For me, a trip to town to traipse around huge clothing stores, browsing through endless rows of what all looks the same to me, is my kind of nightmare. The fluorescent lighting, the claustrophobic changing rooms, the nonsensical sizing, the nuisance of simply touching a garment on a hanger and it falling to the floor (where it will probably stay amongst the piles of fellow slippery items) – it’s not exactly what I would call a fun day out!
Okay, maybe my earlier confession was a bit too sweeping. There is a kind of shopping that I do love: charity shopping! I could spend hours digging through rails of offcasts and rejects, searching for those hidden gems that passed under the radars of other discerning shoppers. The sense of achievement when you find a dress that would have cost 10 times as much in a highstreet shop is unparalleled – I love a bargain!
And yet my passion for buying second-hand may be even more important than simply giving me the satisfaction of snatching a great deal. When I buy from charity shops, I could be doing the world a favour. The fashion industry produces a whopping 10% of all humanity’s carbon emissions per year, is responsible for 85% of plastic in the ocean (in the form of polyester microfibers from clothing), and has an unthinkably detrimental impact on the lives of underpaid workers all over the world.
The industry that supplies most of the clothes we see in high-street shops is known as the ‘fast fashion’ industry, so-called because clothes are manufactured at breakneck speed to mimic trends cropping up on catwalks and social media, and then just as rapidly are replaced by the next big thing. The waste generated by this system of constant renewal is unimaginable. In the UK alone, WRAP UK estimates £140 million worth of clothes ends up in landfill every year.
While the environmental impact of fast fashion is horrendous, the impact on the lives of those who make our clothes is also absolutely unacceptable. According to Oxfam, 9 out of 10 textile factory workers interviewed in Bangladesh can’t afford enough food for themselves and their families, forcing them to regularly skip meals and eat inadequately, or go into debt.
When you buy your clothes in a charity shop, you’re not only financially supporting charities with important causes but distancing yourself from the fast fashion world. Even if a charity shop can’t resell an item of clothing, it’s recycled. According to the Charity Retail Association, in 2018/19 charity shops removed an estimated 339,000 tonnes of clothing from the waste system in the UK. You’re saving money and saving the planet!
I understand high-street shopping can seem like the more convenient option when searching for your new look, so here are my top tips for charity shopping:
Stepping into a charity shop can be overwhelming when faced with rails of mismatched clothing alongside the shelves stacked with granny’s best china. Be thorough in your scouring, though, as hidden gems can certainly be found in amongst it all.
In high-street shops there are plenty of mannequins and posters to inspire you in how to style an item of clothing they’re selling. In charity shops it’s a little bit harder as every piece is unique and mixed in with other individual items. Use your imagination to envision how a t-shirt could be styled with what you already have at home, or how 2 different pieces could fit together to make your dream outfit.
Set yourself a budget and see how much you can get for that
Charity shopping can get you a lot of bang for your buck! For the price of a single item in your favourite affordable high-street shop, you might be able to get 3 or 4 great pieces in a charity shop with prices starting from as little as around 50p for some garments.
Bring your friends
Charity shopping with your friends can be even more fun than hitting the high-street. You never know what you might find as you sift through vintage and second-hand rails. Some pieces can be so fun you can get a laugh out of trying them on, or have competitions to see who can find the best deal in the shop.