Buy no new clothes in September? That’s what Oxfam’s Second-Hand September initiative is suggesting we pledge to do. As a designer creating twice-yearly collections, you might think I’d give that a big thumbs down. After all, isn’t that slightly counter-productive for a fashion business?
Not for a sustainable one. I think Second-Hand September is a great idea. Here we are, almost in 2020, with the production of clothing at its highest level ever and prices on the high street at their lowest. With 11 million items of clothing going to landfill every week, and the associated pressure on our planet, my take is that everything that encourages us to do fashion better and more slowly is good. More than that, it’s necessary.
Second-hand, pre-owned, pre-loved, vintage… whatever you call it, old clothing is always going in and out of fashion. In Victorian England wearing ‘old shapes and styles’ was a sign of low status, but by the 1970s antique and old clothing was seen as romantic and rebellious. Vivienne Westwood made reclaimed rockabilly clothing and DIY slashed denim and leather the height of cool, a look that was anarchic and anti-consumerist. And in the 1990s, when I was at university, second-hand was in again and by now, like a good wine, known as vintage. We saw it as a sign of individuality and self-expression.
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Me and my art school friends shopped second-hand because a) we were on a serious budget and b) you’d come out with something unique. There’s a different kind of buzz to coming across a pre-loved find that’s really special. It makes you feel like you’ve uncovered treasure, or done something particularly clever and stylish. Now we know it’s also helping to save the planet.
In recent years I’ve become a major minimalist, and tend to wear the same things every day like a uniform. Apart from meaning I buy fewer clothes, it also makes getting dressed easier – it’s one less decision to make daily. Of course, I also have my own fashion label I can draw on when I want to. But for me, buying vintage is still a great way to get that dopamine fix that comes with finding a unique, individual and cool piece that no one else has – whether that’s a 1970s evening dress for an event, a pair of old Chanel logo earrings, or some worn jeans that you can pull on and instantly feel comfortable in – without being riddled with guilt.
That’s probably why the fashion resale market is exploding. Aside from Oxfam and other charity shops, plus local vintage stores, there’s a whole digital retail world making it easier. Vestiare Collective allows you to set up alerts on specific pieces or labels that you love so you’re notified when they go on sale. Farfetch.com has a big pre-owned category, and now customers can exchange their old designer bags for store credits. Depop has changed the market for 1980s and 1990s fashion – especially sportswear – and makes it really simple for users to buy and sell through an app. Then there’s 1stDibs.com, which is amazing for high-calibre finds like vintage watches, jewellery and limited edition Birkin bags.
And with an estimated £30 billion worth of unworn clothing hanging in our wardrobes in the UK alone (according to the waste reduction charity WRAP), we also need to be taking stock of what we already own and making sure we’re passing on or re-selling our clothes. What’s in your wardrobe that could have a second life? I’ve loved seeing so many fashion influencers doing clear-outs this month for Second Hand September. It’s inspired me to get my friends together to do our own sale for charity in November. Re-selling or giving to charity those pieces that you’ve loved and looked after but just aren’t wearing any more puts a better quality of second-hand clothing into circulation. Giving good clothes a longer life? What’s not to love – and love again and again – about that?