Sustainable fashion advocates are generally also big advocates for second-hand shopping - after all thrifting is a form of re-using which is a preferred option on the zero-waste pyramid.
So how, specifically does buying pre-loved contribute to a more ethical and environmentally friendly fashion system?
1. Reducing Landfill
Australians are reported to throw away (by which I mean literally in the bin, destined for landfill) an average of 23kg of textiles per year which has doubled in the last two decades! That is really scary to me, especially considering so many of those items are made from synthetic materials, essentially plastic, which can take thousands of years to break down and the degrading process can leach damaging micro-plastics into soil and waterways.
Second-hand outlets are a major way to divert textile waste from the rubbish heap where it certainly does not belong!
The other side to this is the reduction in the packaging that often comes from buying things new - I'm talking soft plastic packaging and bags, inserts, swing-tags, boxes, fillers and the list goes on. I can tell you first hand from working in retail that often things like plastic coat hangers are not even re-used - just thrown straight in the bin (it still just about makes me hyper-ventilate thinking about it!)
2. Promoting Conscious Consumerism
Visiting a thrift shop can actually be quite confronting because it brings to your attention the sheer volume of clothing that has at one time been purchased new and often quickly discarded. Op shops are becoming flooded with certain fast fashion brands which points to the mindless cycle that the industry promotes. If I ever need a reminder to avoid fast fashion, the second hand shopping experience does help to drive home the reality of just how much we over-consume in the western world.
Thrift shopping is a different way of shopping that is far removed from the shopping mall experience that guides you to be more considerate in your choices, without the temptation of the latest trends all around you. You tend to go with certain goals in mind and carefully sort through your options without rushing to grab something just because you feel the pressure to have something new for that night out.
3. Social Benefits
Most op shops are run by charities, including Vinnies , Salvation Army , Red Cross and Anglicare, just to name a few. All of which provide fantastic services to those in need and employment for disadvantaged people. So it is always a great feeling to know that your second-hand purchase is not only benefitting the environment, but people too.
Vintage shops are usually locally owned small businesses so it also makes sense to support them and the local economy.
I absolutely LOVE thrift shopping these days but I do remember a time when I felt completely overwhelmed by the idea of going into one! Where would I begin and how would I know what was worth snapping up? I'm glad I experimented and persevered with it as I now consider myself somewhat of a thrifting expert! Perhaps you have been wanting to try out thrift shopping as a more sustainable, yet affordable alternative to fast fashion, but like me, aren't sure how to start or maybe you want to up your op shop game - well I have some tips to share with you!
Take stock of what you've got
Aside from having seasonal decluttering sessions, it is helpful to keep a kind of running inventory in mind as you go through your wardrobe on a day to day basis. Before you hit the stores, identify where the gaps are in your collection and what are the pieces that you need to make your existing wardrobe "work". The next time you're having one of those fashion crisis days when you look at a sea of clothes and exclaim, "There's nothing to wear!", think about what items would help to make your pieces more wearable - these are the kind of items to be on the look out for as you trawl the racks to avoid overwhelm and the tendency to accumulate a lot of stuff that you'll never wear.
2. Know what you're all about
Sustainable style is individual and personal style - it is more enduring than the change of the seasons or the trend cycles. So it is important to be aware of what you value in your clothing and what suits you. This way you can have a mental checklist to consult when deciding whether you should buy a particular piece (and also helps you to waste less time and keep focused as you sort).
These are some aspects you might want to consider to help you curate a thrifted wardrobe that reflects your personal style:
Material - think about what kind of qualities you are after in the type of fabric the garment is made of. Personally, I mostly only consider pieces that are made from natural fibres such as cotton, linen, silk and wool as they are healthier, breathable and more comfortable to wear. This is a general principle I apply, though and sometimes I will buy something that is made from synthetics if it meets enough of my other criteria. There are also some items (for instance, hosiery, which are always going to require some synthetic elements to ensure performance).
Outerwear garments made from fabrics like wool and silk tend to be of a higher quality as the fibres are more expensive than synthetics and, provided you look after them, should wash and wear well.
Colour - those employees and volunteers at the op shop have super-helpfully sorted out everything into colour groups for you! This means that I can save time by completely bypassing the hot pink, dark purple and sky blue sections because these colours aren't for me. And I can devote more time to go through the muted greens, peachy and dusty pinks, creams (and of course, black!)
What colours tend to suit your complexion and colouring? Which ones make you feel comfortable and confident and reflect your personality? You could even make a moodboard to help you narrow down a selection of tones that work well together. Pinterest is a great source of colour inspiration and Canva is really easy to use to create your own. The more complementary the colours in your wardrobe, the easier it will be for you to co-ordinate outfits that you feel happy with and the more wear you will get out of your clothes.
Cut and Shape
Have a think about the pieces you own that you avoid wearing - is it because the shape doesn't suit your figure or sit well with your other items? When you're thrifting, don't make the mistake of adding more of these types of items, even if you are really taken with the colour/print/fabric.
Likewise, think about items you have that you feel really happy to wear and look for more items with these qualities.
3. Get to Know Your Brands
Another helpful way to help you filter through the abundance of clothing in the thrift stores is to have a list of brands you know to be good quality or suit your particular needs. For instance, I have always had good experiences with knits from Country Road, so when I find them at my local op in the right size I know they are worth snapping up.
Because sizing varies a lot between brands you might find that some labels fit your figure particularly well so keep these in mind. For example, I find it hard to get jeans that fit me well but there's a certain size in Sportsgirl jeans that are usually a winner for me.
4. Think About Sizing
I would really recommend being realistic about buying sizes that are currently too small in the hope that you will magically fit into them soon! This is a surefire way to accumulate lots of unwearable clothes that in reality may never fit you! Having said that, keep an open mind, because, as I said in the last section, sizes can vary a lot between brands so make use of the change rooms and try your luck.
5. Take a Long Term Approach
Because thrift shops don't have rows of different sizes and colours in the same styles, it is a very different way of shopping. You're rarely going to find exactly what you're looking for exactly when you want it, so it makes sense to browse regularly and keep your wishlist in mind. Pop into your local op shops regularly and methodically peruse the racks. I also like to check out the second hand stores whenever I'm visiting suburbs that I don't usually go to and especially when I'm travelling in the country.
6. Know What to Buy Pre-Loved and What to Buy New
There are certain types of garments which, unless they have been donated brand new, are never going to be in optimum condition. These are usually pieces that are made from a jersey type fabric with elastane or spandex for stretch which are worn frequently and close to the body. Frequent wear and washing will eventually wear the fabric thin and break down elasticity, so these are items you will probably need to purchase new. You can lessen your environmental impact by buying these kinds of items from brands that are using responsible manufacturing methods and sustainable materials and shopping with small and local businesses.
Do you have a favourite secondhand or vintage store? Share it in the comments below!