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Investing in Quality: Why Second-Hand Doesn’t Mean Second Best

Updated: Nov 15, 2023

Daisy Culleton discusses the transformation of the perception of second-hand fashion from being seen as inferior to a popular and environmentally conscious choice. The article highlights the growth of online resale platforms, celebrity endorsements like Bella Hadid's, and the positive environmental impact of second-hand shopping.

The Second-Hand Stigma

Traditionally, second-hand garments were thought of as inferior, substandard and second rate. They were burdened by their very status, with many of these connotations simply deriving from the belief that with being ‘second’ hand, and thus presumably unwanted by their original owner for some reason or another, they must be ‘second’ best. To make a second-hand purchase was considered by a majority as a last resort. However, in the past few years the stigma attached to second-hand fashion has undergone a remarkable transformation, with second-hand, preloved and vintage developing into both social and digital buzzwords.

Where second-hand shopping was once perceived as the inferior substitute to first-hand shopping, it is now accepted and even celebrated by a great portion of the public as the superior option. This transformation being largely the result of a growing recognition that second-hand shopping comes with an array of financial and environmental rewards. In fact, according to a study commissioned by Virgin Media O2 in 2022, ‘nine out of 10 consumers are now happy to shop second hand, due to concerns about the cost of living, the environment and a desire to own unique items’.

Second Abbey - The Shop of Pre-Loved Clothes. Image credit: William Murphy on Flickr.

The Growth in Second-Hand Shopping Options

The gradual de-stigmatization of second-hand fashion has prompted an extensive increase in clothing resale sites such as Vinted, Depop, Finds, Vestaire Collective, Hardly Ever Worn It, 1st dibs and Retold. The sites themselves have experienced a rapid growth in recent years, with Depop, for example, witnessing a 163% increase in new users and 300% increase in sales between 2019 to 2020. Therefore, with the landscape of second-hand fashion being considerably larger and more accessible than ever before it is easy to see that second-hand certainly does not mean second-best anymore. At the scroll of an app, the consumer can now access thousands upon thousands of second-hand items in every style, colour and fit. Don’t believe me, go see for yourself!

What’s more, fast fashion giants have started to hop on the bandwagon, realizing that there is now a genuine call, amongst consumers, for more second-hand fashion outlets. For example, Pretty Little Thing established PLT Marketplace, an app where users are encouraged to sell their pre-loved clothing. However, PLT’s commitment to the creation of a second-hand marketplace is undoubtedly an effort in greenwashing, meaning they constructed the app to distract consumers from their unsavoury, unethical, and environmentally destructive practices. Although, the existence of such an online marketplace does mean that consumers can now effortlessly purchase second-hand without forgoing on the latest fashion brands, trends, and items.

Celebrities have also helped demonstrate that the belief that second-hand equates to second best is wildly outdated. American model, Bella Hadid, has set and shaped various fashion trends with the second-hand and sustainable purchases she has made from Depop sellers such as @timelesswear, @beryoza and @susamusa. Her love for true nineties and “y2k” garments showcases that one can shop second hand without having to renounce their style. In fact, Bella’s dedication to unique vintage garments is part of what has earnt her status as a fashion icon, therefore proving that in today’s fast-paced fashion climate it is more possible than ever before to stay on trend whilst shopping second-hand. As the lifespan of most fashion trends grows shorter and shorter, thanks to the influence of social media, Bella’s vintage shopping habits prove that there are plenty of high-quality fashionable garments already in circulation.

A woman shopping for second-hand clothes in a charity shop. Image credit: Cottonbro Studio on Pexels.

Second-Hand is in the Best Interest of Mother Earth

If Bella’s stylish outfits are not enough to convince you to make the switch to second-hand fashion, then perhaps consider the positive environmental impact that comes attached to shopping second-hand. According to statistics gathered by the Ellen Macarthur foundation ‘300,000 tonnes of garments end up in UK landfills each year’ and ‘every second, the equivalent of a rubbish truck load of clothes is buried in landfill’. Consequently, by purchasing from the likes of Vinted or even your local charity shop, you are not only curating your very own collection of striking vintage garments, but you are also helping heal Mother Earth in the process. Shopping second-hand not only extends the lifespan of a garment, it also helps preserve some of Earth’s most valuable natural resources. The World Counts, which is an online resource that offers real-time data on the state of the planet, found that the production of a singular cotton t-shirt uses around 2,700 litres of water. Subsequently, by purchasing your t-shirts alone from the variety of second-hand clothing avenues that are in existence today, you are assisting towards the formation of a healthier and happier world.

Unfolded, which is a UK-based slow fashion company that utilizes a made-to-order approach, also found that the present-day fashion industry uses a shocking 1.3 billion barrels of oil every year. Henceforth, in addition to reducing waste and saving water, a circular approach to fashion also helps to decrease the demand for the non-renewable natural resources that society so desperately requires. The real question, therefore, is who doesn’t want an outfit that serves as both a fashion and an environmental statement? Second-hand fashion is no longer second best; it is a smart, stylish, and sustainable choice that benefits both your wardrobe and Mother Earth.

About the Author: Daisy Culleton is an American Studies and History graduate from the University of Nottingham. She has a keen interest in both Art and Environmental History.

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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