By Abigail Ang (18S06B)
Donating second hand items is a common experience for many Singaporeans – those who live in HDB flats will have inevitably found the yellow recycling bag on their doorstep from some charity organisation, requesting donations of old clothes, books, toys, and the like. Fewer people are familiar, though, with where these donated items end up. And while it may feel like we are doing good for the environment by recycling these items, the truth of the matter is that our habits of buying-new and donating-old do not do much to reduce waste in the long run.
Consumerism and its Effects
One obvious culprit of wastage in modern society is rampant consumerism. Consumers are continuously urged to buy more, even things that we may not need. You may be familiar with some examples, such as having to buy a new printer every year because they break down so frequently due to planned obsolescence, or a new charger cord for each new generation of a smartphone.
Another product corporations have gotten us to spend on is fashion. Think H&M, Forever 21, Topshop and Zara – these are brands that are popular for their trendy designs and low prices. But much of what they sell is fast fashion – clothes with short fashion cycles, meant to go out of style every half-month or so, if it has not already come apart in the wash.
One characteristic of fast fashion companies is their control of the entire supply chain management of their products. You might remember, from your Social Studies lessons in secondary school, how companies move their manufacturing to countries with cheap labor and lax regulations in an endless “race to the bottom”. As a result, many clothing brands have been embroiled in scandals when factories in which their products were made were caught using child labor and violating workplace safety regulations, the most famous example being Rana Plaza collapse in 2013, which led to the death of 1,134 people, many of whom were women and children.
Not only do many of these brands have unethical practices, the habit of mass consumption these brands promote unnecessarily ramps up the rate of production and disposal of clothing in what is already known as one of the ‘dirtiest’ industries in the world – the garment industry.
Not only does the production process of textiles use up resources and produce pollution, upon disposal, most of these clothes end up in as waste in landfills. Even if they are donated to charity, they often end up in third-world countries due to excess. This undermines the local garment industry there and often come in such voluminous excess the clothes that cannot be sold are burnt.
So what can we consumers do, apart from running away to live in a self-supporting commune? Well, one obvious solution is the cut down on the number of clothes we buy in the first place, and try to buy from ethical retailers. We should also source for clothes of a better quality which can last a longer time. However, this may be quite expensive for the average student and not realistic for everyone – do you really want to hold on to that shirt you once thought suited you but actually doesn’t?
An option would be to trade clothes and buy second-hand. This is environmentally friendly and generally cheaper. I went down to various thrift shops around Singapore for a first-hand experience of second-hand shopping.
New2U Thrift Shop
Recommended For: Casual and formal clothing
Location: 96 Waterloo Street (nearest MRT station: Bras Basah, take Exit D)
Changing Room: Yes
The New2U thrift shop is run by the Singapore Council for Women Organisation (SCWO) at their headquarters at Waterloo street. Proceeds from the sales of secondhand clothes, shoes and books – all from donations – go to supporting its charities. These include legal services for women, and a shelter for victims of domestic abuse.
Personally, it was hands down the favourite thrift store I’ve visited – perhaps because it drew a younger crowd. Much of its wide selection of clothing – from Levi’s to Zara to G2000 – was still somewhat in fashion and from recent seasons, and for half or even less of its original price. They also have a 50% discount for students who present their student pass on selected days of the month.
Su Di Wen (18S06B), rated her shopping experience 10/10, because “[the volunteers] are so nice and there’s so much stuff here.”
The only downside to visiting this store is its opening hours – only on weekdays and only till 2.30 p.m. – making it quite inconvenient for the average busy student to visit. (This reader did so by leaving school immediately after afternoon assembly.)
Recommended for: Formal clothes or the occasional buy
Location: 30 Woodlands Ring Rd (There are numerous MINDS stores in Singapore; this was the one we visited)
Changing Room: No
The selection of clothing items at MINDS@Woodlands.
Run by the Movement for the Intellectually Disabled Singapore (MINDS), the shop acts as source of income for the organisation and also provides a workplace for their clients to gain training experience in employment.
This writer found the available selection somewhat limited as its racks were mainly filled with suits, dresses and formal pants. Those looking for office attire would be in luck though; I managed to find a dress for $5 which I later wore to an internship during the holidays.
Online Options – Carousell
Recommended for: Anything, though this writer would warn anybody away from items at dirt-cheap prices. As the adage goes – “you get what you pay for.”
The buying and selling platform Carousell is one of the largest and most convenient sources marketplaces for ‘pre-loved’ items.
Carousell offers a wide range of clothing, with users reselling clothes from brands ranging from Uniqlo and ASOS to local blogshop Love Bonito. The platform did not gain the nickname of ‘Carouhell’ for nothing though; a shrewd eye and healthy dose of skepticism is needed for successful purchases. Nevertheless, for users with experience and at a certain level of ‘street smart’, Carousell is one of the best sources of secondhand clothes at reduced prices.
Thrifting in Singapore
There are other options: the Really Really Free Market in Singapore, part of a global movement with somewhat libertarianism roots, offers a place for the barter of first and secondhand goods, including clothes. However, it remains that thrifting seems much more commonplace in countries like the United States and Australia than here.
This may have to do with the lack of awareness of the options available – most the friends were only familiar with the Salvation Army thrift shop – the perception that thrifted clothes are dirty, and other stigmas against pre-worn clothes. Due to the lower demand for thrifted clothing, there are naturally fewer places that collect and sell them, though this has changed somewhat in recent years with online platforms like Carousell.
With persistence and a keen eye, however, thrifting can be an extremely fulfilling experience. Even if you are not inclined towards this form of shopping, there are other ways to contribute. As Caren Teo from SCWO stated, “If you have a lot of clothes that you don’t wear so often and you donate it for a charitable cause, it really goes towards benefiting someone else.”