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Forget Urban Outfitters or American Apparel – think thrift

March 16, 2009

Andy Kroll

It was my own, idyllic designer boutique. A gem of a store with all the houndstooth blazers and Italian-made men’s shoes I could imagine, hidden there amongst the more conspicuous shops and offices of Manhattan’s Third Avenue. One unseasonably hot morning last summer, I walked into this particular store with $20; half an hour later I strolled contentedly out with an entire handmade suit.

I’m talking not of some actual designer store, but of the best deal for clothes and shoes even furniture for cash-strapped, sustainable minded students — the Salvation Army.

The Salvation Army, or “Salvo” in campus parlance, offers students trying to be more green a two-pronged opportunity to live more sustainably: You can give your unwanted shirts and shoes and pants to the store, and you can buy other people’s donated goods as well.

By donating clothes and other belongings, you ensure that those things don’t end up in the garbage can and landfill somewhere, which only adds to our country’s waste problems, or that they don’t end up in an incinerator, which releases harmful emissions. According to the Rocky Mountain Institute, donating unwanted clothes instead of throwing them out saves you 165 pounds of CO2 a year. And by shopping at thrift stores including the Salvation Army, you’re essentially reusing other people’s belongings and getting more use out those items than if they’d been thrown out.

You’re also decreasing your own consumption rate for new products by buying reused items, and if large amounts of people followed suit and bought reused clothes and furniture, that would decrease demand for production of new items and result in less raw product consumption.

In my own case, I started shopping at the Salvation Army a year or two ago, snapping up the odd jacket and dress shirt, and have been a faithful shopper—and donor—ever since. Unless an article of clothing is completely wrecked, I try to give most of my unwanted t-shirts and jeans to the Salvation Army once every couple of months. Fortunately, there’s a store location just a few blocks from my house, so it’s an easy walk.

For those frightened of buying reused clothes, I can say that I’ve never had a bad experience with anything I’ve bought from the thrift stores—no smelly shoes, no bug-infested jackets or anything like that. Granted, that’s just my own personal experience. (David Sedaris’ own experience—a pair of thrift store pants gave him crabs—is quite different.) My advice: Make sure you thoroughly inspect something before you buy it, which I always do.

And it’s not just clothes, either. You can buy CDs, kitchen appliances, sometimes TVs and a number of other eclectic accouterments donated to the store—many of which are far better off on a store shelf instead of sitting in a landfill and potentially damaging the environment.

When my girlfriend moved into a new apartment in Florida this past fall, she even found two matching leather couches in pristine condition, a sturdy kitchen table and several matching wooden chairs—and all for cheap.

So for college students looking to make their own shopping habits a bit more eco- and wallet-friendly, thrift stores are a great place to start.

You want updates; I’ve got them: My meat-eating experiment—“I’m going to cut [my meat consumption] down by 75 percent, to 5 meat-eating occasions a week. I figure that should be a significant step toward cutting my carbon footprint through my eating habits,” I wrote—which I began last week, is failing. I hardly realized how difficult it is to break this carnivorous habit of mine.

Now that I think about it, most of my meals before beginning this project consisted of some kind of meat, whether it’s Kung Pao chicken, or a hamburger patty, or chili with ground beef in it. You really don’t realize how much meat you eat until it’s gone.

I’ll admit I exceeded by “5 meat-eating occasions a week” target last week—but only by one. This week I’m hoping a bit more fortitude will see me through until Sunday.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Yuliya M permalink
    March 16, 2009 9:26 pm

    Andy!

    Glad to see it I made it into the blog post. I have to say that my motivation for shopping at Salvo was not because of my environmental consciousness, but rather because of my empty wallet. And since getting settled into this apartment, I’ve bought plenty of new things… mostly from the wonderful ikea a few miles away.

    In terms of shopping at donation centers such as Salvation Army and Goodwill, keep in mind TWO rules of thumb.
    1. Never buy underwear!
    2. Never buy a couch that will mew at you (did you see the story of the woman who got a used couch and couldn’t figure out why it kept making noise, until she found a starved little kitten living inside of it)

    Keep up the great work with the blog!

  2. March 22, 2009 1:56 am

    I found your site on Google and read a few of your other entires. Nice Stuff. I’m looking forward to reading more from you.

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