When I first started buying second-hand clothes, it had nothing to do with sustainability or ethics and everything to do with access. I was in my early twenties, at uni and working part-time in retail and fast fashion. People were obsessed with this false economy of having more — the fixation on buying new clothing. Weekly. Working in an outlet mall was equally fascinating. I couldn’t quite understand why people wanted to spend money to look like everyone else. I created an eBay account in 2004. That’s where my wages went. If I could buy an '80s-era Lauren Ralph Lauren wool blazer for $277, why would I spend more with a chain store for a garment that would not last?
In her conversation with Clare Press on Wardrobe Crisis, Bay Garnett, senior Fashion Advisor at Oxfam and stylist, explained that the idea of thrifting, buying second hand, while originally a style choice, also felt political. It was about not buying into the system. The newness dictated to, what was in fashion, what you should buy. There’s no individuality. It was about being a rebel. And this attitude persists — a shared viewpoint and rejection of fast fashion for the most part by the youth. Fast fashion is one of the top-polluting industries in the world. Every second, the equivalent of one garbage truck of textiles is landfilled or burned. An estimated USD 500 billion value is lost every year due to clothing that’s barely worn and rarely recycled.
Whether this growth in second hand is the result of more people trying to be resourceful on small salaries, financial challenges of the pandemic or in understanding that there are problems in the way that $10 tee shirts have been made, the resale market has grown faster – 21 times faster than the traditional apparel market over the past three years. In 2018, the second hand market accounted for $28 billion, and fast fashion at $35 billion. And today, the resale market is expected to nearly triple, reaching $64 billion – thrift stores started merchandising, while fast fashion is much less at $44 billion.
And we see a similar path for luxury consignment. According to this 2019 BCG report, the luxury resale market accounts for 9% of the total luxury goods market and was expected to grow from $25 billion in revenue in 2018 to $36 billion by 2021. GlobalData predicts the resale category will grow from $24 billion last year to $51 billion in 2023. Last year, Vinted, one of Europe’s largest second hand retailers, was expecting $1.5 billion in sales in clothing by the end of the year, based on a four times increased sales growth occurring over the previous 17 months. Market leader Vestiaire Collective saw a valuation increase by 50% in April, following $63 million in investors' fundraising, for a total of approximately 175 million dollars.
This should inspire much optimism. This is all us — demonstrating a genuine desire to be part of the long-term solution to fashion waste.
Forever 21, the California retailer that helped popularise fast fashion with its $5 tops, filed for bankruptcy. Zara is closing as many as 1,200 stores. H&M’s second-quarter earnings haven’t been good this year, reporting a loss of nearly $700 million over the last three months, a 50% drop in net sales and a planned permanent closure of 70 stores. Topshop shut the doors to all 11 of its U.S. stores in June last year after filing for bankruptcy protection, quoting unprecedented market conditions in the retail sector. And that was before COVID. I think there was this notion that fast fashion would continue the same way it had for the last decade or so. Truth is, people aren’t buying fast fashion like they were.
Why is second-hand a more sustainable approach to fashion?
I think when we talk about sustainable fashion, brands that are about that, there is a different price to pay, the approach is very different to the business model of fast fashion. The industry is not at a place where those price points are, or will ever be, accessible to a broader audience. So, second hand provides this opportunity to extend the sustainability lifecycle of a garment — even if that garment comes from a chain store, once something is in circulation, let’s keep it that way. That and when you buy second hand, or consign, you ultimately give money back into the original owner’s pocket, creating a perpetual flow of exchange within a resale system. It’s an impactful solution for anyone to participate in a more sustainable, more circular economy.
Fashion Revolution — #lovedclotheslast
Loved Clothes Last was the second issue of the Fashion Revolution fanzine which explored this issue of waste and mass-consumption in the fashion industry and our relation to ownership as opposed to consumption. More than ever, people are thinking of their purchases as tradable assets. It’s more about the resale value, opting for better quality options and encouraging people to focus on the care and afterlife of that product, so that when you no longer love-love an item, it can be sold to someone else and ultimately garments remain in circulation longer. This issue is now available as a ‘pay what you can’ digital download so for those wanting to dive deeper, I’d highly recommend downloading this Zine.
What you need to know before shopping second hand online
Much of mine and Amandine’s wardrobes consist of second hand finds, so we thought it would be helpful to share our tips for buying second hand, what to look for and where to look.
Expect it to take time Thrifting does not bring with it the instant gratification of fast fashion. It’s different. Over the years, I’ve managed to acquire numerous pieces to curate my wardrobe, specific garments, a long wool beige coat, wool pants in grey, navy and camel — I’m still searching for black. Understand that it might take weeks or months to find THAT garment in your size. But you’re curating a personal uniform — it’s more of a hunt, and when you finally find that special piece, you’ve had the time to really consider that purchase if it serves you.
