Why your hand-me-downs are worth more than ever

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Frankie Graddon | The Pool

It will come as a surprise to no one that I like to shop. Boots, coats, dresses and bags – I love them all. If you’re reading this, I am guessing that you do, too. The wholehearted thrill of purchasing a new item of clothing is undeniable. My heart positively leaps when I open my inbox to “12 new pieces that will instantly update your wardrobe” and “202 new-season buys have just arrived”. I click, I browse, I sometimes buy. I am a sucker for shiny, bright, new things. Most of us are.

However, what it becoming ever more clear is that our current state of consumption isn’t sustainable. As our appetite for more, more, more grows, we are entering into a cycle of "buy fast, wear fast, throw away even faster". A 2017 report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation found that the amount of clothing made has doubled in the past 15 years, while pedlars of fast fashion such as Boohoo and Missguided are positively booming (this March, the former reported a 97% profit surge year on year). Meanwhile, the number of times we are actually wearing our clothes is falling, with one in 10 of us apparently throwing away outfits after we’ve worn them (and selfied them) three times. And when I say throw away, I mean throw away – a recent report released by the soap brand Method found that 18% of us throw our clothes in the bin after having a clear-out.

It’s a tricky time to be a fashion lover. On the one hand, there’s the guilt of contributing to the problem, but on the other – new-season shoes! It is exactly this conflict that is fanning the popularity of the resale market, which is set to double over the next four years. In fact, by 2027, second-hand clothes are predicted to make up 11% of our wardrobes, but we’re not just talking charity-shop finds and car-boot bargains. A new spate of stylish shopping platforms is making the prospect of pre-loved clothes more fashionable than ever.

“We need to alter our habits in every area of our life, especially fashion”, says Alicia Waite, fashion consultant and co-founder of The Resolution Store (TRS). Launched last month by Waite and designer Anna Sutton, The Resolution Store aims to do just that by offering a beautifully curated edit of pre-loved clothes and accessories. But not just any old clothes and accessories – those of popular fashion influencers. Be it a handbag once owned by Pandora Sykes or a skirt from Camille Charriere, TRS give access to the sort of wardrobes most of us can only dream about  – and at knock-down prices at that (a Ganni dress for £53? Yes, please). Refreshed every few weeks, the pieces are organised by category (tops, dresses, bags, etc) as well as into influencer edits, which, considering how popular influencer style currently is, is bound to be an attractive shopping proposition.

I don’t know why we should buy new things and produce new things when a lot is already sitting in wardrobes just waiting for others to wear them

But as well as keeping us in half-price Ganni, the site also goes some way to offering a solution to the inherent unsustainability of social media and influencer culture. “I’ve worked closely with influencers for a long time. The bigger they’ve become, the more clothing they receive, buy and source, but once they’ve posted about a piece on Instagram, they have to move on to other pieces in order to stay fresh,” explains Waite. “It really bothers me that they [clothes] might end up languishing at the back of someone’s wardrobe unwanted, when they could be having a life elsewhere.” As the saying goes, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure and, when it comes to fashion influencers, they sure have a lot of potential treasure.

Also utilising the influencer resale opportunity is The Method Slow Fashion Store. A collaboration between Method and Clothes Aid, the pop-up shop will sell second-hand clothes gifted by influencers and celebrities. With the likes of Millie Mackintosh and Jasmine Hemsley donating pieces, the offering is sure to be a stylish one.

So too is the offering on the recently launched pre-loved shopping site, My Wardrobe Mistakes. Founded by ex-fashion manager Virginie Alvarez, the site collates luxury second-hand pieces and presents them in highly browsable shopping edits. “We all make mistakes. I have 36 black dresses in my wardrobe,” says Alvarez, who set up the site with the intention of turning those “I really don’t know why I bought that” pieces into a resale opportunity. “I don’t know why we should buy more new things and produce more new things when a lot of things are sitting in wardrobes just waiting for others to wear them,” she explains. With many pieces coming to her with tags still on, Alvarez says that she is giving forgotten clothes a “second life”. Before being sold, pieces are authenticated by in-house experts before being photographed and going on the website and Instagram. The edit is updated daily with new pieces.

Following in the footsteps of the likes of Vestiaire Collective (the hugely successful luxury resale site which has over 6 million members), these platforms are presenting second-hand clothes as a viable alternative to shopping for new. But with only one in five of us buying second-hand clothing, can the pre-loved market really give the high street a run for its money?

Alvarez says it’s all down to desirability. “If you make it beautiful, people will buy it.” It’s true – whether we are spending a little or a lot, shopping is a treat and we want it to feel like one. And when the high street is only ever upping its user experience both on and offline, the second-hand market has got to be able to contend. Sure, everyone loves a good rummage in a charity shop now and again, but living in the time-short culture that we do, most of us are seeking easy-to-navigate shopping spaces and covetable, curated edits.

Of course, the ethical benefits of shopping second-hand are huge. With some 235 million items of clothing going into UK landfill every year, anything that supports recycling and re-wearing the clothes we already have is a positive and necessary thing. “Just because a piece isn’t current season, doesn’t mean it hasn’t taken a huge amount of work – as well as water, energy, natural (or non-natural) fibres – to create,” says Waite.

The impact on the environment is huge. But so too is the potential impact on our bank balances. While these resale platforms might not be able to offer the £8 dresses fuelling the sales of Boohoo.com, they do offer access to expensive brands and stand-out pieces at a reduced price. Of course, as with all second-hand shopping, the depth of stock and breadth of size will always be something to contend with. Pieces will only ever come in the sizes that they are donated in and once they're gone, they're gone. But the odd bag here and skirt there mixed in with a vintage piece or car-boot bargain certainly makes a convincing case for a hand-me-down wardrobe. As Alvarez says: “If you want a new dress, why would you pay full price?” Why indeed.

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