Quitting fast fashion ten years ago taught me the joys of second-hand shopping
Pre-loved was accessible both in terms of cost and location, but – to my surprise – it also more than satisfied my shopping cravings. My days of dozing off, dreaming of looking head-to-toe fabulous in Topshop’s sequined evening dresses, were over, but I became someone who took risks when swapping clothes and reveled in layering and contrasting patterns to find a new look. The eclectic nature of second hand means my wardrobe has remained unique and reflects my tastes rather than dictated trends.
Going second-hand requires a change of mindset. You have to be much more patient and experimental. A good read from a charity or vintage store takes time. It’s usually a good idea to bring a friend along for conversation and consultation. Sure, the likes of Depop, Vestiaire Collective, and eBay allow for specific searching, but half the joy of pre-liked shopping is the opportunity to embrace some surprising pieces.
Over the years, I’ve met like-minded people, and in an effort to bottle and understand this more organic approach to fashion, I’ve started documenting their amazing outfits on my website, My Indie Wardrobe. “Usually when I decide to buy something, it has to be a piece that stands out. I look for quality and usually choose natural fibers like cotton, linen or silk. I often choose pieces that I know I’ll love for years,” says Selena Williams, recent subject and owner of Selena’s Shop.
For me, the “years to come” element of second-hand fashion has been a recent eye-opener. Spontaneously adding random shards to my wardrobe – while fun – hasn’t always made for the most functional collection of clothing, resulting in a pretty high turnover. Reading Aja Barber’s book consumes, I discovered that only 10-20% of clothes donated to charity shops are resold, with much of it being shipped overseas – to places like Kantamanto Market in Accra, Ghana, where 15 million clothes arrive every week. At Kantamanto Market, bales of clothes are bought by vendors, but 40% of unsold clothes are still sent to landfill, informal dumps, trash heaps or just straight to the sea.
Second-hand fashion doesn’t help sustainability if you treat it like fast fashion: a disposable item that’s worn overnight before it hits the landfill, which often has a hugely detrimental impact on countries in the Global South. Barber recently tweeted: “The first step is to SLOW DOWN. People want to replace one-for-one fast fashion with ethical fashion and it’s just not working.
Second-hand fashion helps if carefully selected, loved and repaired, replacing a brand new purchase and complementing clothes already hanging in the wardrobe. A bit like my old black and white vintage T-shirt, which – hopefully – will have other stories to tell in 20 years.