Sustainability only recently became a trendy topic to talk about and share on social media. Shopping second-hand, however, has long been the only option for many people from lower-income backgrounds who simply couldn’t afford the full retail prices.
For many, fashion is not an ideological choice, but a purely financial one. Shopping sustainably often seems a rather expensive choice that not everyone can afford. In the world of consumerism, the idea that everyone has the same realistic range of options to choose from proves false. In order to keep the prices low and ‘affordable’, retailers often use unethical materials and exploit their employees through cheap labour. The final product is therefore not made to serve the consumers with lower incomes but to make more profit for the already wealthy company owners. There are many ways to actively break this cycle and shopping second-hand is one of them.
Growing up in a Christian household, my parents were always conscious about taking our old clothes to charity. In return we could pick up some pieces from other people’s old wardrobes. I still remember the excitement and careful consideration given to each piece, whether it was an oversized men's blazer or a 60s purse that once belonged to a grandmother. While shopping second-hand was a necessary economic decision on my parents’ part, my personal style and fashion choices have been unconsciously influenced by those experiences so that even years later I find myself rummaging through charity shops in East London, reliving the same excitement. Something that once served as ground for bullying is now a conscious part of my lifestyle and closet.
Choosing to shop second-hand doesn’t have to be a sacrifice in lieu of style or comfort. One of the best ways to boost creativity and to experiment with fashion is to work with second-hand clothes. I can’t even remember when I started to experiment with style and clothes but I always knew that I could pick pieces and make them work somehow. It is a skill that takes practice to perfect. However, instead of looking at it as a setback, I started thinking about it as a challenge that is a lot of fun because I never know what I will find. Of course, buying second-hand might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it is a two way street: you can also donate. There are many different ways to donate clothes: through charities, second-hand shops or online marketplaces. Whether we’re donating or buying, all of us can contribute towards a more sustainable world
Of course, buying second-hand is not necessarily a guarantee of sustainable materials and well-treated workers; rather, it is a slowing-down process which generates less waste and gives Mother Nature a break. The most sustainable option is simply to consume less - something lower-income families are also very good at.
However, there is cause for hope. The Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufacturers and Commerce (RSA) reports a rather hopeful outlook on the shopping habits of generation Z. In one of their latest studies they found that “almost 70% of 16-24 year olds intend to modify their consumption habits, and a third of them intend to support brands with strong ethical and environmental policies”. Clearly, second-hand shopping is growing to be an ideological choice and not only a financial one. This step could lead towards a less polarised society, where fashion workers aren’t exploited and our planet can take a moment of respite.
By Louder Than The Storm contributor Noémi Martini