I’d like to start this post by acknowledging that not everyone has the privilege to shop second hand by choice, nor do we all have the privilege to spend more on higher quality pieces that will last longer… and that’s okay. We’re all about doing what you can with what you have and making the best choices you can within your means. Everyone doing it imperfectly is better than a few doing it perfectly and all that – Rachel.
Second hand is quickly becoming the preferred method of buying for the sustainably conscious shopper and for good reason. Buying and wearing somebody else’s clothes reduces the environmental impact of the item itself as well as the demand for the production of new items. You can find everything from vintage to new with tags still attached. However, the often reduced price tag, risk of ill-fit or inaccurate descriptions and sometimes restricted returns processes of second hand items does pose the risk that we can end up treating them just like the fast fashion we are trying to avoid.
The cheap nature, in price and quality, of fast fashion make buying impulsively, more frequently or in higher quantities than we need typical buyer behaviours. For similar reasons these are the behaviours that are at risk of carrying over to second hand shopping. In addition, returning an item grabbed as part of a fill-a-bag for $5 or from a local charity shop may not seem worth the trouble. If bought online through platforms like Depop or Etsy, the seller may not even accept returns so it may not be possible. Instead, if not chosen consciously, the items sit in the back of the closet until the next spring clean when it’s resold, thrown away or re-donated, only the start the cycle gain, and we may end up buying more to try and fill the gap.
The cycle of buy-donate-buy donate is wreaking havoc on Australian charities who are inundated and overwhelmed with donations – many of which are unusable or unsuitable for sale. In 2018 Australian charities were reported as spending $13 million sending unusable donations to land fill (ABC, 2018). These organisations simply do not have the resources to sort and sell everything they are receiving, so even perfectly good items often find their way into land fill as well.
So if we are going to buy and sell second hand, which really can be a fantastic option, what steps can we take to make sure we are doing so in a way that does not treat it like fast fashion and really does reduce the environmental impact of our buying habits?
Buying Second Hand
- As with all buying ask yourself: do you already own something similar, how often will you wear it and how does it fit into your current wardrobe?
- If you’re shopping online, don’t be afraid to ask questions (are there any faults? How much has it been worn? Ask for additional photos– don’t forget, just like in a store you are giving this person money so you have every right to get all the details you need)
- Try shopping for brands or styles you are already familiar with – this minimises the chances of the item not fitting well as you’ll already know what size you usually wear
- Have a plan, know what you are looking for and how much you are wanting to spend. As fun as it is having an op-shopping day out with friends, going home with a bag full of stuff you’ll never touch again kind of defeats the purpose
- Consider if there are certain items that really work better for you new vs. second hand. For example, The Good Look Store started from owner Rachel’s frustration when buying second hand active wear just wasn’t doing the trick – the need for a perfect fit and functionality means buying new from sustainable brands is a better option and she is able to love and wear the items or longer while still buying most of her other clothes second hand
Selling Second hand
- Post lots of photos, more than you think is needed, from different angles, in different lighting
- Be available to answer questions or provide additional details
- Include details of faults, you’ll find people are often okay with small marks as long as they are made aware before they buy
- Being honest and transparent about the condition of your items for sale will help generate great reviews and encourage others to buy from you
End of Wearable-Life Options
- Before throwing everything into the donation pile – ask yourself, would you wear it or lend it to a friend in the condition it is in? If not, it’s not suitable donating
- Consider other end of wearable life options. A few companies are now offering textile recycling services as an alternative to donations – check out https://recyclingnearyou.com.au/ next time you have some old clothes you’re not sure what to do with.