Make sure you read descriptions before buying. What is the garment made of — use this site as a guide. Is the garment in good condition, and can it be altered? What is the general condition of the item? Generally speaking, you would expect second hand items to be gently worn, and that is okay, but be careful of items that have holes in the fabric or large stains. And if you are purchasing high-value items, carefully select the site. Do they stand behind the authenticity of their merchandise?
Know your size You can't flit from rack to rack. You need a different approach from selecting garments based entirely on label size. Measure yourself. This article explains it well. And then measure garments you own that fits you well — that fit like something you are wanting to purchase. I’d use this as a guide. And this is a good guide for footwear. And if the measurements are not available for a garment on eBay or an online site, then ask.
Budget This will depend on personal circumstances, but in general, I would say the strategy is to know what you have to spend, what you are looking to acquire and what’s out there. One of the wonderful things about secondhand is that it transcends brand, it’s more about curating a personal uniform and fearlessly expressing identity, and that goes beyond labels. And what this means is you can find an amazing wool sweater for $30 or wool pants for $7 because they carry no brand value.
Manage notifications and sign up for newsletters Often, if you begin watching an item on eBay, the seller will send you an offer valid for up to three days — often a discount of 10-20%, so if you are ready to purchase, that is your opportunity. Some sites have the ability to make seller offers. And sign up for newsletters. Usually, you’ll receive a percentage or fixed dollar amount off your first purchase.
Everything is cyclical If the 90s was your moment, it’s likely to be the slip dress and mom jeans (very Calvin Klein, the slept-in, thrifted look that makes it very now). Or if it was the 80s, oversized jackets, cycle shorts and bold prints. It’s fine to keep buying whatever your vibe might be; you just have to wear it differently.
Online second hand marketplaces
As the resale market continues to spiral upwards, so do your options when it comes to finding second hand. And while that means shopping for second hand and vintage has never been more accessible, the same cannot be said for shipping rates. So for those hoping to find that 90s oversized blazer or perfect label-less cashmere sweater, explore your local options first — Craigslist, Gumtree, Le Bon Coin, and Mercado Libre are all examples. In Aotearoa New Zealand, we use Trade Me. A lot. For everything. I found a Stella McCartney bra for $13 on this site the other week.
I don’t think you can talk about second hand without mentioning eBay. Whether you are after vintage or second hand, eBay most likely has it. While shopping online for second hand can often be overwhelming, the site's filtering options and ability to save searches make it easier to find that vintage Escada 80s blazer or Levis mom jeans. My more recent eBay purchase was a pair of Proenza Schouler mules, barely worn, that came with the box. I paid around $325 for these. Retail would have been $900 or so. There were no import duties. And then there were the Robert Clergerie oxfords I purchased for around $70 that I wore to death. Though better than not to have lived a second life at all.
Like eBay, I find Etsy more aligned with chain store pricing than what you might find in some online resale sites where there are fees and things are priced higher. This shop features a considered curation of vintage Levis like this 80s high-waisted tapered leg pair. Knits are featured heavily. This navy wool vest, 80s camel turtleneck, and 90s pullover are all for the minimalists. My most recent purchase, still in transit, was an 80s wool sweater made in Japan in minted condition. If you find the shipping rates to your location high, there is no shortage of local resale marketplaces.
My April picks
Founded by Donielle Brooke, Designer Wardrobe is both a rental and resale marketplace for pre-loved fashion — the marketplace available in New Zealand and Australia. For those looking to buy, the site accepts fast fashion brands in addition to its designer repertoire, so there’s something for everyone. My first purchase from Designer Wardrobe was a pair of Acne Jensen boots, $220, hardly worn. Then it was a pair of vintage Levi's, for $45, that I pretty much live in. While filtered searches can be challenging, knowing what brands you are looking for will make life that much easier. And, like eBay, you have the option to submit offers to sellers. Designer Wardrobe also offers purchase protection in the rare event your item doesn't arrive or is not consistent with the listing description.
Depop is a resale platform, mimicking eBay with a dash of Instagram and Pinterest — a combination of an online store and social network. Founded in 2011 by Simon Beckerman, based in London, Depop is community-driven and appeals to less-than-thirty-years old individuals, the Gen Z crowd. Selling all sorts of things, yet you will find affordable pre-loved clothing and vintage garments. According to the Atlantic, Depop is the starting point to discover the latest fashion trends, well ahead of Instagram or the streets.
Founded in 2008 by Milda Mitkute and Justas Janauskas and headquartered out of Vilnius, Lithuania, Vinted is best known for high-street cast-offs. Today, Vinted has some 180 million products live on its platform and 25 million registered users. There’s an emphasis on community — think resale plus Instagram DMs, as many buyers follow each other and chat on the platform. There’s also the option to swap clothing with one of Vinted’s 8.5 million users.
