Secondhand September: A UK Guide to Sustainable Fashion

It's Secondhand September, and today it's time to answer all the top questions about shopping sustainably, choosing preloved clothing, and why it's important to take part in the fight against fast fashion.  Get ready to discover all the answers in this special UK guide!

secondhand clothing including organic burnt orange mushroom design dress, pale blue crewneck embroidered jumper, and burgundy corduroy dungaree dress

What Is Secondhand September?

Second Hand September launched in 2019 when Oxfam put out a call to fight fast fashion.  The action started at Download Festival, and quickly picked up steam as changemakers around the world decided to take part.  Now, the month long event is supported by shops large and small and is promoted across social media as more and more people become inspired to shop smart.

What Can You Buy Secondhand?

The beauty of shopping secondhand is that it can be applied to literally anything in your life.  Kitchenware, clothes, garden, technology...  If you can buy it, you can find it preloved!

I almost always get a used mobile phone (my current one being the exception as it was a gift from my wonderful husband!), I shop pretty much exclusively secondhand for dresses, shirts, jackets, and other fashion items, and I love finding gently used vinyl records, quirky mugs, plant pots, books, and more.

And there are so many reasons why shopping secondhand is a great choice.

Spread Hummus Not Hate embroidered pale blue crew neck jumper worn by red haired woman
one of my 'new' secondhand finds is a jumper that had been on my wishlist for ages!

Why Choose Secondhand?

Choosing secondhand has a lot of benefits and can help slow the effects of overconsumption.  Shopping for used clothing especially can make a big difference over time, and that's why Second Hand September focuses on fashion.  However, picking preloved products in any area of your life brings a bundle of positives - just take a look!:

  • Reduce plastic pollution, textile trash, and hazardous waste:
    One reason for pushing for shopping secondhand is to cut down on waste.  In the UK alone, fast fashion contributes to over 200,000 tonnes of rubbish, electronics create 1.5 million tonnes of trash, and over 22 million pieces of furniture are tossed each year.  That's just the tip of the iceberg.

  • Change mindsets:
  • Is the price fair?  Well, if it is an ethical brand than it probably is well worth it as the price reflects higher wages, better materials, responsible designs, and improved work conditions.  However, as cheap products are so prevalent and people are conditioned to seek out 60% off sales and pick the bargains and brand names over craftmanship and mission statements, it's hard to justify the price tag to the general public.  By urging others to shop secondhand, we can start to shift this mindset and refocus on quality.

  • Save money:
    I don't want to quote Macklemore, but 50 quid for a t-shirt isn't always feasible when you are struggling to pay the bills, support a family, care for pets, or are on a student budget.  Even if buying sustainable is our goal it doesn't mean we can afford it - and that's where shopping secondhand helps!  You can find preloved pieces for a fraction of the cost, and often you can haggle a bit too!

  • Protect workers:
    As I mentioned, big brands often skimp on quality, but this goes for work conditions as well.  There have been far too many cases of employers (and corporations) failing to meet safety regulations, and the people pay that price.  From child labour and ties to ethnic cleansing to factory fires and abuse of women - the problems are far reaching and there is no end in sight.

  • Find something one of a kind:
    It's pretty embarrassing when you show up to an event wearing the exact same outfit as someone else, or you go to someone's house and you can't help but feel a little put out that their living room looks so similar to yours.  And what about those weird half laugh moments when you are at a cafe and you notice the mugs are a match to what are in your cupboards...  Buy shopping secondhand you avoid all of this, as the chances of someone finding the same vintage item as you are pretty minimal!  It's a great way to express yourself, and it's great fun picking design elements that suit your style.

secondhand clothes hanging up on a rail

Where Can You Find Secondhand Clothing in the UK?

Since Secondhand September largely focuses on choosing preloved clothes, today's guide will shine the spotlight on some of the best places to check out when searching for preloved fashion.  From apps and brick and mortar shops, there are solutions to suit everyone's budget and preferences!

