This story was originally published on ClimateTracker.org, which features the work of young climate journalists.
A new wave of retailers are each doing their part to change the fashion industry — via the internet. With a loyal network of young consumers, these online second-hand resellers may have just found a way to put the brakes on the fast fashion’s negative climate impacts.
Twenty-three-year-old Theodora Martino runs Rainbow Bebe, a sustainable clothing “shop” on Depop — the trending app that allows people to buy and sell clothes as well as other assorted fashion items. Her mission is to provide an easier way to shop sustainably by finding and curating a selection to post on her page.
Referring to sustainability, Martino said, “I couldn’t not care even if I tried. It is important to me, to my core.”
Martino is among a group of Gen-Z online resellers, born after the mid 1990s, who are digging deep into their personal beliefs, enacting change through doing business. Their collective goal is to further expand the continuous recycling of clothing, known as circular fashion.
And they have good reasons to fear: in 2016, the production of clothing accounted for 6.7% of all carbon emissions according to a report by environmental consulting firm Quantis. The situation has only gotten worse since then.
A World Wildlife Foundation study found that it takes 2,700 liters of water to produce enough cotton to make one shirt. That is the same amount of water that the average person drinks in two-and-a-half years.
Fortunately, sustainable fashion’s popularity is on the rise. According to a GlobalData study, if the second-hand clothing industry continues to grow at its current rate, its value is projected to increase to nearly one and a half times that of fast fashion by 2028.
And similar to everything else, thrift shopping flourished after it hit the internet: online platforms and retailers, including thredUP and Depop, gain popularity by providing a unique, curated selection of used clothes, making it easy to stay on trend while supporting sustainable fashion.
As Depop has grown in popularity, it has quickly shifted to a marketplace full of sellers like Martino, who says her job is to “do all the hard work for you, so all you have to do is just go on the page and scroll and boom.”
Depop seller Kate Johnston shared that often her best-sellers are one-of-a-kind vintage finds. Those clothes sell well, she said, ”because, that vintage look—everyone loves it.”
Johnston, a 19-year-old living in Seattle, Washington, runs a Depop shop called Sustainable Thrift. Johnston said that as she learned more about sustainability, she has decided to make it her focus. “Encouraging people to reuse clothing fights [fast fashion], even on a tiny level.”
Johnston and Martino pride themselves on their sustainable shipping materials, like reusing old boxes or spending the extra few dollars to buy mailers made from 100% recyclable materials.
thredUP is another online market for second-hand clothes and markets itself as a huge online thrift store, selling a wide variety of used clothes ranging from designer brands to unique vintage finds to wearable basics.
“Extending the life of clothes and inspiring a new generation of consumers to think secondhand first is at the core of thredUP’s DNA,” said Natalie Tomlin, a company spokesperson.
thredUp is extending its influence into traditional clothing companies. They have partnerships with fashion companies like Everlane, Stella McCartney and Eileen Fisher, in which they work together to implement sustainable practices.
All these platforms are “making not-fast fashion, fashion,” said Martino, the Depop seller. “They’re making the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, everything, all that good stuff that already existed there, cool.”