There have been quite a few zero waste fails around here – specifically the giant garbage bag of recyclables my husband threw in the trash can… which I rescued. We had a homemade sunscreen day which may not be zero waste and needs a reboot with something stronger than zinc oxide for our pale skinned family. I’ve also ended up with more styrofoam than I’d care to mention while eating out (because I didn’t think ahead to bring my own container!) and I’ve come head to head with the difficulties of zero waste and travel, though I’ve tried (composting on vacation??).
But this post is about my most recent (successful) obsession – online consignment.
My attempts at thrift and consignment store shopping have ended badly. It took doing Strengths Finder to understand why. I’m an “achiever” which means that I need to feel like I accomplished something all the time. The hardest thing for me about having babies is having to rest. I know. Dr. Chemical Engineer is happy on the couch don’t worry. With his iPad. We balance each other. Usually.
So my issue with shopping in actual stores is that I have to walk out of the store with something in order to feel a sense of achievement, even if it’s something I don’t need or want. In a place where most of the clothes aren’t going to fit or be “in style” (I’m a horrible judge), that’s a bad mix. I found that I literally spent less money just buying new clothes from online stores (where I can efficiently accomplish things and people tell me what’s in style!), rather than be trapped in a store feeling like I have to buy something or face the horrendous feeling of an afternoon wasted.
Then I learned about the repercussions of cheap clothing. I’d never considered that clothing has a carbon footprint. A really big one.
This video sums the problem up perfectly (I apologize for the political joke and a handful of expletives).
If you don’t have time to watch it, the gist is that thousands of gallons of water and fuel are used to manufacture, process and ship clothing from all over the world where it’s manufactured. Workers face poor conditions for almost no income and live in poverty. We buy more clothes than we really need because they’re so cheap it doesn’t really matter. Meanwhile most of us wear only 20% of the clothes we own, and thrift stores and consignment stores are drowning in used clothing which has almost no value.
What can you do?
Recycling clothing rather than land filling it is absolutely one of the easiest things you can do to reduce your waste but what about buying your clothing in the first place?
You can either:
- Buy your clothes new from eco-friendly clothing companies like Patagonia, Lulemon, etc.
- Buy your clothes used. There’s plenty out there to choose from.
If you’re a successful garage saler or thrift store shopper (that’s you Tracy), more power to you. I’m not and I promise I’ve tried. So my heart has been singing with the discovery of Thredup.com and Swap.com. I can quickly look through hundreds of items and pick ones that will work for me in a fraction of the time as going to a store. Yes, it’s more expensive than the super cheap methods, but it saves me time and a boat load of money because my brain isn’t wired to shop in thrift stores.
Now that I’m committed to buying used based on the principle of it, which is more motivating to me than cost savings, I’ve been using both sites. I’ve finally replaced some deodorant stained shirts and updated my kids’ wardrobes and wanted to share my experiences with you.
- Their pictures are fantastic. You can tell how clothes are going to fit – whether they’ll be too short or too long, and everything is consistent and true to color. The items I ordered that I thought might be too tight were, and the ones I thought would fit did, all based on how they looked on the mannequin.
- You can get past season’s clothing, which opens up your color options considerably if you care about that kind of thing (I do).
- Their pricing is consistent. Unlike Swap.com that functions more like a marketplace, the pricing on ThredUp follows a formula and it’s generally reasonably priced. However, with less variation means you won’t find things as cheap either.
- The shipping is fast, and returns are fast and free. You get free shipping after $79 which is more than Swap.com.
- I love their marketing – the polka dots are genius and it’s very thorough (sorry… my 10 year old used the word “branding” in a sentence).
- This is nit picky, but they don’t have infinite scroll. :/
- It’s awesome. That’s all.
- It’s ridiculously easy. They send you a free bag with a postage paid label – you fill it up and mail it in. You do not have to do a single other thing.
- On the other hand, it took over 6 weeks to process, which is kind of a long time. But you don’t have to do anything. Trade offs.
- They are very clear that it is NOT intended to make you money. They tell you they don’t give much, and they really don’t. I recently sent in an overstuffed bag of clothing, they accepted a little over 50% and I got a whopping $11.45. This is normal for consignment. People think that because they paid more for it, it’s worth more but it’s not. Used clothing is not worth much. So if you’re looking to make more money, you’ll have to put in more effort (eBay, Craigslist, brick and mortar stores, etc.).
- They are transparent about what they buy and whether it’s sold. They have a calculator so you can figure out how much you might make before you send it in. Once they accept items from your bag, they send you a link to details where you can see whether people have bought your items or not.
- The pictures are not as nice as Thredup and it can be harder to tell if something is in good condition or how it will fit.
- They have categories ThredUp doesn’t have – such as men’s clothing, cloth diapers, housewares (e.g. blankets), etc.
- They have less quality control. I received a pair of “capris” that I realized later on had been made that way with a pair of scissors. Quality control should have caught that one.
- Their filters are a little less streamlined – for example, there’s not an accessories filter.
- Their pricing is all over the place because the sellers set the prices. This is a positive and a negative because you can find things that are both cheaper and overpriced. For example, there are cloth diaper covers selling for more than new ones on Amazon, which I think is insulting. When I emailed them they said “the sellers set the price.” So there’s no oversight.
- They give you free shipping after spending $50, which is much lower than ThredUp.
- I haven’t tried this yet because there’s a fee and I just haven’t wanted to deal with it. If I do at some point in the future I’ll be sure to update this.
For me, they work together. I typically try ThredUp first because I’m a visual person who prefers their images, but there are a lot of things they don’t sell, so for those things I love Swap.com. I’ve always been on the frugal end of things, but as my free time has lessened my desire to be frugal has lessened with it. I’ve found that striving to live zero waste has given me a different reason to buy used, which has resulted in saving quite a lot of money. Our clothing budget is happy and we’re reducing our carbon footprint like crazy.