I've talked about sustainable fashion before in my Eco Friendly Style Guide, and The ecoLogical recently had an article sharing tips for updating your wardrobe so it is plastic free.  I've also featured several ethical brands and am looking forward to continuing to highlight greener businesses in future!  These are important topics, and I hope that all the information proves helpful or at least inspires people to try organic or secondhand fashion.

And today I'm excited to offer up seven eco friendly fashion options that should help inspire you this Second Hand September!

1] Charity Shops

Obviously Oxfam is the one that kicked off this whole event, so why not try shopping at a charity shop for Second Hand September?  Almost every high street has a selection of them, and it's a great way to browse through racks and get that feeling that you are buying something new.  You can find everything from shoes to slacks, and the size range is relatively inclusive (our local ones have everything from XXS to 6X for women, and a decent array of children's clothes too!).

2] Repurpose Old Clothes

One of the best ways of celebrating Second Hand September in my opinion is giving your old clothes new life.  It's like shopping your own wardrobe and ending up with new items!  I mean, where else will you find free pieces that you actually love?  There are great guides online for upcycling torn jeans, worn t-shirts, and torn dresses, or you can get creative and try your hand at your very own design.  And if sewing isn't your strong suit, why not just try a small mending project?  I have a little pile of leggings to patch up this month, and I can't wait to have them back in action soon.

3] Marketplace Apps

There are a whole load of apps available these days that people can use to buy and sell used items.  It's a great place to find unique pieces, vintage products, and like-new merch.  Plus, many of them allow you to haggle prices or even do swaps!  Some of my favourites are Depop and Vinted as there is just so much available (and a fair bit of organic clothes too - yay!), but there are ones like Hardly Ever Worn It, Preloved, Regain, Shpock, and others to try out too.  Just search by size, keywords, brand, or colour and find a match that suits your price point!

4] Secondhand Fashion Websites

Whether you are seeking vintage finds or last season's styles, there is a website sporting secondhand fashion for you.  I often use eBay when looking for People Tree dresses, but there are so many other cool online marketplaces to try.  Check out Etsy, ASOS Vintage, Thrift+, Facebook Marketplace, Beyond Retro, Re-Fashion, A Virtual Vintage Market, The Clear Out Online Store, or Vestiaire Collective for starters.

5] Preloved Clothing Swaps

You might be surprised to hear that there are clothing swap events being held all across the country (or at least pre Covid there were events!), and this is a great place to trade loved pieces for new finds.  Try looking for a group on Facebook for your area, look up the Get Swishing community, set something up with friends who wear a a similar size, or just do a quick Google search to see what might be taking place around you.  I know that Oxfam is hosting a night in Norwich at the end of the month, and I'm sure there are bound to be similar things going on around the UK to celebrate the beauty of secondhand fashion.

6] Vintage Clothing Events

While Covid may have put these on hold for a while, I know they will be back with a bang soon.  It's great fun browsing vintage clothes stalls, and events featuring these secondhand pieces can be found across the country.  Again, just do a little search on Google or social media and you are sure to find a handful in your area!

7] Rent A Wardrobe

If you are a fashionista who really can't ditch having new pieces every season but want to find a more sustainable way to style yourself, renting a wardrobe might just be for you.  While many of these services offer new or designer clothes, there is a growing demand for truly secondhand rentals which has led to a great mix of platforms like My Wardrobe HQ, By Rotation, The Little Loop (focusing on children's clothing), Endless Wardrobe, Nuw, and Hurr Collective.  You can get everything from accessories to wedding dresses.  Maybe instead of buying a piece you'll only wear once (you know what I mean - like that next work do that requires a special outfit) you can test out a rental.

secondhand clothes including blue print dress, pink cat design crew neck jumper, and purple skirt

Which of these seven have you tried already, and what options are new to you?  Do you have any more ideas about shopping sustainably and choosing secondhand clothing?  I would love to hear, so do share your ideas in the comments below! xx

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