 for a new but crappy mainstream one)
  3. Help the environment by opting OUT of the consumer cycle of fashion – the item is already made, I am not contributing to a new piece

WIN, WIN, WIN!!!


I WISH I HAD DONE THIS WHEN I WAS YOUNGER

I love fashion. I will never NOT love style and dressing up and spending brainpower on what outfit to wear, layering, etc. It excites me and it will forever do so, I wish I had gotten onto this quality bandwagon a lot sooner though.

I look back and have a tiny flash of regret of being so dumb, and not realizing you could get super high quality items for much cheaper, just by buying secondhand via eBay, thrifting, Kijiji, and now Poshmark Canada which we did not have before. Or, finding GREAT pieces for cheap in consignment shops (here’s my list of my favourite consignment shops in Montreal and the best resale shops Toronto)

Instead, with less money, I thought only retail was the way, and all I could afford was crappy fast fashion. *sigh* I thought it was the only way I could get a variety of clothes for the budget I had.

I was so wrong:

Why is fast fashion is so destructive? Well here’s a quick history:

Fast Fashion labels create up to 18 Collections a Year

Fast fashion retailers create up to EIGHTEEN collections a year, more than once a month!

Before, it used to just be two collections a year for designers – Spring/Summer and Autumn/Winter and that was it.

Then with the added pressure of “creativity”, and really, just a push to sell more clothes and one-up the competition, designers have been creating 4 collections a year, and now pre-collections in between those 4 collections, PLUS extra mini collections like Resort Wear, etc.

It is head spinning how much is out there. I am confused every time when I look at collections. It is not as simple as it use to be.

But fast fashion, does FAR MORE than what these designers do. They are churning out fresh stock on a weekly basis to keep things ‘new’ and to entice people to come back every week to see what else hit the shelves.

Zara is notorious for this, and people actually go in weekly (every Thursday?) to see what has hit the shelves.

The discounted items that end up discarded at the end when they do their big “sale” is truly wasteful, and imagine that crazy Black Friday-esque mess that you see multiplied by 2250 stores worldwide, and you can get a tiny sliver of just how much waste is generated from fast fashion.

H&M does the same, and tons of other retailers like Boohoo, Shein, Top Shop, to name a few. There are so many of them I can’t even keep up.

So where does all of this excess go?

Not all of these items are winners.

Obviously some items will sell out and be hits, but many others, will linger on the shelves for 2-3 weeks and then get carted off to… where exactly?

Landfills, or places to be incinerated. Donations to a local thrift store (I have seen items for sale with tags still on), or sent to discount retailers like Winners and Marshall’s to be resold at a lower price.

The mind boggling amount of excess and WASTE is truly crazy.

It says so much about us as a society, that we consider clothing now to be disposable, and that we don’t even care for what we spend our money on and are willing to toss $7 shirts and $5 pants any time we feel like we aren’t into hot pink pants any more.

For me, as a pseudo-personal finance blogger, $5 is $5. Money is money.

To see $5 get tossed after a few wears is the equivalent of burning money to me.

Let’s summarize its environmental destruction and unsustainability..

  • Dyes from the factories, staining all the rivers various colours depending on the trend this season – people say you can see what colour is “in” just by what colour the water is in the river that season/year
  • All this excess clothing being burned (what a waste of labour, fabric, resources, time, etc) or donated/trashed in a landfill
  • As they are synthetic fabrics, they will take thousands of years to decompose, if ever so they’ll just sit there and keep accumulating
  • We are poisoning ourselves – synthetic fabrics also contribute to pollution when you wear and wash them, as they have microplastics that go out from your washing machine and pollute the waterways. We literally have plastic in our blood because of this because we are then eating the seafood that ingests those microplastics!!!!
  • Increase in transportation and therefore pollution of waterways, air and so on, just to move these massive amounts of clothes and distribute them across the world, every 2-3 weeks to keep demand ‘fresh’ in stores
  • Fabrics make a difference – cotton is so water-intensive (water is such a precious resource), that it takes thousands of gallons of it to make a single tee or pants; there are new technologies out there that are waterless, or if you buy organic cotton but under 1% of companies do this (notably Stella McCartney and Eileen Fisher).

This is an image from China, near a factor that is obviously dying red clothing. Just look at this water.

Also, it contributes to unethical practices

Fast fashion isn’t just about excess, as we all know, it also uses cheap labour from Third World countries.

WE KNOW THIS. WE GET ANGRY and then we forget about it completely.

Oh but it brings business to those economies there that they otherwise would not have!

Fair point, but would you work for $3 a day?

Is that acceptable to you that they would have to put in 18-hour workdays, 7 days a week just to make a living wage?

Sure, they are desperate for jobs, but is it still acceptable to you that companies take advantage of this, exploit their labour all because we as consumers are not willing to pay the real price for anything?

We have gotten so used to low prices that we squeal for equality and cry over these workers dying in factories living and working in inhumane conditions, but then we turn around the next week and crow that we got a deal on a few tees that cost $5 each. ONLY FIVE DOLLARS, SUSAN!

And where are those tees now? Likely buried in the back of your closet after one wear (if that), or already trashed/donated.

Am I wrong?

Is it worth $5, now, considering how quickly you trashed it?

Money is MONEY. Save that $5, and INVEST IT.

(Yes I had to say it.)

Are we not responsible for this?

We as consumers at some point have to take ownership of what we are creating as a monstrous fashion cycle, and to brush it off as “but we are helping people grow businesses and economies and have jobs”, is not enough justification for what we are doing.

We have to say – enough is enough. If we keep feeding into this cycle, it keeps going.

Just like with personal finances – if we keep spending money we don’t have, we’re going to get deeper into debt. It’s simple.

