Second Hand September, All Year Round

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We did it! Second Hand September, Oxfam’s simple 30-day pledge to buy no new clothes, has come to a close. I’m really proud to have kept up the challenge all month - I actually didn’t buy any clothes at all, even from charity shops (#brokelife), but I’m such a huge fan of thrifting and it’s explosion in popularity recently, so it’s nothing short of brilliant that over 62,000 people signed up to say no to fast fashion (and over 30,000 used the hashtag on Instagram!)

The campaign, which aimed to showcase the power of second hand fashion, encouraging folk to reconsider buying from a conventional source, was prompted by some of these pretty shocking facts:

  • The carbon footprint of new clothing bought in the UK every month is greater than a plane flying round the world 900 times.

  • The carbon footprint of new clothing bought in the UK every minute is greater than driving a car round the world 6 times.

  • The carbon footprint of new clothing bought in the UK every second is greater than driving a car from London to the Costa Del Sol and back again.

It’s not all bad news though - the size of the resale market is projected to surpass fast fashion in the next few years - proving that second hand has really gained it’s cool factor back (thanks in no small part to the likes of Depop, getting those pesky wee youths on board). Remember the ever-looming threat of being bullied at school for wearing charity shop clothes that were only for ‘poor people’? Just me? Well, those days are long gone, and as the sustainable fashion movement finally moves towards a reduction of rapid consumption rather than simply rapid consumption of ethical brands. It feels like we’re reaching a tipping point - here’s how we can keep the momentum going.

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Shopping second hand is one of the most important tools in your sustainable fashion toolkit

The simple reason that shopping second hand can help tackle the vast environmental (and social) problems created by the production and consumption of new clothing is that we are extending the useful life of clothing.

In technical terms, of which I am slave to in my textiles lectures, the lifespan of a garment ends when it is no longer ‘acceptable’ to the user in terms of aesthetic (maybe the colour has faded or the jumper has started to pill) or functionality (perhaps the elastic has unravelled or the buttons have all come loose). But unfortunately, our perceived value of clothing has diminished to the point where we see the useful life of clothing as ‘over’ when something shiny and new clouds our vision. And the worst part is that when we dispose of our garment, for any of the reasons listed above, we send a huge amount (30% in the UK) straight to landfill where it is unlikely to decompose for several centuries.

When we opt for second hand clothing, we are refusing to support the cycle of take-make-buy-dispose; instead we’re extending the product life cycle using resources that already exist in this world of ‘peak stuff’. According to Oxfam, the textiles industry produces more carbon emissions than all international aviation and shipping combined – so if you’re looking to make a climate-friendly lifestyle change right now, your wardrobe is as good a place as any to start.

What’s more, there are countless other benefits to make like Macklemore:

  • Shopping from vintage boutiques or online sellers means you’re supporting small independent businesses which helps the local economy thrive.

  • Buying from charity shops donates money directly to a good cause.

  • If you’re on a budget like me, charity shops are a brilliant way to save money. I rarely pay more than £10 for a single item in my local stores.

  • Trends always repeat themselves, so vintage and retro is always in fashion.

  • If you love the styles of high street and designer brands but don’t want to support them financially because of their ethos, you can still ‘indulge’ via charity shops.

  • Most thrifted finds are one of a kind so no one else will be wearing the same thing - win.

  • The hunt for the perfect piece is so much more exciting than mass-produced, chain store fashion bought straight off the mannequin - it allows you to indulge your individuality and creative personal style.

  • Often vintage clothes are better quality, made in the days before cheap fast fashion and sweatshop production. Second hand does not mean second best!

  • Pre-loved clothes come with a past life, a story, a life cycle to continue on with your own adventures!

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Now for the important part - the 30-day pledge is a great launchpad for change, but Second Hand September could happen all year round! Obviously it’s not always possible to only buy second hand clothing, especially for things like underwear and sportswear (try ethical brands Organic Basics and Girlfriend Collective for these!), but we can all aim to consider a pre-loved option (charity shop / vintage boutique / vintage market / clothes swap / Depop / Ebay / borrowing from a friend / clothing rental) the next time we ‘need’ a new piece of clothing or accessory. Imagine the incredible positive impact that could have!

Here is a video I made with Revolve, Scotland’s quality standard for second hand stores, with some of my advice for second hand shopping so you can dive into the treasure troves of those charity shop rails with all the right tools (scroll through the posts for all 5 top tips). And here is another video of my little charity shopping spree around Edinburgh! (sponsored collaboration)

Have you been taking part in #SecondHandSeptember? How did you find your experience? Do you need any help on your second-hand shopping journey? Let me know in the comments!

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Outfit details

Dress: Vintage John Galliano (third hand - borrowed from one of my best friends who has an extremely enviable wardrobe full of vintage gems like this one)
T-shirt: Zara (4 years old - bought when I worked there while at uni in Aberdeen)
Earrings: M&S (1 year old)
Boots: Charity shop, originally Topshop (soles glued back together too many times to count)
Necklace: Dowse Design
Belt: Charity shop

Pictures by Ellie Morag

Ruth MacGilpComment