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Forget fast fashion: the art of sustainable clothes shopping

The environmental impact of the clothing industry is well documented. Last year in the UK alone, 235m items of clothing were sent to landfill. The fashion industry produces 20 per cent of global wastewater and 10 per cent of global carbon emissions - more than all international flights and maritime shipping. For anyone who is looking to reduce their carbon footprint, cutting back on new clothes and shopping sprees is an obvious quick-win. But even when we know the facts, it can take us a while to commit to changing our behaviour.

My own moment of enlightenment back in February came when I read an article on the Guardian website about people who have stopped buying new clothes altogether (‘Don’t feed the monster!’). I continually feel that I don’t have enough to wear, but with a three-year-old daughter, very little free time and a finite income, my own wardrobe usually comes at the bottom of the priority list. Could I kill two birds with one stone, by consuming less but having clothes that I like? Could second hand-only be the answer?

I’m lucky to work on the same road as a few top-notch charity shops. This helps immensely with the time factor: I can use my lunch hour to fill the gaps in my wardrobe, but I’m here every week so there’s no urgency to my shopping. This means that I’m not just buying things for the sake of it.

I’ve found some real gems in the last six months: a Hobs corduroy skirt which I love, a long summer dress from Boden which came into its own during the rare but intense days of heatwave over the summer, a BNWT (brand new with tags) dungaree dress from Oliver Bonas that I am itching to wear once the weather turns cooler. I’ve only made one faux-pas, which had to go back to the charity shop as a donation – but the great thing about shopping second-hand is that all purchases are supporting a great cause, so I haven’t beaten myself up.

Amy's top charity shop finds

Thinking about embracing second-hand? Many of my Earthwatch colleagues are also actively trying to shop more sustainably, so we’ve pooled our collective wisdom to bring you our 10 top tips for changing your shopping mind-set.

  1. Have an idea of what you need – embracing second-hand is not just about shopping for its own sake. We should only be consuming what we need – what you don’t buy will be available for someone else.
  2. Don’t be too prescriptive – you might need new trousers, but don’t set your heart on a specific cut or fabric. Instead, you should think of charity shopping as an opportunity to be more adventurous with clothing. Buying second-hand has seen me purchase my first jump suit, my first pair of skorts (yes, skirt/shorts) and a gorgeous 50’s style dress with raspberries on it!
  3. Be patient – you’re not going to find fashion gems every time you pop into a charity shop. Second hand shopping is like a treasure hunt, and when you find something really special it’s a thrill. I recently found an immaculate ‘60s houndstooth Aquascutum coat in Peckham for £7. I felt like I was going to get ‘found out’ at the till and they were going to add a zero to the price!
  4. Go beyond charity shops – there are lots of websites, apps and social media groups where you can find second hand clothes:
    • Re-fashion sell donated clothes and then donate to smaller charities that don’t have the funds to have charity shops. You can return items that don’t fit for free.
    • Depop is another online market place for clothes, many of which are second hand. Some people will even do swaps of one of their items for one of yours!
    • Follow second-hand sellers and shops on Instagram and be the first to spot the things they’re selling
    • Look for Facebook groups – Basement Approved and The Baesment tend to sell more branded stuff, but there are so many options out there, including local groups for parents
    • Ebay can be brilliant if you have a label that you know fits you but that isn’t well known – but don’t forget that postage will always add quite a few pounds
  5. Learn how to mend your clothes – make your favourites last by finding out how to do some basic repair work. There are loads of tutorials and guides out there. I really like this one from 1 million women.
  6. Accept that there are some things you don’t want to buy second hand – underwear, for example, or swimwear. I also really struggle to find cotton tops and t-shirts that are in a wearable state. Where you have to buy new, look for ethical, high-quality options that will last and have a minimal impact on the planet.
  7. Put unwanted clothes back into circulation – if you haven’t worn something in the last year, don’t leave it crumpled in the corner of a drawer. Sometimes we all need to move on from a particular style, so make sure you re-donate to allow others to experience it. It can help to find joy in the idea that someone else is going to find your clothes in a charity shop and feel like they’ve got an amazing bargain!
  8. Organise a clothes swap – Ask your friends or co-workers to bring all their unwanted clothes round yours, or into work, and let them take their pick of what’s on offer. This is another great way to look at items you might not normally consider, and to branch out from your usual style. Earthwatch has a clothes swap every few months, and it’s always nice to see your colleagues wearing something that no longer works for you.
  9. Involve other generations – Second-hand children’s clothing is often barely worn. My 6-year-old daughter is really interested in what she wears, so charity shopping is a great opportunity to let her express herself without spending loads of money. But it’s also worth having a rummage in wardrobes of parents, grandparents etc. (with their permission, of course!) – my Grandma was super-stylish and I am still wearing pieces of hers that are more than 60 years old, and can imagine handing them on to my children. Real style never goes out of fashion!
  10. Don’t be too hard on yourself - If you buy one thing from a fast fashion brand every once in a while you shouldn’t feel guilty. If you see something you really love and can’t find it elsewhere then buying it new does not equate to destroying the planet single-handedly! Even if you only get 50% of your clothes second-hand it is still a contribution - becoming more sustainable regarding clothes does not mean never buying something new EVER again!

 Written by Amy Crossweller


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