Second hand clothes can make all the difference to the world we live in, while fast fashion, on the other hand, has a surprisingly detrimental impact on our planet that many people aren’t aware of. From the way cotton is grown to the dyes that seep into the water, it is important to learn about the ways in which fast fashion impacts the world we live in, so we can become more sustainable and environmentally conscious.

The increasing popularity of secondhand clothes shops and thrift stores, along with an increased value in these items, shows that people are taking more interest too. What is the future of fast fashion and how exactly do the clothes we wear impact the planet? Read on to find out more. 


How Clothes Affect Our Environment

All of the clothes we wear every day and the ones that are made across the world, each has a huge impact on our environment. From growing the raw materials to dying them and transporting them across the world, there are so many ways in which they impact our earth and everything in it. Here are some of the ways in which clothes affect the environment:


So many clothes, instead of getting recycled or becoming second hand, get thrown away and go straight to landfill. All of the chemicals, dyes and often plastics contained in the clothes can take a long time to decompose and these materials then affect the soil, earth and land where they are buried. 


Another method of disposing of fast fashion is to burn them, which avoids the use of landfill but releases greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. These in itself become a pollutant contributing to global warming, having many knock-on effects.

Many clothes are often made in various countries across the world and transported to the west. Whether they are made in India or Thailand, for example, they need to be flown and transported to shops across the world.  This in itself adds to air pollution, as cars and air-fuel consume fossil fuels.


Many people might not consider the impact that clothes can have on our waters and it is not only plastics in the ocean. Clothes often release microfibres which make up 20% of global clean water pollution from dyeing and finishing products.’ This means that the water we drink and use every day can be affected by textiles and the clothes we use and thrown away.

Why Cotton Has Such a Negative Impact

Cotton needs a huge amount of water to grow and because it is highly sought after in the clothing industry, so many countries all over the world grow it in large quantities. Not only does the plant itself require a lot of water, meaning ‘cotton is the largest user of water among all agricultural commodities’ WWF. Also, the way it is farmed leads to so much water being used too.

On average, 1kg of cotton uses 10,000 litres of water to grow, which is an astounding amount when you think of the end product. The irrigation methods that many countries use are often inefficient, meaning that a lot of water is wasted and more needs to be used to ensure the plant grows. For countries such as India where water is not in a huge abundance, this can also have knock-on effects for the communities farming it and the surrounding area.

Many studies have looked at the environmental impact of textile reuse and recycling and cotton is often the most investigated because of its negative impact on the world. 

Different studies have investigated how materials are reused and recycled all over the world.

The Increasing Popularity of Preloved Clothing

How second-hand fashion is impacting fast fashion as people are choosing preloved clothes. This means less of a carbon footprint is used when transporting fast fashion is imported from abroad and less waste because people aren’t throwing away as much, they are letting their pre-loved clothes go to a new home.

Second-hand clothes, thrift stores and preloved clothes shops are on the rise and are already affecting fast fashion. You can find great deals, hidden gems and embrace vintage and modern styles and when choosing preloved clothes, you also choose the more sustainable option. Everyone is becoming more environmentally conscious and really thinking about how they can make a difference and as a result, more digital preloved clothes shops and apps are popping up online.

This chart shows how second-hand items have increased in worth and if they are valued, they are here to stay. There has been a steady increase in the number of sales of preloved items over the past few years (with the exception of the pandemic in 2020) but it is safe to say the steady increase will continue. Because of this increasing interest and value of secondhand items, more companies will get involved in the sustainability movement as a result.

Will Preloved Clothes Triumph Over Fast Fashion?

Research has even suggested that secondhand clothes will give fast fashion a run for its money. Comparing the current rate of growth of fast fashion and secondhand clothes shows that preloved is predicted far more growth, 1.5 times its current size by 2028.

Embracing Second Hand Clothes Can Make a Difference

‘Sustainability is much more than a trending word at a certain time. The three key elements of sustainability are; economic and social development, environmental protection, and each one should be considered in relation to the others.’ – Tuba Toprak’s Study on the Textile Industry

By using preloved clothes you are not encouraging the production of fast fashion and all the dyes, plastics and water consumption that comes with them. So many people all over the world are enjoying and loving secondhand clothes and no matter the reason, these small decisions are easing our use of fossil fuels, chemicals and other negative impacts on the environment.

Each time you purchase second-hand t-shirts, jackets, trousers or skirts, you are creating positive change in our world. As more interest grows in preloved clothes, many retailers, brands and stores will see the value in having a more sustainable ethos. So purchasing and showing an interest in preloved clothes is about so much more than new clothes, it is about changing our carbon footprint, our impact on the environment and everyone in it. 

Become more environmentally friendly and buy and sell second hand and preloved clothes online by downloading the GoEthical App for IOS or on Google Play. Check out more articles about sustainability and other topics, on the GoEthical blog, today.