Our western culture of consumerism and fast fashion is everywhere we look. Online, in magazines, on the high street and in our wardrobes. At its simplest, keeping up with the trends and looking fabulous burns a hole in our pockets. When you look deeper, it has an impact on our environment and traps the people who make our clothes in poverty.
I love clothes, but fast fashion can be exhausting and expensive, not to mention, often unethical. I’ve been on a journey to find out how shopping for second hand fashion can be sustainable, ethical and affordable, while still leaving you feeling fabulous.
WHY shop differently?
Fast fashion has a negative environmental and social impact on our global neighbours. The resources that are required to produce our clothes and the disposal of clothes we no longer want put pressure on our delicate natural world. More pesticides are used to grow natural fibres (such as cotton) than on any other crop, and synthetic fibres (which are used to make much of our clothing) release greenhouse gases which can be significantly more harmful than carbon dioxide. (Huffington Post)
Most people will also be aware of the underpaid, substandard conditions of many factories where our clothes are made, which are usually found in very poor communities in developing countries. Often child labour is used, and workers are expected to work extremely long hours. Whilst some companies are publicly declaring that they are making changes to how their factory workers are treated, it is very hard for companies to monitor factories that they outsource to. An example of this was shown in a 2016 BBC Panorama documentary, where Syrian refugees were working in a Turkish factory under poor conditions for well-known brands that had outsourced work to other smaller factories (supposedly outside of the brand’s knowledge).
Whilst some brands do pride themselves on being completely ethical, you usually need to fork out considerably more than you would do at an average high street shop. So what are the peaks and pits of shopping second hand?
It’s affordable: This is a big one for me! Since I have consciously been trying to shop second hand, I have noticed a considerable dip in the amount I spend on clothes.
It’s good for charity: If you’re shopping in charity shops, not only are you getting some fab new outfits at a bargain price, you’re also giving money to charity. What better way to kill two birds with one stone! (Also if you donate to charity shops and register for gift aid, some charities will tell you how much they have raised from selling your stuff – how great is that!)
It’s original: If you buy second hand, you’re much less likely to see someone wearing that same ‘must have’ H&M top, or turning up at a wedding with the same outfit as someone else.
It’s fun: I’ve enjoyed many a chilled Saturday morning on a ‘charity shop crawl’ with a bunch of mates. We tend to cram into the changing rooms with a whole load of things to try on (and sometimes for a bit of a laugh pick out the most ‘alternative’ outfit we can find for one another).
It busts consumerism: By not having to go into big shopping centres, I’m not being exposed so much to the lure of retail marketing. I’ve realised that my desire to ‘consume’ has reduced, to the point that I now sometimes feel a bit overwhelmed going into high street shops. Popping to a second hand shop feels much easier to digest, and can be quite refreshing.
It takes time: It can be a bit more time consuming to shop second hand as it requires more browsing, and you don’t always find what you want first, second, or even third time around! You also can’t nip into a second hand shop for a spot of late night shopping – you’re usually confined to the standard 9-5. I’ve combatted this by trying to think ahead, for example starting to look around a few weeks earlier if I know there’s an event I need an outfit for.
It involves browsing: Not a browser? You may think that spending a Saturday browsing the second hand shop sounds like the worst possible way to spend a weekend. If you’re not so into the browsing, maybe try to pop into second hand shops for a quick scan when you pass by. You may be pleasantly surprised.
It’s easy to go BIG: It can be easy to buy stuff ‘just because it’s cheap’ and I’ve definitely returned from second hand shops with clothes I’ve not worn again. (BUT at the end of the day you’ve still given money to charity, and you can easily donate the clothes back again.) I have found that the more I shop second hand, the better I am at working out what I will wear again, and what I need to leave on the rail.
HOW to shop second hand well
Here are my top tips on shopping second hand well…
Second hand shops: In most cities and towns, there is a wealth of second hand shops. My advice would be to pick your area well, perhaps go to a part of town that is a bit wealthier, as people can afford to donate nicer clothes, often with designer labels. Having said this, charity shops are also getting better at moving stock around between stores to make sure they all have a good variety of clothes.
Online: eBay/Shpock/Gumtree, you name it, there are a wealth of second hand sites online. If you are looking for something specific, but question the ethics of the company who makes it, maybe you could try to go online to find something pre-owned. (I was recently looking on eBay for some Nike trainers and found loads going second hand, which were in a great condition and over half the price of a new pair).
Clothes swaps: I have recently got some great pre-loved clothing from family and friends, who for various reasons were moving things on. Whether formally arranging a ‘clothes swap’ event, or just chatting with friends about stuff you no longer have a use for, clothes swaps are a great way to freshen up your wardrobe.
Leading the way
People often have reservations that it’s not possible to shop second hand and also look fashionable. Here are a few pals of mine wearing some of their second hand clothes to completely bust that myth.
So, whether you’re a complete novice or a seasoned expert in shopping second hand, I hope that this blog helps you to get your summer wardrobe looking fabulous, whilst also being super ethical.