When you shop secondhand, you’re doing a great thing because you’re diverting clothing from landfill, using up resources that are already available, giving a garment another life and decreasing the demand for fast-fashion. But the thing is, says Kate Hall, of EthicallyKate, secondhand shopping relies on other people to buy fast fashion. She suggests that if you ask yourself when op-shopping ‘what if everyone was living life like this, would it be sustainable?’, the answer is likely to be no.

There’s no doubting the many positives of buying and selling preloved clothes and this is often more practical than buying 100% ethically made clothing (although it may depend on where you live). Apps like Good On You can help you find what you’re looking for in Australia. If you’re struggling with your conscience though, Kate Hall uses the analogy of traffic lights when shopping. Op-shopping is orange fashion, or fashion neutral.Then there’s green fashion which is buying ethical clothing. This is clothing designed and made mindfully with minimal negative impact on people and the planet. If you go this way, you have the power through your buying choices to encourage a greater demand for ethically made garments. Ethical fashion companies also often tend to trade differently to those in fast fashion, meaning the ‘ethicalness’ is not just about the clothes; they may release only one collection per year, instead of one per week; and they might donate a certain percent of profits to charity.

What is red fashion in this analogy? Well, naturally, it’s fast fashion.

So when it comes to keeping your conscience in tact when going for a shop, what do you do? Easy, you get your preloved-shopping fix by shopping orange fashion. Then, add-in whenever you can, and the prices aren’t prohibitive, your ethical green fashion to supplement your basics wardrobe.

Staying in the orange light of fashion is a happy place to be and not unreasonable, and if you choose to do this 100% of the time, it’s great because you’re avoiding the red fashion zone! No matter where your ethics lie, Kate suggests that the next time you want to buy a garment, ask yourself a few things to keep in the slow lane.

  1. Do I need it?
  2. Will I wear it 30 times or more?
  3. Can I buy this at an op-shop or preloved clothing market?
  4. Does my budget allow me to invest in green fashion right now?
  5. What is my traffic light balance, and am I happy with where it is?