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The more I think about it, September is my unofficial new year. Maybe it’s because I’ve moved into a new house, I’m entering my final year of uni or because I just turned 22, but September feels like a rebirth of sorts. And with every new year comes reflections and resolutions, some trivial, some rewarding, some totally unrealistic. I’ve always been a bit weary of setting yearly goals because I worry that I’m only setting myself up for failure. If 2020 is anything to go by, it’s hard to predict what will happen next week, let alone in the next 52 weeks. But if there is one resolution I can get behind it’s #SecondHandSeptember - a 30-day pledge to say no to new.
If you’re new around here or don’t follow me on Instagram - where I like to frolic in floral fields and show off my latest puffy-sleeved find - I’m a self-confessed thrifty queen. There’s nothing I love more than a good ol’ charity shop rummage. I love it all: the endless hours spent cautiously flicking through the rails, the joy of finding something that fits like a glove and even the fruitless searches where I leave empty-handed.
I’ve always loved charity shopping growing up and used to plan day trips around visiting new towns famed for their thrifty havens. My love for secondhand reached new heights this summer when a lockdown style crisis and a personal clothes shortage (I had to quickly fly home from the Netherlands mid-pandemic, minus the majority of my wardrobe) allowed me to redefine my style and, with it, assemble the ultimate “picnic bitch” secondhand capsule wardrobe.
You can imagine my delight when the face of this year’s Oxfam campaign was unveiled as no other than critically-acclaimed actress, Michaela Coel. It can often feel like fast fashion is only ever going to get faster, that thrifting will remain on the cusp of becoming mainstream, but seeing such high-profile public figures embrace secondhand fashion gives me hope. What’s more, the secondhand market is set to hit $64b in the next 5 years. Monumental change is upon us.
So, today, instead of my usual doom and gloom - though, there is plenty of that in the news roundup! - I wanted to share my favourite tips and resources, so, you too, can be a thrifty queen or king 💚
13 reasons to shop secondhand
Shopping secondhand is ultimately the most sustainable way to shop because you’re giving a new lease of life to a pre-loved garment. This prevents unloved clothing from going to waste and joining the 13 million items of clothing that end up in a UK landfill every week.
The mass production of clothes places a huge strain on the earth’s resources. Opting for secondhand helps to ease this pressure on our planet by prioritising textiles already in circulation. It is estimated that extending the average lifespan of our clothes by just three months would lead to a 5-10% reduction in each item’s carbon, water and waste footprint.
Another huge selling point is its affordability. Secondhand clothes usually come with heavily discounted price tags, making it the perfect way to kickstart your sustainability journey. In other words, it’s good for the planet and your bank balance.
Your purchases won’t directly fund a fashion industry that is notoriously exploitative, wasteful and polluting. In fact, the resale market is currently predicted to grow and thrive at the expense of traditional retail, meaning it's diverting revenue from the fast fashion industry.
Charity shopping allows you to direct your money where you want it and support a good cause of your choice. You’re also supporting a small business owner when you shop from local vintage sellers.
Shopping secondhand is somewhat of a treasure hunt. You can leave loads of stores empty-handed then strike gold with a designer piece. It’s moments like these that make the entire trip worth it and your wardrobe unique. Plus, you can stop worrying about bumping into somebody else wearing the same outfit!
Thrifting is an affordable way to experiment with your style and hop off the hamster wheel of trends.
When you frequent secondhand stores, you soon get a creative eye for finding pieces you can transform. Shopping secondhand encourages you to learn new textile skills so you can maintain and upcycle your wardrobe.
Selling your own unwanted clothes extends their lifespan and earns you some extra cash.
There’s no better feeling than saying “oh, thanks! I got it from a charity shop for just £3” or “yeah, it’s vintage!”
Charity shops are usually flooded with donations, many of which will not end up on the shop floor but instead cast off overseas. If you frequently donate clothes, it’s good to buy back into the resale cycle and help more pre-loved clothes find a new home.
