The rise in second-hand clothing schemes: The solution or a cover up?

In the past year there has been a significant rise in UK consumers buying second-hand goods, especially clothing, and it is expected that the second-hand market will take over the fast fashion industry by 2029.

Following this increase new schemes have been popping up, involving major businesses selling or recycling second-hand clothing. But is this breaking down the stigma of second-hand shopping or covering up a deep-rooted issue which they originally caused?

This image shows a pile of clothing.
350,00 tonnes of wearable clothing goes into landfill every year in the UK.

With the closure of our much beloved high-street stores due to the pandemic, thousands of people took to online shopping to fulfil their retail needs. 

It was reported by eBay, after it revealed its lockdown data, that two second-hand fashion items were sold every three seconds on its site between January and July 2020. However, this wasn’t the only positive data as they also revealed that there had been a 404% increase in pre-loved sales since July 2018, showing a steep incline in second-hand shopping over the last two years.

However, it’s not just eBay that’s caught the Brits shopping attention, with many consumers buying and selling pre-loved clothing on apps such as Depop and Vinted.

This increase in second-hand shopping didn’t stop there, people had fallen in love with buying pre-loved items. With the re-opening of shops in April, charity shops were inundated with donations, and they saw a significant boost in sales. With 3,943 second-hand retail shops in the UK, it is clear it’s a retail sector which is on the rise.

This image shows colourful items of clothing hung up in a charity shop.
Charity shops in the UK raise around £300m every year, which goes towards supporting vital causes.

The rise in sustainable clothing schemes

It’s not just the charity shops that are benefiting from the rise in people buying second-hand goods, with big companies such as Asda picking up on the craze.

Asda’s new sustainability store in Middleton, Leeds has recently been running a successful trial of selling second-hand vintage fashion items as part of its ‘George for Good’ range. The scheme is part of the company’s commitment to cut down textile waste and to advocate the sustainability and recycling of clothing to its customers.

Mel Wilson, Global Professional Lead for Sustainable Sourcing and Quality at Asda, said: “This is an exciting partnership for George, it’s unique in that not only can our customers pick out some vintage and often designer garments at an affordable price, but they’re also helping to support reduce waste by giving these items a second lease of life which is something we are proud to be a part of.”

Asda's new sustainability shop in Middleton, Leeds
George has also recently announced the launch of its ‘Take Back’ scheme, which encourages customers to bring back their unwanted garments to help raise vital funds for charity.

The new concept is in partnership with the popular wholesaler ‘Preloved Vintage Wholesale’, who aim to give a new lease of life to pre-loved items of clothing.

With customers being able to easily buy vintage, second-hand and pre-loved clothing during their weekly shop, it will prevent thousands of items of clothing ending up in landfill every year and will hopefully encourage more people to shop second-hand.

Steve Lynam, Managing Director of Preloved Vintage Wholesaler said: “Our Partnership with George at Asda is one that we are extremely proud of. In a world where we are becoming more environmentally conscious this partnership will help bring sustainable Fashion to the mainstream, which is something as a business, we strive for in everything we do.”

Following the success of the trial in Leeds, George is expected to launch the sustainable fashion partnership across a further 50 stores in the UK, including London, Brighton, Birmingham, and Bristol.

Pre-loved Vintage Wholesale inside Asda
Preloved Vintage Kilo have saved over 800 tonnes of clothing going to landfill.

It’s not just Asda that are encouraging customers to be more sustainable when shopping for clothing. Fast fashion stores such as H&M, New Look, John Lewis, and M&S have all started initiatives which allow you to swap your old clothes for new.

These schemes involve donating items of clothing and in-return you will receive a voucher to spend in store. The items of clothing will then go to charity or be recycled, preventing them from going to landfill.

Clothing recycling point at H&M Leeds
Drop off unwanted clothing and textiles at H&M and receive a £5 off £25 voucher to spend in store.

Although we have seen a rise in consumers buying second-hand clothing, the coronavirus pandemic has still severely impacted the income of the charity shop sector. During lockdown Oxfam revealed it lost around £5m a month and stated that charity shops “need more support now than ever before, to raise funds for a wide range of important causes.”

So, this begs the question of, are big companies taking away vital funds from already struggling charity shops? And are they doing enough to fix the damage already created from fast fashion or are they still the issue? 

Causing more damage or fixing the problem?

While it’s a step in the right direction that big companies are starting to think more sustainably, are they doing it for the right reasons or are they simply trying to cover up a deep-rooted issue that they have caused?