Luxury online consignment stores
Quality is key. In contrast to fast fashion, garments must be constructed to last wear after wear beyond a season. Therefore quality clothing is often more expensive to create and, therefore, to buy, and that can put people off. For those looking to invest in timeless pieces or locate vintage Gucci, consignment acts as a point of entry-level access for those who can’t yet shop full-price luxury. These are the sites to shop authentic luxury secondhand and vintage.
Founded in 2009, Vestiaire Collective is a consigning community focused on acquiring the right pieces rather than on the volume. Known for its vast collection of Hermès, Louis Vuitton, Céline, in addition to contemporary brands, at 30%-70% off original retail. France-based site Vestiaire Collective has around 100,000 fixed-price items for sale at any one time and over 3,000 items uploaded daily to the site. There are a ton of designer items to score at crazy low prices — think Prada brogues for $250 and designer ready-to-wear pieces, an Acne Studios coat for under $400. Vestiaire Collective allows community members to ask questions about where to find rare pieces and negotiate pricing on each item sold. The site also offers referral incentives. You get $15 for every qualifying friend referred.
The Real Real
Born out of founder Julie Wainwright’s kitchen, The RealReal has become one of the largest consignment businesses in the world, with brick-and-mortar locations in Los Angeles and New York City, in addition to its online shop. The Real Real specialises in luxury vintage fashion from labels including Chanel, Saint Laurent and Celine or Céline. And every second-hand item on the site is authenticated by a team of experts to ensure that you’re getting what you’re paying for and the quality of the pieces are almost in new condition. When you sign up to the site, you receive a $25 credit to spend on your first purchase.
HEWI (Hardly Ever Worn It) is like eBay, but exclusively for the new or barely worn pre-owned high-end high street, luxury and contemporary brands — think Acne, Alexander Wang, Balmain, Saint Laurent, the designer list is extensive. You can watch items, follow sellers and choose to either "buy it now" or make offers on future purchases. HEWI does not sell vintage nor what you might find on eBay. 40% of the items on HEWI were never worn. People purchase clothes and shoes that don’t fit and are unable to return them. They’ll end up here. Also, when you sign up you get a $25 site credit. Sign up for newsletters and receive 10% off your first order.
What Goes Around Comes Around
SoHo's ultra-cool luxury vintage boutique is available to shop online, one for those seeking one-of-a-kind pieces. What Goes Around Comes Around founders Gerard Maione and Seth Weisser are THE trusted purveyors of bygone vintage, with some 25 years of sourcing and presenting their curated, edited vision of what vintage is. And so the luxury site's curation is what one would expect, featuring the coolest vintage finds from Chanel, Hermès, Vuitton, Yves Saint Laurent — where you would look to find a collectable Louis Vuitton Alzer travel trunk or a piece from the Takashi Murakami x Louis Vuitton. For WGACA, luxury is about quality and exclusivity. When you join their email list, you’ll receive $50 off your first purchase of $400 or more.
Based in Paris, RE-SEE has one of the largest selections of pre-owned goods, available mostly from France; and as owners Sofia Bernardin and Sabrina Marshall started getting calls from people in America, the UK or Japan—now really, it’s a consignment from all over. All pieces are authenticated, and shipping is global. Whether it be the ’60s or ’70s Yves Saint Laurent, or ’80s Alaïa, ’90s Helmut Lang. Phoebe Philo’s first collection at Céline, the iconic ’94 Chanel Bottle Carrier, or the Prada skirt from ‘08 Spring/Summer Laura Stone walked down the runway with. There are so many pieces. Re-SEE is for those looking for individuality, to wear the great moments in fashion, that collection to find again—that allows you to shop and sell vintage pieces in a very current way. For those that understand that all these pieces shouldn’t be lost.
Second Hand September
One of the wonderful things about shopping second hand or consigning is that this approach transcends trends and brands. It’s more about curating a personal uniform and fearlessly expressing identity. And that goes beyond labels. It takes a certain amount of patience and diligence, though, in order to want to keep something forever, it really needs to be special. That and you get to own an item with a story which has way more value than any high-street garment could ever have. And that if, for whatever reason, that item no longer serves you, you can resell, consign and keep it circular. COVID also changed what people bought and sold. Thrifting and consigning are now more popular and, therefore, more affordable alternatives, moving us away from the need to purchase fast fashion. For the future of our planet, we hope that this is the case. Second Hand September was, in a way a catalyst for producing this article, creating an ongoing dialogue around consumption and challenging the unsustainable pace of fast fashion.
These images were taken at Saturdays, the second-hand store operated by Koha Apparel — a non-profit initiative clothing people in need at no cost that welcomes your support to continue thriving. These are a handful of items we photographed for their online store, some still available! All sales support operating costs and the mission of uplifting our most marginalised.
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