I admit it: I used to see second-hand fashion as the peculiar pastime of desperately un-trendy bargain hunters. I sneered at flea market-goers on my way to H&M, holding on to the idea that most second-hand enthusiasts mostly looked like very colourfully dressed grandmas. Newly arrived in London, I ventured inside ONE charity shop ONCE, took ONE look and declared, “nope, nothing here I like”, and continued my fast-fashion life, careening through the NEW! NEW! NEW! of Zara or Mango and braving the crowds and Primark.
But then something shifted. A couple of years into my vegan lifestyle, I began questioning the provenance of the clothes I wore. I noticed other vegans talking online about issues like overconsumption, human rights violations and the continuous destruction of the environment through the constant production of new clothes. The reason I resisted “ethical fashion” as a concept for so long is that the only antidote to the evil of fast fashion that this community offered were small, wildly expensive ethical brands. Their designs were often incredibly beautiful and I drooled over them as I presented them on the pages of this publication – before I defiantly trotted off back to H&M with the excuse that “ethical fashion is unaccessible”.
I kept up this double existence – all about the small eco-friendly labels online, dressed head-to-toe in Primark offline – until I set foot in the Shelter charity shop in South London, where I lived at the time, and found the most exquisite black lace dress for £5. This sparked a revolution my life and wardrobe: turns out I could have ethical fashion…for pretty much no money at all.
It wouldn’t be wrong to think that second-hand shopping is the most eco-friendly way to shop – when you buy pre-loved clothing, you are using clothing that already exists, meaning that no new resources are used, no new chemicals are added, and no extra strain is put on workers. Second-hand clothing can even be considered a zero-waste way to shop, as you’re re-using what has already been produced and keeping things from going to landfill by giving them a new lease of life.
And the fashion industry is starting to take note. The secondhand fashion market is set to be larger than the fast-fashion market by 2028 and is growing at 21 times the rate of traditional retail.
So where are all those second-hand fashion lovers actually shopping? Well, many of us spend our weekends trawling through charity shops or vintage stores – but even more of us are turning to some of the many second-hand sites and apps that are downloaded onto every savvy eco-fashionista’s smartphone these days. We’ve rounded up a few of our most-clicked ones.
With the tagline “secondhand clothes. Firsthand fun”, this US-based marketplace offers an impressive designer selection, alongside more mainstream brands, childrenswear, accessories and maternity clothing.
This London chain of charity shops has an eBay shop offering not only men’s and women’s clothing and accessories, but also rare collectibles and sports equipment. Traid is a charity focused on educating people on the impact of textiles on the environment and promoting safe working conditions in the textile industry.
There has never been a better way to do luxury designer fashion the eco-friendly way than Vestiaire Collective. This French company – co-founded by one of the most stylish women in the world, Fanny Moizant – focuses on high-end pieces for a fraction of the price. Aside from fashion and accessories, Vestiaire Collective also offers sports equipment and activewear.
The Hardly Ever Worn It online shop offers designer fashion for “up to 80% off the original price” – not a bad deal. And you can truly trust that the goods you splash your cash on are real, as HEWI operates a thorough approval process of all their sellers. They also have an “in store now” section to help you find current on-trend pieces with a much smaller price tag than the new stuff.
A fashion blogger favourite, Depop is one of the second-hand marketplaces re-defining the way we shop fashion – and it’s no wonder that fashion insiders love it, as it is the brainchild of Simon Beckerman, co-founder of PIG magazine and RETROSUPERFUTURE sunglasses brand. Depop offers access to second-hand goods from all over the globe with some truly great deals (my husband bought me a Falabella bag for £120 on Depop – a bag which originally cost over £600).
Vinted was created from the story of co-founder Milda moving house in 2008 and had too many clothes to bring with her. Her friend Justas offered to help, and built a website to help her sell her pre-loved items. The idea for Vinted was born, and the company now sells in nine international markets, offering second-hand designs for men, women and kids at amazing prices – some of the best deals I have seen can be found here.
A premier marketplace for pre-loved luxury, TheRealReal offers brands such as Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Valentino – and they are very open about their sustainability efforts. Their sustainability calculator shows exactly how much water, greenhouse gases and energy output has been saved by the consignment movement since the company was founded. They also actively participate in the discussion on circular fashion.
The great thing about ASOS is their “filter by material” function that allows the user to filter away any fabrics that we prefer not to wear, such as leather and wool. Choose between independent vintage sellers to find truly one-of-a-kind pieces that will make your style stand out.
The ultimate go-to for anything pre-loved, eBay has an impressive fashion selection where you can find anything from small, niche vegan brands to mainstream names. It takes a while to become an expert in the art of bidding, and losing out on a limited-edition vegan handbag might sting, but practice makes perfect.
Shopping second hand is more exciting and multi-faceted than it’s ever been before – and that’s good news for humans, animals and the environment. Plus, pre-loved fashion has that element of a treasure hunt to it – that element of unpredictability makes it so much more fun than traditional shopping.
For more on ethical fashion, follow Vilda on Twitter
Header photo by Melody Jacob via Unsplash