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Use Charity Shops to Revamp Your Wardrobe

Friend of Climate Action Newcastle Eve McGrady tells us why she thinks fashion giants are behind the curve on sustainable fashion – despite recent tentative efforts to catch up. She recommends charity shops as the best way to revamp our wardrobes and shares top tips on bagging bargains!

Autumn always feels like a time to re-set. The changing of the seasons usually prompts wardrobe re-evaluation, as many of us begin new jobs, perhaps return to university, or simply feel in need of a sartorial makeover as the weather gets drearier.

However, the staggering environmental impact of disposable fashion has been thrown into harsh relief in recent years. Many of us are becoming more conscious of our responsibility to adopt a more mindful approach to our consumerist habits. Whilst the discourse surrounding the evils of fast fashion has been gaining momentum in the last few years, the pandemic has also provided a long-awaited catalyst for some fashion giants to consider how the industry might look when we emerge from the crisis.

In March 2020 the creative director of Gucci, Alessandro Michele, wrote an Instagram post entitled (rather dramatically) ‘Notes from the silence’ on a (less dramatic) pastel pink background. The typewritten font speaks to the “fundamental test” the coronavirus crisis presents, and how this newfound space encourages us to “look at our recent past with a critical eye”. He writes sombrely that “our reckless actions have burned the house we live in”. Gucci have since committed to reducing their production of seasonal collections from five a year down to two, a somewhat significant adaptation for the world’s fastest growing luxury retailer.

Following this announcement, Vogue editor Anna Wintour agreed that lockdown is a time for introspection. In April, she spoke of her strong feeling that “when we come out at the other end (of the pandemic) people’s values are really going to have shifted”. She suggested that isolation presents a unique opportunity “to really think about the waste, and the amount of money, and consumption, and excess that we have all indulged in and how we really need to rethink what this industry stands for.” Actions, however, speak louder than words. Whilst these initiatives begin to address the disastrous impact of excess consumerism, is it a case of too little too late? As Michele himself wrote, the damage has already been done, the house already burned.

If it takes a global pandemic for high end fashion houses to address the harm their industry inflicts, it remains to be seen what it will take for high street brands to follow suit. Climate activist Greta Thunberg discussed the conflict between fast fashion and sustainability in an interview for the first edition of Vogue Scandinavia in August 2021. In the article, Thunberg is sceptical about climate conscious campaigns launched by high street fashion companies. She comments that behind the ‘greenwashing’ guise of buzz words like ‘ethical’, ‘green’ or ‘climate neutral’, there is almost never any concerted commitment to sustainable production. She says ‘there is no way to consume sustainably’ today. It’s for this reason she calls for a ‘system change’.

In the meantime, however, where does this leave those of us who want to update our wardrobes for a new season in an ethical way? Charity shops are an excellent place to start. Oxfam, who own 750 shops across the UK, have been at the forefront of the campaign challenging consumers to a ‘Second-hand September’. Participants only purchase second-hand clothes for a month. The initiative serves as a great reminder of some of the gems you can find in your local charity-shop.

With this in mind, I’ll leave you with some of my top tips for bagging some bargains in your local second-hand shops.

1. If at first you don’t succeed… try, try, try again

Persistence is key here. Seven times out of ten you’ll come out empty handed, but it’s worth it when you eventually lock eyes with the beautiful new autumnal coat of your dreams across the shop floor. The stock overturn is usually pretty swift, and the good items often get snapped up quickly. If you’re a frequent shopper, you’ll have better chances of securing the goods!

2. Charity shops in wealthy areas aren’t necessarily treasure troves

Often you’ll hear seasoned choppers wax lyrical about charity shops in affluent areas being inundated with designer clothes from the wealthy locals’ latest wardrobe clear-outs. Whilst this may be true, be aware that the price-tags of these more ‘desirable’ clothes will often be slightly hiked up. You could be paying £10 more than you might in your average high-street charity shop for the same item. More ‘high end’ labels can definitely be discovered in any old charity shop, and usually have the added bonus of being priced more reasonably.

3. Unisex is the way forward

It can be very fruitful to browse the menswear section as well as the womenswear, and vice versa. Items can often be mislabelled by the staff or moved around by shoppers, so you could stumble upon a women’s jacket nestling amongst the men’s coats. What’s more, in broadening your scope with sizing you might find a blazer, jumper or shirt that could lend an effortless oversized feel to your wardrobe and provide numerous layering opportunities as we head into winter.

4. Be prepared to experiment with alterations

You’ll seldom find a garment that fits perfectly in a charity shop, but - no need to panic - most purchases can be radically improved with a bit of imagination (and a good pair of kitchen scissors). There’s something exciting about taking an item you’d never wear and creating a raw hem, slicing off the sleeves or (as quarantine has shown us) swirling it into a pastel tie-dye fantasy. Little-to-no seamstress expertise required.

5. Keep an open mind

Too often I’ve found myself agonising over a slightly strange charity shop item (usually brown suede or overly sequinned) and debating if I’ll ever wear it. The joy of charity shops is their affordability, therefore see it as a chance to try out weird and fantastic outfits and do a bit of good whilst you’re at it. Remember you can always get rid of items in your next wardrobe purge and look at your shopping fail as a charity donation!

Eve McGrady

Friend of Climate Action Newcastle

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