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Clothes Sharing: Second-Hand September

Updated: Sep 27, 2023

In this extract from Eleanor Tucker’s book "Thanks for Sharing", she explores the old-but-new world of clothes sharing – to save money and, of course, the planet too… kicking off Oxfam's Second-Hand September campaign.

Last month, having just spent a lot of money and time in Clarks buying children’s shoes, I needed a cheer-me-up purchase. So, I ignored my inner voice, which was asking me to question why the blouse in the shop window was only the price of a semi-decent bottle of red wine, and I marched into that famous high street store. And yes, I confess, I bought that puffed sleeve number because it was in Grazia’s line up of ‘Ten Summer Celeb Looks You Can Buy Right Now,’ and they had it in a size 14. Plus, it’s long enough to tuck in, which is a kind of fashion Holy Grail for anyone over forty. (We don’t always tuck things in, we just like to know we could.)

Why did I ignore my inner voice and buy it? Not because I am lazy, or because I don’t care, but because I was busy, and the shop was right there, with its summery looking window display and clusters of red beach balls which reminded me of giant haemorrhoids. And because finding an alternative seemed like a hassle, and I wanted instant gratification – even if it comes with that uncomfortable feeling that what I’ve just bought is probably highly flammable, wouldn’t begin to biodegrade for at least a thousand years, and was made by someone younger than my own children.

I also knew deep down that by autumn, when the warm weather was over, the Victoriana look would be so last summer. And that the blouse would hide at the back of a drawer for a couple of months, until a Winter Decluttering brought it out again, flimsy looking now. Then, it would go into a bag of clothes ‘for the charity shop’, which would work its way from the hall to the back of the car. And then, three months later, to that familiar soundtrack of muttering, it would be unceremoniously put in a bin meant for those blue paper towels at the petrol station by my husband as he vacuumed the boot. And the thousand years in landfill would unintentionally begin.

Shoe in a puddle of water, taken as a symbol of fashion waste. Image Credit: Ivan Radic.

This is how ‘fast fashion’ gets you. In my head, I’m not that person. I’m sustainable. I wear good quality classics that last from year to year. However, the reality is, I’m just the same as anyone else. I have good intentions and feel a bit choked up when I see that polar bear on the tiny bit of ice (they can swim, right?). But then when it comes to it, it seems too difficult to be a good person when it comes to fashion. Like it might involve owning a sewing machine (and working out how to use it) and having what people who wear vintage call an ‘eye’. I’m not sure I have an ‘eye’. I prefer Zara to have that for me.

So, what exactly is fast fashion? Thanks to mass production, we can afford to simply discard the clothes we no longer want and replace them quickly with minimal impact on our wallets. As a result, they are designed with a shorter life expectancy and are just not as good quality as they would previously have been. The fashion industry is a huge problem for the planet, with mass production occurring on a scale that is no longer sustainable. In fact, it’s responsible for around 10 per cent of global carbon build-up, producing five times more CO2 than the aviation industry.

The ‘slow fashion’ movement has been addressing this for a while – working to change attitudes towards fast fashion: the cheap ‘disposable’ clothes just like that blouse. Slow fashion promotes a more sustainable approach, encouraging people to buy second-hand clothes with campaigns like Secondhand September, redesign old clothes, shop from smaller producers and buy quality garments with a longer lifespan.

Which is all well and good, and certainly to be encouraged. But if I only want to wear something a couple of times, and I don’t want to buy it new, and I can’t be bothered spending days traipsing around thrift shops wondering how everyone else manages to find gorgeous retro pieces in them when I find things from Next… then what? Clothes sharing, that’s what.

Clothing swap in a gym in Toronto, Canada. Image Credit: Neesa Rajibhandari.

But what exactly is clothes sharing? It’s not quite the same as rental, something we’re all familiar with. Even before online platforms and apps, you could easily rent an evening dress or tuxedo, usually from a shop on the high street with soft carpeting and an overpowering scent of peach potpourri. Many such shops still exist, usually used for proms and other black-tie events. And now, thanks to technology, clothes rental has gone online, and seen a surge in popularity.

These sites, like the shops that preceded them, either own the clothing ‘inventory’, or stock, themselves, or have it on a consignment basis (on loan from the supplier). This is still very much in the laudable spirit of ‘access over ownership’: as a renter, you don’t own the item, so one item is worn more often by more people, which the planet no doubt prefers. And it does mean clothing is available in multiple sizes as it doesn’t come from someone’s personal wardrobe.

Clothes sharing is part of the same trend, but not exactly the same, because these apps (By Rotation, Hurr and Loanhood, to name but a few) actually connect you to other people, creating a community and also a greener model in the sense that nothing has been bought specifically for rental purposes. So, clothes are only exchanged between individuals, or ‘person-to-person’. It’s the sharing economy model down to a T: you have a thing, you rent it out – or you want a thing, so you rent it off someone else.

The benefits are the chance to make money, be more sustainable and access things you couldn’t before. It’s worth noting that some of the sharing apps also have inventory available, through partnerships. Which is fine by me: pure peer-to-peer is often difficult for businesses to make money from at the start, and having stock you own is sometimes the best way to maintain quality when it comes to customer service and cleanliness, while peer-to-peer can make it harder to track such things. But this is all a step in the right direction, and I’m here to take that step, in the hope of becoming a more stylish, sustainable version of myself…

This is an edited extract from "Thanks for Sharing: How I Gave Up Buying and Embraced Swapping, Borrowing and Renting" by Eleanor Tucker, which as well as including insights into clothes sharing, documents Eleanor's funny and relatable attempts to try as many types of sharing as she (and her family) can manage. Published by Aurum Press. (RRP £12.99.)

About the Author: Eleanor is an advisor for the CBI Sharing Economy Council and consults internationally on gig and sharing economy models, working to help start-ups and scale-ups to launch , grow and thrive. She is also a features writer for newspapers and magazines such as the Guardian, The Observer, The Telegraph and Psychologies magazine. Originally from Oxford, she attended university in Edinburgh, where she now lives with her husband and two children. "Thanks for Sharing" is her first book.

Disclaimer: Second-hand September is a campaign run by Oxfam. WILD Magazine is not affiliated with Oxfam in any way, and views shared may not reflect those of Oxfam.


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