In theory, buying secondhand reduces the demand for brand new and curtails the need to extract raw materials. A recent study commissioned by luxury retailer Farfetch found that 65% of secondhand clothing purchases in the US and UK prevented the purchase of something brand new.
According to ThredUP’s 2020 Resale Report, online secondhand seems pandemic proof, and will see an increase in sales by 69% between 2019 and 2021.
Mel’s top thrifting tips
Out with the old, in with the new: before you spend hours scrolling through Depop (speaking from experience here), a good place to start is in your own wardrobe. I love to have a periodic clear-out, so I can rediscover long-forgotten faves, sell or swap regretful purchases and identify any gaps in my wardrobe. That way I can also shop with a vague sense of what I’m after, I know where to look and I only buy stuff that will tick #30Wears. Thrift shopping is one of my favourite hobbies but, once you add up all of those seemingly justifiable £5 purchases, it’s easy to end up with a wardrobe that’s bursting at the seams. I recommend checking out veteran thrifter Lauren Bravo’s 5-step guide to spring cleaning your wardrobe.
Be open-minded: Thrift shopping is prime time to experiment with your style. So, rummage in the men’s section and try on things outside of your comfort zone. Sizes tend to fluctuate, especially for vintage items, so don’t be afraid to try on garments slightly outside of your size range. You might even find things you can alter or upcycle, though please refrain from taking away clothes from plus-size thrifters.
Know when and where to shop: The best time to go charity shopping is just after a restock and when the shop floor is fairly quiet - make friends with the volunteers if you don’t know when this is! You should also consider the area you’re shopping in because the local demographic is often reflected in the donations e.g. student towns might have a lot of on-trend pieces while affluent areas might offer more designer gear.
Give yourself time: Admittedly, charity shopping isn’t for everyone and it’s a very different experience to browsing on the high street. You need to rummage, there’s only one of everything and the clothes aren’t always displayed in an organised or aesthetically pleasing way. I personally love this thrillseeking element and I like to set a few hours aside to have a thorough search. If I’m rushing, chances are that I’ll miss a hidden gem. After a while you’ll develop a knack for scanning the shop floor so you naturally gravitate to the more promising sections.
Dress for the occasion: Some thrift stores won’t have any changing rooms, while many have closed during the pandemic. If it’s not possible to try things on, come prepared wearing clothes you can easily try stuff on top of. Sometimes you’re unable to return a purchase so it’s always best to preview before you buy.
Give it the once over: It can be hard to detect sneaky rips, stains or holes in a dimly lit thrift shop. Make sure to look over every potential purchase so you’re not later left with buyer’s regret. Or, if you’re crafty, negotiate a discount and repair it yourself at home. I personally like to check the inside clothing label to double check the material composition and washing instructions. After all, nobody wants to be left with a hefty dry cleaning bill. If I’m shopping on Depop, I first read the seller’s reviews and then double check the item isn’t from a drop shipper.
Go mobile: If you’re not having any luck in store, there are plenty of apps and online platforms to try which allow you to search exactly what you’re looking for in your size.
Don’t give up: You won’t always find what you’re looking for and that’s ok! The good thing is that stock is replenished quickly, so there’s always new exciting finds to get your thrifty hands on.
My favourite places to thrift
On my phone: my favourite resale apps are Depop and Vinted and I’m also impartial to a spot of eBay shopping (tip: filter results to “used”). It’s a simple way to buy trendy pieces for a fraction of the retail price without supporting unethical brands. Gem is also a great one for browsing online vintage clothing.
Online: In a few clicks, you can now bag secondhand garms from the comfort of your own home. I personally love curated vintage stores, like One Scoop Store, Retold Vintage and Manifesto Women, for a Pinterest-worthy experience. If you have any small humans in your life, I’ve only heard good things about Loopster. For designer items, Vestiaire Collective is the one.
Vintage stores: I immediately think of Brick Lane and Rokit but, if I’m being honest, I haven’t quite dabbled in vintage too much yet, so I’d love to hear some of your recommendations!
