Second Hand Economy

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When it comes to clothes and changing fashion trends, conscious consumers face a tough tradeoff.  It often feels like a tricky balance between buying trendy clothes that feel great, and contributing to the problematic and polluting industry of new apparel.  Increasingly there are socially responsible stores – like Zady and Everlane – that are reducing the negative impacts of buying new clothes. But there’s an even better option out there for the planet and for your wallet: buying used.

Besides just being cheaper, buying used clothing has a number of benefits. Even sustainably sourced new clothes still have an environmental impact. In fact, an average t-shirt takes about 700 gallons of water to produce. Meanwhile, Americans are throwing away 11 million tons of textiles a year – all of which end up in landfills, even though half of us are throwing away perfectly reusable items of clothing. Buying used prevents that initial waste, and can help keep clothes out of the landfill.

Second-hand clothing is trending again. While “used clothing” may have formerly conjured images of poorly-organized thrift stores or dirty, ill-fitting jeans, the truth is that multiple options now exist for high-quality, new-looking apparel in second-hand or consignment shops, and new options are popping up all the time. Having tried a number of these options out, I can highly recommend the following:

Buffalo Exchange: Buffalo is a chain of consignment stores that offer a trendy, fun shopping experience. Shopping at Buffalo offers all the advantages of traditional shopping – an enjoyable and easy browsing experience, friendly customer service, clean spacious fitting rooms, and a wide range of options from apparel to accessories for both men and women. With well-sized, highly-organized stores, they offer shoppers the chance to browse all the current trends, spanning from designer clothes to everyday basics and vintage one-of-a-kind items. Their prices range from $6 for a basic tee to $35 for a nice pair of brand-name jeans. They buy and sell used clothing, but only accept items in near-perfect condition that fit the current season and fashions. Selling your used items can offset your shopping costs by offering around 50% of the estimated sale price as store credit or 30% as cash. They are a family owned store with over 30 locations around the U.S.

ThredUp: This start-up out of San Francisco is changing the game for online clothes shopping. is an online consignment store that provides a HUGE offering of popular women’s and children’s brands in clothing, bags and shoes. Similar to Buffalo, they buy and sell like-new clothing that they screen for quality. ThredUp offers a wide variety of clothing, and they recommend careful filtering in order to narrow what you are searching for; for instance, the site offered over 335 pages of sweaters to browse, until I narrowed the size and type I was searching for, which brought that down to 20 pages. They offer great customer service, and allow you to return your items for full credit if you don’t end up liking what you ordered (either full store credit with free shipping, or a shipping fee coupled with a credit card refund). Their prices are low, with simple tanks around $6 and designer sweaters for $45. They also buy your used clothing, sending you a bag (includes shipping both ways), but offering pretty low prices for the items you contribute. ThredUp is able to offer all the benefits of online shopping with the knowledge that you are buying second hand and reducing your consumer waste and impact.

Local Consignment Shops: Most communities have locally-owned second-hand or consignment shops. In the Boston area, 2nd Time Around is a local consignment store that offers stylish clothing options in clean, organized shops. With helpful customer service and fitting rooms, you get a small boutique shopping experience. They usually have prices between $20-80 for brand name items, and often their consignment practices won’t pay you until the item sells in their store.

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