Credit: Emma Garcia

Sustainable Unsustainability: The gentrification of consumption

By Disha Borse

Mindless consumption is causing a race to the bottom in the sustainable fashion world. The aesthetic of second hand shopping is worsening the environment.

In an age dominated by social media and trend cycles, Gen-Z have glamorised second hand shopping. For many, it’s done for reasons of sustainability, with students turning to metal straws, bamboo products and veganism in order to pursue a greener lifestyle. One of the biggest changes students have been making is their increased consumption of second hand clothes, as an alternative to fuelling the carbon-heavy fast fashion industry. This intends to uphold a more sustainable model of reusing, repairing and recycling items rather than dumping them in landfill sites. 

With a lot more people utilising charity shops and reselling apps such as Depop and Vinted, it is hoped that the amount of fast fashion purchased will decrease, phasing it out of our economies. However, a problem arises when affluent people begin to profit from charity shops that are meant for those of lower incomes. Many young people admit to having accounts on apps like Depop, where opportunities persist to resell their used clothing for extra cash. The trendiness of charity shops has opened up what should be a sustainable practice to gentrification, in which sellers buy clothes and accessories for cheap in local charity shops, and resell at heightened prices by marketing their products as ‘retro’, ‘vintage’, or ‘Y2K’. 

This disadvantages those within our society that financially rely on the cheaper prices that charity shops should offer. Charity shops in the West End of Glasgow, as well as the rest of the UK, have adapted to their now wealthier consumer base, hiking up their items to extortionate prices that are simply inaccessible to those who can only purchase discounted goods. The argument that charity shops are still profiting and aiding larger causes is valid. But it is undeniable that those who might not be in receipt of direct organisational charity nonetheless lose out from price rises. 

With West End charity shops along Byres Road and Dumbarton Road becoming increasingly inaccessible to poorer students, many now feel the need to return to fast fashion. Students once again shop on online stores, such as Shein, that advertise a constant stream of clothing much cheaper than charity shops. The consistent, cleverly targeted advertising of free worldwide shipping with constant coupons and deals have recently proved more enticing than hunting for a second hand bargain. 

Companies like Shein are extremely detrimental to the environment. The Channel 4 documentary investigating Shein revealed appalling working conditions, with workers allegedly working 18 hour shifts yet only receiving 4 cents per garment they produce. This investigation spurred people to move away from fast fashion and focus on more sustainable options of consuming fashion, with protests taking place outside of pop-up Shein stores around the world. However, this has been undermined by the creation of the ‘#sheinhauls’ trend, with creators on social media apps showcasing their massive hauls of cheap clothing. The rise in this trend has driven people to overlook the allegations that Shein has produced 6.3 million tons of carbon dioxide a year, has poor waste management and utilises non-recyclable packaging.

The rise in prices of second hand goods has therefore brought about a myriad of disadvantages, in turn proving counterproductive to the sustainability cause. A second-year Politics student spoke with The Glasgow Guardian about their experience trying to live greener in a world of gentrified charity shops in the West End: “Clothing over £10, let alone a leather jacket for £70 in a charity shop, just isn’t how it’s meant to be.” They described how difficult it was to buy clothing without it being labelled ‘trendy’, and costing more than an hour’s work. Personally, I have had to resort to online reselling apps such as Vinted, which is slightly less gentrified than Depop. But you have to wonder how many emissions you enable when each affordable top and trousers you buy come from multiple locations and delivery companies. They continued: “My flatmate who preaches sustainability with her bamboo toothbrush and constantly shops at charity shops has new packages arriving in our flat every week. Just for her to wear the new outfit once and resell it for a ridiculous price online.”

It is not just their prices which render charity shops unsustainable, however. Multiple visits every week to different charity shops, with each visit proving fruitful, still feeds into a model of mass consumption. Mindless consumption, whether it is second hand or fast fashion, contributes to a race to the bottom towards environmental degradation. The sustainable fashion model relies on people purchasing only what they need, when they need it. Letting trends influence second hand shopping has the exact opposite effect, contributing to the overconsumption that damages our environment. 

Nobody is perfect, and the individual efforts people make to be more sustainable are valuable. Still, as a generation, we need to recognise when we are being counterproductive. Perhaps a shift towards creating a capsule wardrobe, or de-influencing ourselves against trends, could enable the sustainability model to function more effectively. While the stigma of second hand shopping has rightly been reduced, mindless consumption is not just a step too far in the other direction, but counterproductive for a generation which needs to be more environmentally conscious.


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