What Is Ethical Secondhand Fashion?

We all know that thrifting is good for the planet. But are you buying ethical secondhand fashion?

By Chiara Spagnoli Gabardi

Once, it was considered kind of strange. Disgusting, even – I remember people saying things like: ‘How do you know you’re not wearing a dead person’s clothing?” Or: “I thought only poor people would wear that.” But now, thanks to economic and environmental reasons, secondhand fashion is a definite ‘thing’.

In fact, a new UK study claimed that more than half of the consumers in the key 25-34 age group are buying secondhand fashion these days. But that’s not the only good news: the study says that over 50% of those surveyed have repaired their damaged or worn-out clothes, and a whopping 75% of 16-24 year-old Britons say they have swapped fashion items with others or would be interested in doing so in the future.

There’s a clear trend being seen that’s moving away from brand-new fashion purchasing, whether that’s for ecological or purely money-saving reasons.

Consumer Confusion

But there is a problem: when trying to apply ethical principles to their general fashion purchases, a high number of UK consumers said they found it difficult to know which secondhand fashion retailers were the most ‘ethical’.

And it makes sense. With hundreds of online secondhand clothing stores popping up each month, how do you know which one is sourcing their clothing the most ethically, and paying their suppliers the fairest rates for secondhand clothes? How do you know the shop is actually selling secondhand clothing, and not, say, fast fashion bought in bulk and pulled off as being ‘thrifted’? And how do you know which ones are charging fair prices, or just exploiting consumers?

Actually, price isn’t perceived by shoppers as an indicator of sustainability, with only 22% agreeing that the more you pay for fashion, the more likely it is to be ethical. But 59% of consumers claim they’d be prepared to pay more for sustainable fashion – so long as it is transparent. But that being said, information about an item’s origins are vital. A huge 67% of people surveyed said that fashion retailers should let customers clearly know in which ways items are sustainably and ethically made.

What Is Ethical Secondhand Fashion?

Selling, Swishing and Renting

One of the easiest ways of knowing whether a secondhand clothing retailer is ethical is by selling your own clothes to them! And many do. According to the same study above, 50% of those aged 16-24 have turned their unwanted fashion into cash by selling unwanted clothes. The number doing this for the wider age range is around 35%.

When you sell your clothes to a secondhand dealer, you’ll know their vetting process, how much they pay sellers, and

Buying and selling secondhand clothing is becoming easier and also more fashionable. Consumers no longer have to go to thrift stores in person, but can buy online at eBay and Depop or via higher-end resale sites such as FarFetch Second Life. Charities such as Oxfam are also increasingly offering upscale items in their own online stores and the fashion sector as a whole is starting to embrace resale and fashion rental too.

As mentioned, ‘swishing’, the act of swapping clothes with friends or acquaintances, is also becoming on-trend, particularly among younger people. And then there’s another way of wearing clothes that doesn’t involve buying them new: clothing rental. This, unsurprisingly, is also more popular with Gen Z more than other demographics.

But while this can be one way of reducing the amount of clothing we all have in our closets, you should be aware that clothing rental carries a higher CO2 footprint than buying secondhand, because the clothes are driven to and from your house, and then to and from the dry-cleaners in between rentals.

What Is Ethical Secondhand Fashion?

Cheap Gets Expensive

Thrifting should be a great way to save money. But today, some entrepreneurial people are finding cheap clothes in thrift stores and later upsell them at a much higher price using polished visuals, semi-professional models and clever copywriting techniques.

Of course, this is nothing new, but the practice is becoming more widespread thanks to social media and platforms such as Depop. The situation is making thrifted clothing so expensive in some cases that  Dazed recently published an article in which Depop users confessed they were almost “encouraged” to ditch thrifting and shop from fast fashion stores instead, since prices of secondhand clothing was becoming too high.

According to Slow Fashion Weekly, as a rule of thumb, fast or regular fashion items from Boohoo to Sézane or Urban Outfitters should have a price tag around £10-15 (or below) in the resale market if they were mass produced using cheap, synthetic material such as polyester, acrylic or elastane. Their price should be reflective of their  quality.

So, What Is Ethical Secondhand Fashion?

Here are a few things to consider when looking for in an ethical secondhand fashion shop:

  • Designer pieces need to be guaranteed authentic. What kind of guarantee does the shop offer that they are?
  • Prices paid to providers of clothes should be at least 50% or more of the sale value
  • Prices demanded for thrifted clothing should reflect their quality and materials
  • The state of the item should be pristine, and any flaws should be accounted for in the price
  • What happens to unsold clothing? It should be donated to charities, sold off at discounts, or returned to the original owners rather than dumped in developing countries.

