With awareness around the climate crisis growing, our efforts to live more sustainably have extended to our wardrobes where, for many, it’s out with the new and in with the old. But these days you don’t need to go rifling through overstuffed charity shop rails to nab second-hand gems. As we enter Second Hand September, the Oxfam campaign challenging shoppers to go a month (at least) without buying new, why not get acquainted with a new breed of digitally savvy vintage sellers? From consciously curated Instagram drops and circular fashion platforms to personalised clothes subscriptions, there are plenty of ways to refresh your look without succumbing to fast fashion and its polluting ways.
While mining traditional markets and thrift stores is a time-consuming process that rarely results in gold, there are a number of web-based offerings that make browsing a breeze and there are plenty of reasons to kick the fast-fashion habit beyond the individuality, quality and durability of vintage. Activist Hali Brown (@nextwearer) has spoken out about the environmental impact of our wasteful shopping sprees, particularly in relation to how the fast fashion sector disproportionately affects women and people of colour. Whether that’s farmers exposed to toxic chemicals to unsafe practices in textile factories.
To ensure your vintage purchase is as ethical as possible, be wary of clothes with the labels cut out (a sign fast fashion is posing as vintage to fetch a higher price) and look for durable natural materials such as linen or wool. A top tip from sustainable fashion journalist, Sophie Benson is to avoid snapping up oversized items for your upcycling projects as plus size vintage is already hard to come by, while Francesca Willow (@ethicalunicorn) advises looking at the fastenings and zips. “Are they hook and eye or poppers? If the zip pull is small and thin, like the ones you’d see on a normal pair of jeans, then it’s more likely to be modern.”
Struggling to find second hand clothes to suit your style and your size? You could join a monthly subscription service that does the sifting for you. Every week, the UK dumps around 13 million clothing items in landfill. As a reaction to this ever-expanding textile mountain, start-ups such as A Curated Thrift and Material World both deliver a box of preloved mix and match outfits chosen to suit your personal style profile. However, this might not be the best idea if your wardrobe is already bursting at the seams. Remember, the most sustainable clothes are the ones you already own.
For more purposeful retail therapy, there are a number of Instagram sellers springing up with a fine eye for vintage fashion.
With the aim of inspiring conscious consumption, we love the sleek aesthetic, retro palette (and plastic free packaging) from vintage seller atijọ, whose grid was made for mindful scrolling. Proving there’s life in these old garms yet is Darling and Vintage, who occasionally throws some shapes in her hand picked new (old) finds. If boho frills and puffy sleeves are more your thing, check out the dreamy Strange Moon Vintage. Its ethos is one based on sourcing one of a kind items.
The spirit of quality over quantity is also embraced by Bonsergent Studio and Elia Vintage - both nail the minimalist look with effortlessly styled, carefully sourced pieces you’ll want to treasure. Another vintage seller with an eye for quality tailoring, sumptuous fabrics and a capsule wardrobe-ready muted palette is Retold Vintage. Founder Clare Lewis favours 100% silk, linen, wool and cotton. She always lists the measurements to avoid unnecessary purchases and her clothes arrive in reusable muslin bags.
We caught up with Lewis.to chat about the challenges and perks of selling in the digital era and what excites her about vintage fashion.
Why did you decide to use Instagram as a selling avenue for your vintage finds?
I love that by selling online you can reach a larger, more global audience and the sense of community you can build through Instagram is amazing. I’ve been able to meet connect with like-minded individuals and collaborate with incredible businesses. As much as I would love a bricks and mortar representation of the brand unfortunately it’s so tough as a small business (and especially in London) to be able to make that viable. That’s why I love how the concept of the pop-up has been so popular over the last few years which I’ve been lucky enough to be a part of such as A Sustainable Department Store. I love to be able to give my customers the opportunity to shop Retold IRL and pop ups have been able to help me do that.
What have you found most challenging about the online medium and what have you found most rewarding?
I think one of the trickiest things about selling vintage online is supporting customers around sizing. As this has evolved so much it’s hard for customers to be able to relate vintage sizing back to their current/modern size. This is why I began to add full measurements to my descriptions, however, it’s definitely an education process to get people learning how to measure themselves again.
One of the most rewarding parts is the relationships you are able to build with customers all over the world. I’ve got long-standing customers who have supported Retold right from day one; from as close to where I live in Walthamstow to as far as Singapore and Hong Kong.
Can you tell me more about the process of sourcing clothes for Retold?
It’s always been a very personal process and I like to curate collections that are close to my own individual aesthetic. I’ve always just stuck to choosing pieces I love and would wear myself. It’s so easy to branch off and try and tick all boxes but for me, Retold will always be a reflection of me. I love to source from all over the world and will mix designer as well as unknown brands.
What excites you most about vintage clothing?
The individuality and the fact that each piece has its own unique back story. I love finding special mementoes left in pockets, whether it be old coins, ticket stubs or receipts that hints at its previous owner’s life.
I also love finding pieces from designers and brands that I haven’t heard of before and then researching all about them. There is such a rich fashion history out there which has been lost over time so it’s great to be able to educate myself on them and use my platform to re-tell their stories.
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