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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