Sec­ond-hand fash­ion has no longer a stale image and the mar­ket is con­stant­ly grow­ing. At this point, sales in a hun­dred mil­lion range can be acquired. The cloth­ing is adver­tised as sus­tain­able, as an easy way to exit our con­sumer soci­ety. But does it real­ly con­tribute to the move­ment of sus­tain­able consumption? 

Pictured is a photo of Medina Imsirovic.
As a lawyer, Med­i­na Imsirovic delves into the world of human rights

Novem­ber 2021, Große Ulrich­straße near the mar­ket square in Halle (Saale): count­less peo­ple are stand­ing a queue on the street. What seems like the entrance of a night­club is in real­i­ty the open­ing of a store which is part of the thrift shop chain “Strike Wardrobe“. 

A huge part of the wait­ing crowd heard about it through Instagram. 

“Most of the peo­ple who get attract­ed are rel­a­tive­ly young and want to buy as much as pos­si­ble with their mon­ey.” says Daniel Bayen. The young entre­pre­neur opened the first thrift shop of the chain “Strike Wardrobe” in Krefeld. Today, the chain works with twen­ty whole­salers Euro­pean wide. Strike com­petes with com­pa­nies like Car­i­tas or Vint­ed. “That is the rea­son why it is so impor­tant to get only the best clothes, to have the best prof­it mar­gins “, explains Bayen. His con­cept taps on a major trend: a third of the Ger­man pop­u­la­tion buys sec­ond-hand fash­ion. Glob­al Data, a mar­ket research com­pa­ny, pre­dicts a mar­ket val­ue increase of 77 bil­lion US-Dol­lar worldwide. 

Pictured are Daniel Bayen and Mira Fandel in front of clothing racks.
left: CEO Daniel Bayen, right: Vice CEO Mira Fandel
Gentrification: second-hand fashion is a trend 

Thrift shop fash­ion is get­ting more and more expen­sive with­out any par­tic­u­lar rea­son. There are way too many used clothes in Ger­many. Half of them will be export­ed over­seas and 15 to 19 per­cent gets recy­cled. Ten per­cent of each goes to thrift stores or peo­ple in need. Most of the time not even thrift shops can use the clothes because of their bad condition. 

The increas­ing prices make sec­ond-hand fash­ion pre­dom­i­nant­ly afford­able to those who could eas­i­ly buy fair­trade and sus­tain­ably pro­duced cloth­ing as well. 

“It will be a prob­lem if thrift stores are going to offer fast fash­ion for exam­ple, which is not nec­es­sar­i­ly cheap­er than new fash­ion”, says Med­i­na Imsirovic, an expert for inter­na­tion­al law. Fast fash­ion defines as trend relat­ed cheap fash­ion. The insuf­fi­cient safe­ty and envi­ron­men­tal reg­u­la­tions in Indi­an and Bangladeshi fast fash­ion fac­to­ries have been repeat­ed­ly report­ed in Ger­many. In com­bi­na­tion with sewage, chem­i­cal waste ends up in rivers and lakes. Employ­ees have no access to clean water and devel­op can­cer or oth­er dis­eases. Thrift stores are sell­ing a sig­nif­i­cant part of dis­card­ed clothes from fast fash­ion brands. Imsirovic believes that fast fash­ion brands donate defect prod­ucts to thrift shops on pur­pose. That way they save costs for dis­pos­al and the brand gets sold to cos­tumers at the same time. 

“There should be laws that focus on reduc­ing the con­sump­tion of resources in sup­ply chains.” demands Med­i­na Imsirovic and explains: “On one hand, donat­ing clothes for resale is a pos­i­tive thing, on the oth­er it is way too much and impos­si­ble for the thrift shops to sell all of it. But what is going to hap­pen to the sur­plus of prod­ucts?” Medin Imsirovic sug­gests to reduce the val­ue of added tax on sec­ond­hand cloth­ing. “Anoth­er pos­si­bil­i­ty is to pro­vide cheap­er or free retail space. That is going to have an impact on the price as well.” 