Kilo sales: Essentially, you scour a warehouse-worthy amount of clothes and fill up a bag for a mere £15. Most kilo sales are currently on pause but they usually tour around the country.
Car boot sales: This is another great one if you’re after a bargain or a rummage. You can find your local car boot here.
Renting: If you’re a commitment phobe or a wear-it-once sort of gal, renting might just be for you. I rented a gorgeous floral dress from Hurr for my birthday and I’ve also been eyeing up a few things on By Rotation. Nuw is another brilliant app for renting and swapping.
Swapping: I couldn’t not plug The Dress Change (full disclosure: I’m their sustainability manager), an online swapping platform. We’re currently celebrating #TDCSwaptember and hosting a pop-up clothes swapping experience in Shoreditch later this month.
Are we still facing secondhand stigma? While it's great that thrifting is trending, secondhand shopping is still somewhat stigmatised ("thrifted clothes are old, dirty and outdated or for the poor"). Though the soaring popularity of online resale platforms may be slowly dismantling these beliefs, there is still an element of classism in these stereotypes that needs to be addressed. There's also a psychological barrier to thrifting, with some expressing that they don't feel that same dopamine rush they get from buying brand new. A survey by BusinessWaste.co.uk found that, while 60% of respondents were happy to thrift at charity shops, 80% were happy to thrift at an independent store, highlighting the ongoing stigma around charity shopping. The latter figure, however, rose to 92% if they saw a friend or celebrity shopping there. So, we can break down this stigma by sharing our secondhand shopping thrills with our friends!⠀
Has thrifting become gentrified? As thrifting gains in popularity - it has become so profitable that H&M-owned brand, Cos, has launched its own Resell platform - some worry that prices will increase, pushing those that shopped in charity shops out of necessity to fast fashion. Others argue that thrifting is as accessible as ever, pointing to the rise of Depop. Georgie Kibel believes Instagram vintage sellers are gentrifying charity shopping while Hatti Rex asked Depop sellers and users to weigh in on the debate.
Where do our charity shop donations really end up? Wardrobe purges proved a popular lockdown pastime, with bags of donations being left at charity shop doors. But only 10-30% of those donations will make their way to the shop floor, with the rest either shipped to landfill or abroad. I have written more on the subject here.
In other news…
Remember when Boohoo feigned “shock” at “allegations” that garment workers in its Leicester supply chain were working in conditions of modern slavery? It has since transpired that auditors had repeatedly raised minimum-wage red flags at 18 Boohoo supplier factories but were ignored.
A new global coalition is calling for sustainability to be central to post-Covid recovery in the fashion, apparel and textile sector. The open letter was signed by 19 major brands and organisations, including H&M, Tommy Hilfiger, Primark, the Sustainable Apparel Coalition and WWF. While we need industry-wide initiative, eyebrows have been raised at the credibility of certain signatories, especially those that were refusing to #PayUp, because fast fashion retailers can, by definition, never be sustainable.
Aja Barber and Venetia La Manna both publicly declined their nominations as '“sustainability influencer of the year” for Fabulous magazine. The award tokenises the work of sustainable activists and seeks to profit from their association, despite Fabulous mag showing no commitment to sustainable reporting. This is a timely reminder that magazines can very much be part of the harmful greenwashing and wokewashing cycle.
According to a recent report by UK labour rights non-profit Business and Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC), garment factories are “using the pandemic as a cover to attack workers’ freedom of association”, Elizabeth Cline reports.
We shouldn’t underestimate the impact of celebrities outfit repeating and embracing the “green carpet” at award shows but now we need to see that become the norm rather than a novelty. Sustainability shouldn’t be a bonus or an afterthought.
A global coalition group - The Fashion Conveners - have formed to urge the acceleration of the transformational changes needed to reduce the environmental and social impacts across fashion.
This isn’t a fashion article exactly but Sian Conway’s take on the Oatly scandal is a very telling read on the somewhat limited power of the purse, which begs the question: can there ever be conscious consumerism under capitalism?
After cancelling its 2019 event, the Swedish Fashion Council relaunched Stockholm Fashion Week which went entirely virtual and fur-free.
