People are buying more clothing today than they did 15 years ago.
But they’re only wearing it half as long.
That means clothing production and sales are both on the rise, and so is the amount of clothing in landfills.
In such a climate, “fast-fashion” companies, like Forever 21 and Zaful, are growing, said Karen Leonas, a professor in the Wilson College of Textiles at N.C. State University. And thrift stores and secondhand clothing sales are growing even faster, at 24 times the rate of other retail.
That’s been the case for Rumors, a vintage thrift shop started in Richmond, Va., that is known locally for its location in Chapel Hill. The company opened a Durham location on June 1. Rumors buys and sells secondhand clothing, along with some new items bought from wholesalers.
“We get a lot of people that are starting to stop shopping at places like Forever 21, H&M and Urban Outfitters and coming here instead,” said Micah Moses, buyer at the Durham location.
Moses said he’s seen increasing interest in thrifting over the past few years.
The cycle begins when online and fast-fashion retailers promote low prices for trendy clothing. For example, SheIn, a fast fashion website, offers tops for as low as $4.
“Fast fashion is definitely an epidemic for the age group that our shoppers are,” said Juliet Magoon, assistant manager of the Chapel Hill Rumors location. “People are wearing things one or two times and getting rid of it. We’re giving items a second life.”
Leonas said people are buying 60% more clothes today than 15 years ago.
Millennials are reselling and buying thrifted items the most, she added. Still, only about 15% of clothing is recycled or reused, leaving the other 85% in landfills.
In Wake County, it costs about $60 per ton to dispose of textile waste, according to Leonas.
Stores and companies are trying their best to combat the extensive waste, but the real problem lies with consumers, Leonas said.
Once clothing is bought from a company, even fast fashion retailers, the fate of the clothes is up to the buyer. And most fast fashion clothing won’t be worn in a year, Leonas said.
The best option is to donate or sell clothes to a secondhand store, or to repurpose them. Rumors partners with a local company, the Cosmic Circle, to turn old clothing into new, desirable items.
If a shirt has a stain on the bottom, they can turn the shirt into a crop top, Moses said. He’s also seen them turn pairs of pants into a dress.
Rumors has also enacted a Zero Waste Initiative at its stores to try to do their part to eliminate waste. Instead of giving people plastic bags with purchases, Rumors offers tote bags with their logo on it for $2.
Their hope is that people will be reminded of the amount of plastic bags they typically use, and then reuse the tote bag at other places. Customers are also rewarded for bringing the tote bags back to Rumors.
Online fast fashion
In addition to the well-known retailers such as H&M and Forever 21, online fast fashion brands have also been expanding.
Moses said he’s seen a rise in people ordering from companies like Wish, an online brand.
“The problem with ordering from places like Wish is you could order a small and it could come in and be like infant-sized,” he said. The sizing issues then create more clothing waste.
Leonas thinks that the stigma about shopping at thrift stores has been reduced over the past few years.
“Raising people’s awareness to alternative ways of disposing of their garments is exciting,” she said. “It’s encouraging to see places like these thrift stores.”