More sustainable than second-hand is not possible!? 

In the mean­time, the queue of peo­ple moved a bit. The first ones shove them­selves into the build­ing. A huge sign explain­ing the “rules of thrift-shop­ping” is block­ing the entrance, 

Point five on the list: “Cheap­er and more sus­tain­able than sec­ond-hand fash­ion is not pos­si­ble, so shop with­out a bad conscience”. 

“Basi­cal­ly, it makes sense to buy sec­ond­hand cloth­ing because the resource con­sum­ing prod­ucts get used again,” says Car­men Mai­wald a jour­nal­ist and gar­ment tech­ni­cian. Around 20 per­cent of the water pol­lu­tion world­wide is based on the dye­ing of clothes. Buy­ing sec­ond-hand fash­ion could reduce this. Also, a big part of the chem­i­cals is already reduced because of pre­vi­ous wash­ing pro­ce­dures. But most of the clothes in thrift stores are pro­duced by fast-fash­ion-brands. They use cheap mate­r­i­al made of syn­thet­ic fibers like poly­ester for their pro­duc­tion. With every wash­ing pro­ce­dure microplas­tic par­ti­cles get loose and flow into rivers and oceans. Caren Mai­wald confirms: 

“The old­er a piece of cloth­ing gets, the more par­ti­cles it will release.” Nev­er­the­less, her final judge­ment is not that bad after all: “Sec­ond-hand fash­ion is not a free pass for mind­less con­sump­tion but a good oppor­tu­ni­ty to act envi­ron­men­tal­ly responsible.” 


Lux­u­ry fash­ion brands rec­og­nize the aware­ness of sus­tain­able clothes as well.  “They try to green wash their prod­ucts.”, says gar­ment tech­ni­cian Car­men Mai­wald mock­ing­ly. Guc­ci for exam­ple plant­ed a tree for every sold “pre-loved” Guc­ci prod­uct in coop­er­a­tion with “The Real­Re­al”. Mai­wald con­firms that this kind of sus­tain­able strate­gies are often green wash­ing. A com­pa­ny stages an envi­ron­men­tal­ly friend­ly image, with­out actu­al­ly being envi­ron­men­tal­ly friend­ly: “The com­pa­ny does not change any con­di­tions in the pro­duc­tion or works on cre­at­ing resource ‑sav­ing prod­ucts. Con­sumers get fooled.” 

Car­men Mai­wald vis­it­ed a refur­bish­ment fac­to­ry in the sum­mer of 2021 which belongs to one of the biggest sort­ing com­pa­nies in Ger­many. “Main­ly women work in those fac­to­ries. They are stand­ing in front of sort­ing tables and have to rec­og­nize the qual­i­ty of an arti­cle of cloth­ing in only two sec­onds.” Score­boards hang above the tables and show the already sort­ed pile of cloth­ing of every work­er. “If the amount is low­er than the demand­ed num­ber a red-light blinks — every­one rec­og­nizes that some­one does not work fast enough”, remem­bers Maiwald. 

Proud or ashamed of consuming 

Car­men Mai­wald points out that one can pay atten­tion to cer­tain things dur­ing the pur­chase deci­sion: “You can choose if you want to buy at a kilo-shop (the price of the pur­chase is based on the weight) which receives its prod­ucts from a big sort­ing com­pa­ny in Ger­many or if you go to a garage sale and buy the clothes of a pri­vate per­son or a social project sup­port­ing thrift shop.” Car­men Mai­wald encour­ages to also pay atten­tion to the mate­r­i­al of the clothes. 

Fur­ther­more she explains: “We wash our clothes far too many times in Ger­many. Actu­al­ly, it is com­plete­ly fine to just air them out or wash out sin­gle stains.” 

The first peo­ple step out of the store. A lot of them car­ry a new favorite piece of cloth­ing. Most of them will come back, if not Strike, it is going to be anoth­er thrift store. Sec­ond-hand fash­ion is a major trend. 

Author: Clara Therese Hoheisel

Trans­la­tion: Clara Therese Hoheisel

Image Sources: privat

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