Is Vintage Clothing Eco-Friendly?

With so much commotion around the environmental impacts of fast fashion and clothing production in general, many people have been turning to op-shops and vintage stores for more sustainable fashion options. Whilst clothing found in an op-shop has no requirements on the age of the garment, vintage fashion is defined as a garment produced over 20 years before the time of its re-purchase. Vintage fashion has often been hailed as the future for sustainable fashion, but what are the main benefits of vintage clothes? 


Well, for the most part, the production of clothing items in the first instance is the same between fast fashion items and vintage clothes. However, the difference lies in the fact that a fast fashion item is likely to have a shelf life of four weeks in a store and will be worn by its owner a handful of times. This contrasts directly with vintage items, which become vintage only after remaining in use for more than 20 years. This comes down to the fundamental principle that recycling and reusing clothing that has already been produced seriously saves resources, thus being more environmentally sustainable. 


Many people believe that recycling clothing is in itself a sustainable fashion solution. However, there are currently exorbitant amounts of donated clothes filling up warehouses across the globe. This is heavily due to people believing that they can counteract the negative implications of fast fashion by donating their old clothes, which is not the case. If we continue to donate clothes as quickly as we produce them in order to make room for new purchases, it continues the negative cycle of fast fashion. 


If donating and recycling clothes is to be a sustainable option, it is essential to follow up donations with purchases for new items at second-hand or vintage stores, or even trading clothes. It is this process of keeping clothes in use for long periods of time that creates vintage clothing and supports the slow fashion movement, making it a more sustainable option. However, the vital element in making vintage clothing sustainable is that we as consumers don’t continue to purchase new non-renewable clothing, as this still encourages excess levels of fashion waste. 


In order to sustain the option of purchasing vintage clothes into the future, there are a few things we can do now. Firstly, purchasing better quality clothing is essential in ensuring that garments are still usable in years to come. Fast fashion clothing, which is designed to have a short lifespan, is not viable to be re-worn (or easy to repurpose) in the long-term. This makes it essential for individuals to invest in better quality products whenever possible. 


Secondly, repurposing or upcycling into new items is an extremely effective way to ensure that clothes that are slightly damaged are re-used in the clothing cycle. This reduces overall waste and increases the longevity of garments. 


Thirdly, repairing and donating clothing is extremely crucial in the process of ensuring that there are vintage items in the future. If we repair all the clothes we are likely to donate, it makes them easier for people to sell, and therefore less likely to be discarded as waste in factories. 


Ultimately, by donating or reselling clothing, we are helping to reduce waste, which in itself promotes more long-term sustainability in the fashion sector. 

We acknowledge the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people, who are the Traditional Custodians of the land on which Woroni, Woroni Radio and Woroni TV are created, edited, published, printed and distributed. We pay our respects to Elders past and present. We acknowledge that the name Woroni was taken from the Wadi Wadi Nation without permission, and we are striving to do better for future reconciliation.