This September Oxfam is urging us to shop second-hand in a bid to reduce the environmental impact of making new clothes.
Thirteen million items of clothing are added to landfill every week in the UK! That’s a huge amount of material that could be recycled or repurposed.
In fact much of it is probably still ok to wear. But with clothing so cheap, and new styles available every week (both the consequences and cause of ‘fast fashion’), items can be worn just a few times before they’re consigned to the scrapheap.
The problem is every time a new garment is manufactured, it takes its toll on the planet. Oxfam say 20,000 litres of water are required to make one pair of jeans and one t-shirt. For a person to drink that much would take 13 years.
And that’s not the only problem. There’s also an issue with pollution (particularly from dyes) and how often do we hear about labour issues, whether child labour or incredibly low wages. We really need to consider more sustainable alternatives.
Listen to Andy chat with fellow money bloggers Hollie and Faith about the Second-hand September campaign in this episode of the Cash Chats podcast.
And if the environmental argument to buy less new clothing is quite enough to get you away from Primark, there’s also a financial one.
If you’re guilty of buying items you hardly wear, so are other people. If they donate it after a couple of wears, then you’ll be able to buy something practically brand new for a fraction of the price. And there are other ways to get second-hand clothes without spending anything at all.
So whether you’re looking to take part in #SecondHandSepember or just want to reduce how much you spend on clothes, I’ve a few tricks to help you get involved.
Where to buy second-hand clothes
Find local charity shops
The obvious places are charity shops. It probably makes sense to hit a few in one shopping session to help uncover that gem that’s just right for you.
Some shops will be a jack-of-all-trades and sell everything from cutlery to board games, but take a look to see if there are specialist fashion stores which will have a wider range. There are also some geared explicitly at younger people.
You can use this Charity Retail Association tool to see which shops are near you and get an idea of what things are sold there.
Remember too that there are lots of charities which need your money, so you might want to choose local or smaller ones in the first instance, or ones which support causes close to your heart.
Hunt for high end and designer second-hand
If you can go to posher areas you might find that the items that have been donated are not just M&S or Top Shop. They could be high-end high street, or even proper designer. Last year a Mind shop in Kent had £50,000 worth of gear dropped off anonymously. Of course, if the staff are on to this, they’ll price the items accordingly.
Big brands sometimes even donate old or second stock to charity shops, though they might be detagged so you need to have a keen eye to spot the Miu Miu from the M&S.
Some of the bigger charity shop networks will get individual stores to send through anything obviously designer. Oxfam, for example, has a designer outlet store, while the Red Cross has specialist shops around the country.
Even so, you could still pick up something that you’d never normally afford for a fraction of the original price. And you might find a better range of donations at smaller, independent charity shops where they sell what they are given.
This article from Stylist magazine has some great tips for how to work out if what your looking at is a retro classic or cheap knock off.
Check out vintage shops
Though run for profit rather than charity, and usually at the pricier end of the second-hand market, vintage shops still fit with the sustainable and ethical approach to buying second hand. This Harpers Bazaar article shares ten top vintage retailers around the UK.
Search on resale sites
How to get free second-hand clothes
As much as I like the idea of buying second-hand (the money often goes to good causes), you can also refresh your wardrobe without spending a penny.
I’m confident that if you properly had a look at what’s in your wardrobe you’ll find items you’ve completely forgotten about. And if you start wearing them again (or even for the first time), you’ve updated your wardrobe without any new spending.
If, during your Marie Kondo style clearout you find items that are still perfectly good but not right for you, then try shwopping. This weird word is an amalgam of swapping and shopping which should give you an idea of what you’ll do.
You can go to organised events or just run one with your friends (or just informally do it with one or two mates). The idea is you bring along anything you no longer want, as long as it’s in good nick, and hang it up in a makeshift shop. Then you get the chance to take something new back home, and someone gets to give your old gear a new lease of life.
Becky, my good friend Silke and half a dozen others did this a few years ago and all of them went home with something new, as well as clearing out those items they didn’t want anymore.
Parents do this all the time to their own kids, but there are Facebook groups set up to help parents who don’t have relatives or friends that can pass things on.
Of course, as well as not buying new clothes, it helps to not add your old ones to landfill. You’ve got a couple of options. One is to give wearable items to charities – whether shops to resell or places like refuges. Or if they’ve had better days look to donate the items for recycling.
Get free M&S and H&M vouchers for donating and recycling
M&S, John Lewis, New Look and H&M all have schemes where you get vouchers to spend in-store for bringing in old clothes. I’ve written more about how they works here.
Buying less new clothes longer term
Buying second-hand is a great alternative to brand new, but there will be times where you need to get items that haven’t been worn before (do not buy second-hand pants!). So how do you do this in a way that’s sustainable?
Buy it good, buy it once
Cheap clothing just doesn’t last as long. Buy something that’s better made and it should last longer. This also means you should be looking at classic styles that you know you’ll be happy wearing next year and the year after.
Make do and mend
The wartime necessity of fixing broken clothing was brought about through rationing, but there’s no reason why adopting those principles today can’t give your clothes an extra lease of life, Basic repairs such as sewing buttons back on should be within the grasp of most people (or your mum). If you have better skills then you could even look at turning old clothes into something new.
You could also consider renting clothing. It’s not just formal wear like tuxedos and prom dresses that you can get. Online stores such as Girl Meets Dress let you hire designer gear for a few days at the fraction of the price of buying it.
Secondhand doesn’t just mean clothes
Think broader than clothes too when considering second-hand. You can buy cheap books, DVDs, CDs and games from the likes of CEX and MusicMagpie, while furniture is a big thing for charity shops. Facebook marketplace is once again a good place to look for things.