Check out the shop’s About section, or send them an email directly to know the answers to these questions. If you can’t find the time to do so, here are five ethical secondhand fashion shops we’ve investigated ourselves!

Secondhand vs Vintage

Around 57% of Brits generally also agree that buying too many fashion items – used or not –  is bad for the environment, which could be bad news for fast fashion retailers that need to sell more and more every year. The same number are trying to shop more ethically, and Gen Z is leading the way, with 68% of that demographic attempting to do so.

So, now we know that we can give clothing new life by swapping and selling. But…what’s the difference between secondhand and vintage clothing?

It’s generally accepted that ‘vintage’ clothing is classified as a garment that’s 20 years or older. If an item is over 50 years old, it’s actually called ‘antique’. Vintage clothing companies are forced to be thrifty with their stock, as unlike major retailers, every unique item arrives in an unpredictable condition and therefore requires a full check before being resold.

5 Trusted Ethical Secondhand Fashion Shops

1. Noir Vintage Shop

This is a vintage fashion platform that focuses on style, luxury and sustainability. Noir’s intention is to focus on slow, secondhand fashion that’s made to last. Here, you’ll find sassy, unique and whimsical pieces that range from clothing to jewellery accessories. You can travel back to another era, from the Swinging Sixties to the Greedy Eighties, while being completely in synch with the style of the 21st century.

Pieces come from all over the world and possess a timeless quality, that will never make you go out of style.

Ethical because: The shop puts sustainability at the forefront along with social responsibility. They say: “NOIR. is a vintage fashion collection that focuses on style, luxury and sustainability. With sustainability and social responsibility at the forefront, NOIR. makes conscious shopping effortless.”

2. Momento Uomo

Men are also concerned about the impact of fast-fashion on our planet. Hence, Momento Uomo was launched. Founder John James Muller created the shop around two years ago. It was born out of a lifelong passion for vintage hunting, shopping and buying special pieces when visiting new cities. 

He explains, “when I realised this problem brewing in my closet, I started to look into practices of brands, and retail patterns. I saw what fast-fashion retailers were feeding us; fast trends made with terrible fabrics so that we would just buy more and more cheap fashion.” 

He decided to do something about that. Today, Momento Uomo is one of the best online secondhand shops for men in the world.

Ethical because: All the pieces chosen for the shop are guaranteed authentic. They are made to last, and are sold at fair prices.

3. Tommie Magazine Shop

Tommie Magazine is an articulate online space that glorifies the concept of secondhand fashion. This happens not only through an online shop, but also through articles that focus on ethical and sustainable fashion. Tommie Gatherings are also on offer for those who love thrifting. These are a series of workshops that encourage people to meet in real life to re-connect, educate, and discuss the virtues of secondhand fashion.

In the Tommie Shop, you’ll find exquisite pieces of top-notch brands  that have a whimsical flair of past decades, such as a 70s Missoni, a 60s Jantzen or an 80s Versace.

Ethical because: The Tommie community is designed to share information that ensures the ethics of secondhand fashion and thrifting.

What Is Ethical Secondhand Fashion?

4. Rebelle

Already in its name there is a strong message of rebelling against mainstream fashion. Rebelle is an online marketplace for high-quality designer fashion. Founders Cécile Wickmann and Max Schönemann created this platform with one main goal. This was to provide serious fashionistas with the opportunity to find long-forgotten couture gems that can become new classics in their wardrobes.

Clothes, bags, jewellery and accessories are available from prominent designer vintage labels like Miu Miu, Burberry and Chanel.

Ethical because: It has created a platform that independently verifies the authenticity of secondhand designer items.

What Is Ethical Secondhand Fashion?

5. Farfetch

This incredible online designer vintage destination is a treasure trove for almost 3000 top-notch deluxe labels, and naturally these are all second hand items that are sold in perfect condition. The most wondrous trait about shopping on Farfetched is that it ships to 190 countries! Whoa, right? They also offer everything from clothes to jewellery, as well as shoes and accessories. You may find some exquisite, rare pieces by the likes of Chanel and Gucci here.

Ethical because: Their employee code of conduct is aligns with the Modern Slavery Act of 2015. What this means is that the company actively fights human rights abuses in fashion production

.All images courtesy the websites. Illustrative images via Rebelle

Chiara Spagnoli Gabardi
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