The Sisterhood of the Traveling Hand-Me-Downs: Why They’re Fashionable *and* Sustainable

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"When we think of secondhand clothes, we usually think of thrift stores. What about hand-me-downs? Here's why hand-me-downs are nothing to be ashamed of, and why they're actually more eco-friendly than you think."

When I was in elementary school, my favorite brands were Abercrombie and Juicy Couture. Wearing a shirt with one of those brands written across my chest like a label made me feel proud—and it made my peers gasp at how I, a fourth-grader, could acquire such cool clothes. Or maybe a more accurate description would be expensive, new clothes.

The truth? Most of my clothes were hand-me-downs. Particularly the ones from those well-known fashion brands everyone was talking about.

Seeing my older cousin meant receiving a bag full of clothes that no longer fit her and accessories she no longer used. She’d show up to my house like Santa Claus, letting my younger sister and I dig through the piles upon piles of clothes that were good as new, just a size too small for her.

I got a new wardrobe—and it was my secret. I didn’t tell the kids at school my velour Juicy Couture sweatpants actually belonged to my cousin. Instead, I let them believe my mother had bought me brand new clothes. Why? Because hand-me-downs were uncool. They often meant you couldn’t afford new clothes or they meant you were wearing articles that were out of style and outdated. At a young age, I recognized our consumer-based society, and I wanted to conform to it.

Now, my secret’s out: I loved my hand-me-downs. And I still do—my friends and family continue to pass along the clothes we no longer need or want. Here’s why hand-me-downs are cool and why they’re actually eco-friendly.

The Environmental Impact of Fast Fashion

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It’s true: Buying new clothes can be exciting and fulfilling, especially when we finally find the perfect outfit that makes us not only look good but also feel good. However, our shopping habits come at an environmental cost. The fast fashion industry, along with trending clothing hauls on social media, has a substantial impact on the environment.

The fashion industry accounts for about 10% of humanity’s carbon emissions, pollutes oceans with plastics and toxic chemicals, and has a massive water footprint. Specifically, the fashion industry accounts for about 20% of the world’s water waste.

Between production emissions, nonrenewable resources, excessive energy and water usage, and overall pollution, the fashion industry’s environmental footprint is massive. Why? There’s a high demand for fashion—and fast fashion brands like Shein have mastered how to mass-produce fashion for a low cost.

But because of this high demand, many fast fashion companies are putting the environment (and the people) on the back burner: They might choose unsustainable and unethical business practices to fulfill the high demand.

While shopping at sustainable brands is a great way to create a demand for products that prioritize the planet and the people, a more sustainable way to consume is to consume preowned. Thrift shopping is the most popular way to do this—and it’s actually encouraged. Thrift hauls are trending, and vintage clothes are all the rage.

If you love thrifting, vintage finds, and sustainable living, it’s time to proudly wear hand-me-downs—and time to proudly pass along the old clothes in your closet, too.

Why Hand-Me-Downs Are Sustainable

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Buying (and wearing) secondhand clothes isn’t just a trend—it’s a consumption model we can adopt to decrease the demand for fast fashion. Secondhand clothing has already been produced, so lengthening the life of preowned clothes eliminates production emissions, water waste, and other unsustainable practices that come with the fashion industry.

Plus, buying, selling, and regifting secondhand clothes keeps textiles out of landfills. About 85% of all textiles get sent to landfills each year, contributing to an increase in greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming.

However, if we pass along our preowned clothes and welcome preowned clothes with open arms, we can combat the mass numbers of textiles getting sent to landfills each year. A decrease in waste means a decrease in emissions—which ultimately means more sustainable living!

The Takeaway

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My closet still consists of hand-me-downs. Some pieces come from my mother, others from my father. My cousin still lets me sift through bags of her old clothes that are going to get donated one way or another. Even my younger sister and I bounce clothes back and forth between our closets. And somehow, we always find a way to turn something old into something new. It’s like magic with a low environmental footprint.

And hand-me-downs aren’t limited to clothes. They can be shoes, accessories, furniture, or other household items. The point is: You can pass along almost anything and give your items a new life, keeping them out of the landfill and into the hands of someone who needs them. Hand-me-downs decrease waste and decrease the demand for fast fashion, fast furniture, and other fast consumer models.

My message to you: Be proud of your hand-me-downs. And be proud to pass them along to the next person, too. As many of us consider thrift shopping to be cool, we should also consider hand-me-downs to be cool. These clothes are breaking unsustainable cycles of consumption—there’s no shame in that!


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When we think of secondhand clothes, we usually think of thrift stores. What about hand-me-downs? Here's why hand-me-downs are nothing to be ashamed of, and why they're actually more eco-friendly than you think.

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