Stop buying, and the demand will fall, and supply will also fall in line with it <- (See my economics class did sort of pay off here)

Average consumer wears a piece 7X versus decades

We used to wear clothing for decades. People had style guides to buy one coat, and to dress it up for the season’s trends, or to mend/repair items that were of quality so they could wear it over and over again.


Nowadays, the average consumer wears a piece seven times before discarding it – either by donating it, or to a landfill.

…and 33% of women consider an item “old” after wearing it 3 times.

ARE YOU KIDDING ME?

How? Why?

Well these pieces are so shoddily made that I can tell you firsthand I bought a beautiful cobalt blue top, washed it, and was sickened to see it had completely changed after ONE WASH.

It  came out looking as though I had rubbed it with sandpaper all over – that strange fuzzy pilling happened, and the beautiful drape of the top was no longer as nice as it was the first time I wore it.

Of course, now that I had washed it, I couldn’t return it, but I also couldn’t wear it.

I just thought — WHAT A WASTE of $50.

That was about that time I started realizing that this was crazy, that I was not expecting more out of my money and what I was wearing, not just for ethical or eco-friendly reasons, but also for ME. For my money, and what felt good on my body.

If you buy beautiful, well-made pieces and pay more for it, you will take care of it.

You will CARE if you snag it.

You will CARE if you get it ruined.

You will take it in to replace its lining, and cry when it no longer fits because you had a baby and your torso expanded by an inch and made all of your beautifully tailored coats, unwearable.

(I obviously speak from experience.)

We SHOULD care about our clothes, and see the money, the cost and the waste if we do not.

Don’t you want an impeccable, beautiful wardrobe you can count on?

We always see this joke in society, and laugh at it:

Or this one:

But in truth, isn’t it exhausting to have whole wardrobe of crappy clothes you don’t even want to wear?

Every piece in your closet should be something you WANT to wear, at any given time.

You should have a well-made coat, even if it cost upwards of $500 or more (depending on if you got it secondhand or not), and to care and love it so much that you repair it when the lining rips?

Even shoes are somewhere I can’t understand why people don’t put more money into.

Why buy a cheap pair of $25 boots when you can buy $250 boots that will have rubber soles, shearling on the inside, be warm, and comfortable for winter instead of some polyester, plastic contraption that will leave your toes freezing after a short walk to the bus stop?

You can buy really expensive items, and then just repair them so that they last for as long as possible. That is the most sustainable option out there, and even better is if you got them secondhand, and then repaired them/made them last forever.

High-end Designers are not immune to this smackdown

Louis Vuitton recently opened a factory in Texas so they could have bags “made in the USA” stamped on them, although the leather would not be from Texas. Workers are paid $8/hour, making bags that are selling for hundreds of dollars.

Are you paying for quality? Maybe. But doubtful because the whole premise of these bags being high quality is that they are made by artisans or these petites mains who know their craft and are the whole cornerstone of the brand itself!!!

This is just sheer mass-market bag making to feed the beast, with a LV logo stamped on it.

You’re basically buying a cheaply made bag, priced into the thousands, and feeling great about it.

To add insult to injury, there have already been complaints of the working conditions (no A/C in the factories) and discrimination against women and Hispanic employees.

Is this any better?

Bringing “business” back to the USA but then not really paying workers proper wages / teaching them to be artisans, with sweatshop-like conditions, and discrimination on top of it all to boot?

CONSIDER the company you are buying from.

CONSIDER the company you are giving money to.

CONSIDER what you are doing when you turn a blind eye.

As with anything in life, you should ask more for your money.

P.S. Shopping secondhand and what you can do

——-

Want more? This is part of the Shop Quality Series.

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Sherry of Save. Spend. Splurge.

Millionaire at 36 after getting out of $60K of student debt in 18 months, a little over a decade earlier, using TheBudgetingTool.com. Since then, I have paid my $600K home in cash (my half was $300K), my $180K casr in cash, worked 50% of my career (taking 1-2 year breaks), and quadrupled my income within 2 years of graduating, going from $65K to $260K with an average lifetime savings rate of 50%. I could retire today if I wanted, but love my work-life balance as a freelancing consultant in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math). I am all about balance - between time and money, and also enjoying my money. I also post daily on Instagram @saverspender.

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4 Comments

  1. Susan

    I love this article! I’m a big fan of shopping in-person at thrift, consignment, vintage stores, but I never shop online with rare exception of jewelry. I’ve stopped buying brand-new clothes since 2015-2016. Glad we share the same shopping philosophy. I like the challenge of styling many outfits with fewer items in a minimalist wardrobe.

    Reply
    1. Sherry of Save. Spend. Splurge.

      Minimalist wardrobe is sort of a laughable term with me because I have so many style personas that I have wardrobes for all of them.. Haha 🙂

      That said, I feel more comfortable buying secondhand now than I do at retail, and I shop online quite often. I am VERY RARELY steered to buy something new now.

      Reply
  2. Anne

    Horrified by the sentence that an average consumer wears a piece only 7 times! And that so many think an item is old after 3 wears! I had no idea! I have probably been blinded by my conservative working environment where I see people wearing the same couple of costumes all the time, just with different shirts, and maybe some “crazier” outfits on casual Fridays…

    Reply
    1. Sherry of Save. Spend. Splurge.

      I think this is partly cultural and pop cultural. I know in many cultures, showing up at a wedding in the SAME DRESS you wore to other weddings is an insult to the bride and groom that you didn’t bother to spend money to celebrate THEM. Or showing up in a new outfit every day shows how rich you are..

      Personally I am also horrified – but I am happy that I am more secondhand now, to give old clothes, a new life by wearing it in my own way. I shudder to think that a new item is old after 3 wears. That really shocks me.

      Reply

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