What with the state of the economy, thrift shopping has become increasingly popular in recent years; people have started to actively seek out their local charity shops and rummage through the racks and baskets to find lovely items of clothing for a fraction of what they would pay for clothes from big high street names. That being said, there is still a degree of a stigma surrounding charity shops and the people who shop in them; they are looked down upon, considered cheap and not everyone is willing to invest the time in actively rummaging for clothing. This way of thinking needs to change.
Why should we thrift and upcycle?
There are a WEALTH of reasons why charity shopping and upcycling is essential. First and foremost:
I would like to think that most people at this point who shop for clothes from the high street are aware of the fact it has potentially been cheaply made by underpaid workers in poor working conditions; even if you avoid Primark which is notorious for using cheap labour to produce the cheap clothes people are squabbling over, (seriously walking into Primark is like walking into one of the nine circles of hell) many other high street shops will have also had some of their clothes made cheaply abroad by underpaid workers.
Tracing back the origins of a garment of clothing is difficult; you may have the country it originated from but that doesn’t tell you what working conditions the people who made the garment worked in, how much they were paid, how old they were who supplied the textiles and the raw materials needed to make the textiles. Was the exploitation of those textiles detrimental to the environment? Do you want to support this kind of corporation? A trivial purchase becomes a lot more complex when you consider it this way and fortunately thrift shopping avoids this issue. Although the item of clothing you’ve upcycled or bought in a thrift shop might have been made with cheap labour initially, recycling clothes in this manner reduces demand for clothing in the main supply chain. The garment has a longer life and thus there is less of a need to produce new clothes to replace it. In addition to this, many thrift shops are about charities – so your money is going to a good cause.
Ideally the best way to overcome this obstacle – in addition to thrifting and upcycling – is buying British/European (at least for our British readers; try to buy products made in your country of origin) wherever possible.
As an environmentalist, this one is particularly poignant to me; recycling is an essential part of my life – and frankly should be an essential part of everyone’s life – and recycling clothes is just another logical step forwards. Upcycling and thrift shopping is considerably greener than just buying from the high street; upcycling old clothes into things you want to wear, avoids sending them to landfill – although if you really want a wardrobe clear out, it’s better to give clothing to charity shops as opposed to the gaping mouth of the bin – and creating something wearable from a garment you used to loathe is extremely rewarding. Thrifting as opposed to buying from the high street reduces your carbon footprint – looking at the labels from virtually every high street shop, the clothes are made in China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Bangladesh, India… the list goes on and just think about the logistics of that. Your clothing has been shipped hundreds, nay thousands of miles to reach the shop you bought it from and that carbon footprint will be huge. Even if we ignore the carbon footprint from the journey the garment must have taken, we then have the issue of what it’s made off; synthetic fibres take a lot of energy to produce and produce pollutants in the form of harmful chemicals and gases. These harmful chemicals are a particularly big issue as due to poor environmental laws, the chemicals can be simply dumped in local water sources – damaging both the environment and posing a serious risk to people dependent on that water for drinking and washing and so forth. Even cotton and linen aren’t safe due to the pesticides that were probably used while producing the plants. Buying thrifted clothing avoids all of these problems; although thrifted clothing they may have initially come from overseas, the journey they took to the charity shop will have been significantly less. As it is reducing demand in the main supply chain, its carbon footprint and damage to the environment isn’t ongoing. Every garment purchased second hand or upcycled means one less produced!
I actually had a quick rummage through my wardrobe to check where some of my charity shop and high street finds were made and the range was sincerely interesting: Bulgaria, Romania, Greece, India, China, Spain and the UK. Just goes to show how much you can not appreciate how much of a carbon footprint a clothing garment actually has.
We appreciate that not everyone can afford to buy all our clothing and accessories from crafters and artists and etsy as much as we want to support small businesses but you can get a wealth of clothing for such a small amount of cash by thrifting; my most recent thrift shop finds we’re a simple velvet dress and a bead necklace for £5 – if that had been on the high street, I would have been lucky if the dress was under £20. I follow numerous fashion blogs on tumblr and ironically the best dressed women I’ve encountered get their clothes from charity shops – that certainly isn’t something to look down upon when they have thousands of followers all wanting to dress like them.
Upcycling is particularly good for when you’re strapped for cash and have a lot of clothes you don’t want to wear anymore. Ask yourself – why don’t I want to wear this? What could I improve about this garment so that I want to wear it? I have so many band t-shirts that are far too big for me but I’m somewhat unwilling to give away – so I modified them. I made them fitted and off the shoulder and now I want to wear them again. The same goes for other items of clothing – I had a lot of unflattering maxi skirts so I altered some into shorter skirts that show off my legs. I bought a pair of red velvet shorts for £10 from River Island – they looked so awful when I had them on – but I’ve always wanted a red velvet skirt, so I modified them into a skirt. The possibilities are endless and the results are virtually always rewarding.
A lot of cheap clothing starts to break down surprisingly quickly meaning people are more inclined to bin it and buy a new one; second hand clothing has shown it’s durable as it has survived one owner and capable of supporting a second, reducing the volume of clothing going to landfill.
It’s diverse and you’ll find things you won’t find on the high street
I’m pretty new to thrifting as it’s only recently I’ve actually been able to shop for clothing at all but there is something very unappealing about the high street in that everyone is clamouring to get the same items of clothing; one of the thrills of fashion as a whole and particularly dark fashion is trying to avoid looking like other people – to look completely unique, different, out-there, extreme even and although this is possible with high street fashion, you will find things in charity shops that you certainly won’t find on the high street. There is something undeniably wonderful about having some vintage items in your wardrobe; clothes with an age and a history to them as opposed to an item of clothing everyone owns. Plus the advantage of there being a persisting stigma with charity shops means there’s a lot less competition for clothing – have a good rummage and imagine what you’ll find! Upcycling also allows you to be creative with generic garments; be inventive, make it into something new and unique.
Overall I’m not suggesting a boycott of the high street – attitudes are changing towards the way clothing is made, wages and working conditions and so forth are liable to change and are changing as awareness increases – and if you’re inventive, you can make high street garments completely unique with so many different outfit combinations. What I’m suggesting is for people to start considering the charity shop as a good source for clothing – it might take more time but you’re doing something morally just for people, the environment and ultimately you’re reaping the rewards with cheap, unique clothing.
I will be posting some ‘How To’ articles in the near future for those of you aspiring to start modifying your clothing and Katie and I intend to continue to share our thrifted finds to inspire you all to go and thift. Watch this space.