Savannah thrift stores discuss role in reducing fashion’s environmental impact

Local News

SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — As fires continue to destroy the Amazon rainforest, there seems to be a growing concern on social media among people concerned about their personal carbon footprints.

Those wondering about their own negative impacts on the environment probably don’t need to look much further than their closets.

It may come as a surprise, but the fashion industry is actually one of the biggest sources of pollution on the planet. In fact, it’s second only to the oil industry in terms of global pollution. 

The production of clothing uses up a lot of natural resources. Take, for instance, how many liters of water are used to make just one cotton shirt.

According to the World Resource Institute, about 2,700 liters are needed — that’s enough water to meet the average person’s drinking needs for two-and-a-half years.

The United Nations Environment Programme notes that a typical pair of jeans takes around 2,000 gallons to make. The production of a pair of jeans also produces as much greenhouse gas as a person would by driving a car more than 80 miles. 

The non-biodegradable clothes that people throw in the trash can sit in landfills for up to 200 years, the World Resource Institute reports.

If it didn’t come here, it could potentially end up in a landfill.”


Fashion’s negative impact on the environment is a large part of why many people are turning to buying second-hand clothing from thrift stores, like St. Thomas Thrift Store in Savannah.

Re-wearing and reusing clothing cuts down on waste and production, and second-hand clothes are less likely to end up in landfills. 

As a result, thrifting helps the environment by reducing the carbon footprint of the fashion industry. 

According to Thread Up’s 2019 Resale report, buying previously owned clothing is most popular among baby boomers and millennials who are choosing to get their fashion fix in a sustainable way.

The report also showed that 56 million women bought second-hand products last year.

Millie Green, the Chairman of the Board of Directors at St. Thomas Thrift Store, says the store has definitely seen an increase in shoppers coming in to purchase items that were previously worn.

“We get recycled clothes, and we pass on recycled clothes to places that also recycle them,” Green told News 3. 

“It goes on and on like that, but ultimately, things that nobody wants or nobody buys at the end of this chain, those probably do end up at the end of the road,” Green said. “But they have to go through, at least through us, a funnel through lots of different options. We don’t throw clothes away at all.” 

Green says many people come in looking for vintage clothing made out of longer-lasting materials, like silk, wool and cotton. 

She says she can definitely see how choosing to purchase second-hand clothing can have a positive impact on the environment. 

“If it didn’t come here, it could potentially end up in a landfill,” Green said. “I don’t think a lot of what we see ends up in landfills in this chain that we go through, so as far as environmentally goes, it certainly isn’t hurting.”

Over at Civvie’s on Broughton Street, they sell both new and recycled clothing.

The store does a lot of upcycling of previously owned goods, where they make repairs and fixes however necessary.

General Manager Raine Blunk tells News 3 that the store attracts a good mix of people looking for more recent trends, but there are also a decent number of shoppers looking for previously worn items that have been around for decades.

“Obviously, people love the opportunity to come in and buy a new item, say from Fashion Nova, that still has the tags on it,” Blunk said, adding, “But at the same time, being able to walk through and see clothing that’s been around for 60-70 years, I think it’s great for anyone, regardless of their style.”

Blunk says the appreciation of these older clothes also sheds light on the fact that a lot of products aren’t as well made these days, and probably won’t stand the test of time like some other items.

The term “fast fashion” refers to cheaply made and priced clothing that is quickly made and sent to stores to maximize on current trends.

There are some brands out there, like Cotton Incorporated with their denim recycling program, that are certainly trying to lessen the negative impact of fashion on the planet.

Blunk says one of the best things people can do to help is to buy local and be informed about the brands they’re buying from. 

“No matter what, clothes are getting made, stuff is getting wasted, trash is still going to the environment. We still produce waste here,” Blunk said. “However, there is that smaller scale that allows for more intentional buying practices and more intentional clothing wearing, which I think the longevity shows.”

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