A few weeks ago our friend Charli, founder of Koha Apparel, dropped off a box of clothes, Amandine wore them and I took the photos. All images were taken within our block over a week during lockdown. All the pieces will be available exclusively online at Koha Apparel.
Buying second hand, whether that means consigning another pair of Acne pants or purchasing vintage Levis from Etsy, provides this opportunity to extend the life cycle of a product, supporting the overall ecosystem and preventing waste. We both also try to support brands in the primary market, open and accountable people. That said, the space can sometimes feel pretty judgemental with people comparing what is more sustainable—but there is nothing 'sustainable' about getting rid of clothes because of their care label. Perhaps they no longer reflect an ethos.
The lifecycle of a garment is key to sustainability. Sustainable fashion is an umbrella term that has various layers and nuances sitting underneath. And sustainably is not as simple as buying something made out of organic cotton. It can be damaging only to consider one aspect of a garment's sustainability credentials. It is essential to consider the durability and overall life cycle of a product—how long will it last and what will happen to it once it is no longer functional on your terms.
One of the more exciting aspects of second-hand culture is that it can be more about the design and quality—and not the brand or logo. You can dress well without spending a lot of money or sacrificing your values. It just requires time and thought. Circularity, the appeal of second-hand, culturally transcends labels and terms. For some, there is no consideration of ethics behinds these choices.
We have always liked the uniqueness inherent to second-hand. Buying worn clothing—there’s a significance that goes beyond utilitarian character or commercial value, redefining societal standards and norms. And you won’t look like everyone else. Size becomes less relevant, each piece discovered further curating a personal uniform and informing how we express our personalities through the act of dressing. For this photo essay, we selected garments with considered cuts, building a silhouette with details complimenting the body while maintaining ease and comfort. The pieces in these photographs are all second hand, from Koha Apparel, unless otherwise labelled.
More recently, we have seen resale suffering from perceptions of being expensive and niche—the gentrification of second-hand has been covered quite a lot on the Internet. Gentrification takes from the people and systems that existed before it, eventually displacing individuals and businesses, destroying communities and culture. And it remains highly problematic where capitalist thinking promotes resale through highly curated Instagram feeds as a sustainable solution to hyper-consumption. But at prices that make fast fashion more desirable.
In truth, Western modern societal culture is profoundly dependent on consumption. The wider trend of upcycling that has been taking overemphasises a modern sensibility of luxury that focuses on reworking the old into the new. But some peer-to-peer sellers are also monetising it in a way that it wasn’t before.
Charli Cox is the founder behind Koha Apparel, a non-profit organisation dedicated to supporting our marginalised community. Since January 2019 Koha Apparel has been a constant fixture at St Kevin's Arcade alongside Everybody Eats. Today, pre lockdowns 50 volunteers support communities across 4 regions—Bay of Plenty, Auckland, Wellington and Whangārei with 13 pop-ups each month. And when it becomes possible to gather and move between regions this rotation will include Hamilton and Hawkes Bay. We've known Charli since forever. We lived together. And so we've seen the truth behind the clothing we give and throw away and how it can be remade into ever-better things.
Clothing is given a new life in more than one way. Purchases support the ongoing community work, unfortunately becoming increasingly vital. The crisis pre-pandemic—housing, remains highly problematic, severely unaffordable, deteriorating incomes and living standards. People turn up to emergency housing without shoes on their feet. It’s this massive overarching problem and it’s also disproportionately affecting underprivileged communities.
Online sales also support repairing and restoring plus manufacturing from recycled fabrics—part of a broader ambition contributing to making fashion circular. Charli works with local tailors to repair any rips or tears in a defective manner. Old fabrics and garments that no longer have a useful life are transformed into scrunchies and furoshiki. This form of reinterpreting something that already exists provides local machinists with part-time income who might not otherwise engage within a traditional industry setting.
Depleting garment lifetime and declining enthusiasm for wearing what we already own combined with widespread irresponsibility of brands, governments, and consumers alike requires action led responses. So progressing the re-use culture remains a focus for Charli. Price points also remain accessible—a pair of unbranded wool trousers for $20, a vintage print shirt circa the 90s for $10. Koha Apparel provides an opportunity for anyone to take steps towards a more sustainable industry and encourages those with unwanted garments to donate. Physical pop-ups utilise a pay-as-you-can model, it’s a donation to the cause further broadening access.
People are realising that facets of the fashion industry will have to be reworked, redefined to progress, and transparency is the first step towards a different culture—including resale. When we purchase second-hand, we consider the financial incentive to buy and sell. Are we purchasing from those who consign rather than leaving garments unused in a wardrobe, or are products taken from thrift stores and sold using aesthetics at less accessible price points for capital gain?
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