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 independent 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 will 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. During the lecture Aja Barbierthe book consumesI discovered that only 10 to 20 percent of clothes donated to charity shops are resold, with much of it being shipped overseas – to places like Kantamanto Market in Accra, Ghana, where a 15 million garments 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.

About Renee Williams

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