Slow Fashion Factory are offering a series of free workshops and lectures by industry experts on everything from fashion and racial justice to transparency and greenwashing - you can register your interest here.
Speaking of events, you’re also invited to the first virtual Green Carpet Fashion Awards in early October.
You can only imagine my surprise when I read the headline “The H&M Supply Chain Could Be the Model to Follow in Making Fast Fashion Sustainable”. The problem is that fast fashion - a model which churns out temporarily trendy, poorly-made clothes at lighting speed - can never be sustainable. The article looks at H&M’s various goals and innovations but nowhere does it address the issue of volume. Sadly, it doesn’t really matter if your clothes are made from orange peels or recycled polyester if brands are mass-manufacturing thousands of them.
Now here is a headline I can get behind: “Let’s Stop Pretending We Need New Clothes Every Season”
Kinita Shenoy on why desi mothers and grandmothers - who have been passing down saris and hand-sewing dresses for years – should be the the face of sustainable fashion.
9 common myths about ethical and sustainable fashion.
Sustainable stylist, Alice Cruickshank, has launched Curated by Alice, an online tailored shopping experience which proves you don’t have to sacrifice style for ethics.
Why the sustainable fashion movement should always include plus-size people.
Megan Doyle investigates the rise of impact investment and what it means for the sustainable fashion industry.
I have been loving Refinery 29’s Long Live Style series which is re-imagining an inclusive and equitable fashion industry.
Lauren Cochrane on how upcycling might be the future of fashion.
Anna Murphy asks if we’re witnessing the end of fashion trends.
“Although an innovative solution to the dual problem of supporting workers and reducing waste, initiatives like [Lost Stock] speak to our neoliberal, late-capitalist era by putting the onus on the consumer to fix the deep-seated problems in the fashion industry” - my thoughts exactly from a brilliant piece on how Covid-19 could be the fashion industry’s final reckoning (and, if you missed it, I sent out a deep dive on the Lost Stock fiasco last fortnight).
The future of fashion? Sustainability is the word.
Rob Steel on why we need to redefine sustainable fashion, a buzzword thrown around with little clarity or sincerity.
What is SB 1399?
SB 1399, otherwise known as The Garment Worker Protection Act, is a landmark legislative bill that sought to prevent wage theft in the Los Angeles’ apparel industry. Despite passing in California’s state senate earlier this summer, it died in the state assembly when, after making amendments, the Appropriations Committee failed to bring the bill up for a vote in time before the deadline of this year's legislative session.
The bill was introduced by state Sen. Maria Elena Durazo and, by law, would require apparel factories to pay garment workers a set hourly wage instead of paying by the piece - dismantling a system that currently awards garment workers as little as 30 cents per completed piece. It would also make fashion brands and retailers directly liable for wage theft throughout their entire supply chain in an attempt to close loopholes in current legislation which makes wage theft for subcontracted work in third-party factories difficult to trace, monitor and report.
In 2016, 85% of 77 inspected garment shops were found to be committing wage violations and the situation may have only worsened as undocumented workers avoid filing wage claims out of fear of deportation. And in the midst of an economically-disastrous pandemic which saw reports of LA apparel factories shutting down after hundreds of workers tested positive for Covid-19, the bill was hailed by many as urgently needed reform. The founders of the #PayUp campaign, Remake, championed the bill as “historic legislation”, amplifying hopes that it would set a national, or even global, precedent.
The bill, however, was strongly opposed by leading trade associations who feared that stricter regulations would drive business out of a state that has already seen employment shrink by about two-thirds over the last few decades, as factories struggle to complete with low-cost production overseas. Though several recognisable labels did pledge their support for the bill, including sustainably marketed Reformation. Fashion Nova too backed the legislation, likely because it had been exposed for paying garment workers in its LA supplier factories as little as $2.77 an hour in December last year. It is hoped that with the backing of such high-profile retailers and renewed campaign efforts by labour activists and organisations, the bill may soon become a reality in the next legislative year.
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