Pre-loved was accessible in both cost and location, but – to my surprise – it also more than satisfied my shopping urges. My days of falling asleep, dreaming of how fabulous I’d look top-to-toe in Topshop’s sequined party dresses were over, but I became someone who took risks at clothes swaps and revelled in layering and pattern clashing to find a new look. The eclectic nature of second-hand means my wardrobe has remained unique and reflective of my taste rather than dictated trends.
Switching to second-hand shopping does require an alteration in mindset. You need to be much more patient and experimental. A proper peruse of a charity or vintage store takes time. It is usually a good idea to take a friend for both conversation and consultation. Of course, the likes of Depop, Vestiaire Collective and eBay do enable a specific search but half of the joy of pre-loved shopping is the opportunity to embrace surprising pieces.
Over the years, I have met similarly-minded individuals, and in an attempt to bottle and understand this more organic approach to fashion, I started documenting their incredible outfits on my website, My Indie Wardrobe. “Usually when I decide to buy something, it has to be a stand-out piece. I look for quality and usually choose natural fibres like cotton, linen or silk. I often choose pieces that I know I’ll love for years to come,” says Selena Williams, recent subject and owner of Selena’s Shop.
For me, the “years to come” element to second-hand fashion has been a recent revelation. Spontaneously adding random sparkle to my wardrobe – although fun – didn’t always make the most functional collection of garments, resulting in quite a high turnover. When reading Aja Barber’s book Consumed, I discovered that only 10 to 20 percent of clothing donated to charity shops are resold, with a large proportion being shipped overseas – to places like Kantamanto Market in Accra, Ghana, where an eye-watering 15 million garments arrive every week. At Kantamanto Market, clothing bales are purchased by vendors, but 40 per cent of the unsold clothing is still sent to landfill, informal dumping grounds, burn piles or just straight into the sea.
Second-hand fashion doesn’t help with sustainability if you treat it like fast fashion: a disposable item that’s worn for one night before it hits the landfill, often having a hugely detrimental impact on countries in the Global South. Barber recently tweeted: “The first step is SLOWING DOWN. People want to replace fast fashion one for one with ethical fashion and it just doesn’t work.”
Second-hand fashion does help if it is carefully-selected, loved and repaired, taking the place of a brand-new purchase and complementing the clothing already hanging in the wardrobe. Much like my old black and white vintage T-shirt, which – with a bit of luck – will have some more stories to tell in another 20 years.