Elly Bazigos is a 21-year-old illustration student who can’t remember the last time she supported an unethical company and says: “I feel better not giving my money to fast fashion companies who are doing awful things, I just think their evil.”

Elly holding up patterned skirt found in a charity shop.
Elly finds it more interesting to shop in charity shops and finds she can create her own unique style.

Elly says she would rather go charity-shopping then shop in fast fashion stores because she believes “absolutely everybody wins” as it is good for you financially, it’s good for the environment and you’re also supporting a worthy cause. It’s about getting “into the habit of charity shopping” and going on a “little journey” to find specific items you want or need.

Elly rummaging through a clothing rail.
If Elly knows she needs a specific item she will go on a little journey to find it, rather than go out and buy new.

However, Elly worries that big companies who are trying to re-deem themselves by selling or recycling clothing is just to please people who don’t understand the bigger issue with fast fashion. She says: “it’s like BP telling me if you walk to work, I’ll give you £1, when they are actually the problem in this scenario. 

“I think their trying to fix their reputation as to oppose fix the problems that they’re creating, but I don’t think they would really survive without the fast fashion cycle.

“At the same time, charity shops are only so cheap because they are second hand. I think if you were to pay people properly for the work they do, a lot of clothes wouldn’t be affordable for most people.”

Elly paying for her charity shop clothing items
Clothing is often more than 50% cheaper in charity shops then it is on the high-street, making shopping second-hand good for the environment and your pocket.

However, many people believe that these schemes are a step in the right direction for the second-hand industry.

24-year-old Ellie Lewtas tries to shop second-hand as much as possible as she believes it is a more sustainable way of living and likes to support her local charities.

Fast fashion is something which Ellie has been learning about quite recently and now feels she has a better understanding of how much damage has been done by the fast fashion industry. She says: “Even though they have done so much damage already, I would never say there’s no point in them trying to re-deem themselves and the damage they have already caused.”

Ellie Lewtas pictured in Hyde Park, Leeds
The UK is the epicentre of fast-fashion, with each person buying 26.7kg of new clothing every year.

Ellie believes these schemes will help validate to individuals who still hold a stigma, that it is okay to shop second hand and that “With these big companies selling second-hand clothes it introduces the concept of recycling waste and helps to reduce the fast fashion cycle.

“Big companies selling second-hand clothes might also help in reducing the stigma around buying second-hand because they already have a lot of the say on how the trends go and people will do whatever the big companies tell them too. It’s all about showing the benefits and talking about it more.”

Breaking down the Stigma

For years buying second-hand has been subject to a deep-rooted stigma within British culture. Second-hand is often associated with being poor, unclean, and scruffy. But it’s often nothing to do with being poor, it’s about individuals wanting to be more sustainable and care for the environment we live in.

Some individuals such as Lois Whitehead hopes the new schemes help break down any remaining stigmas people have of second-hand shopping and encourage them to buy second-hand goods more often.

Lois is a second-hand enthusiast and has always loved buying second-hand clothes. Recently she set up her own Instagram business, The Secondhand Shed, where people can swap or buy second-hand clothing items, which are all priced under £10. She says: “I think there is more of an uptake of people going to charity shops and buying second-hand now more than ever.”

The Secondhand Shed was set up to encourage people to acquire clothes in a more sustainable way. The fact that Lois accepts swaps as well as selling the clothing allows for people, whatever their income may be, to still accept “new” clothing. 

Lois Whitehead pictured in a coffee shop in Leeds
Lois’s Instagram business is built on donations and for each item she is given, she donates £1 to charity.

Lois is also hopeful that these up-and-coming second-hand schemes will create a “knock-on effect” allowing more people to “embrace second-hand shopping” if they can conveniently pick up second-hand items whilst doing their weekly shop. She says: “if they like the items they might go and buy more or even decided to visit their local charity shops because they might think, you know what this stuff isn’t bad.”

Lois also explains how some people may need a bit of a “push” in the right direction when it comes to buying second hand, she says: “I recently bought my little boy some vintage summer shorts and they arrived when my auntie, who buys everything new, was round in the garden. I opened it up and they were packaged in this beautiful tissue paper with a little note in. They had been washed, pressed and they looked lovely, and she was so shocked they were second-hand. 

“I think a lot of people think second-hand is smelly or is going to be stained but often they look brand new. I guess once you try something it’s not always as bad as you think. That’s why I think if people do go into Asda and get introduced to it from a different perspective then they will realise second-hand isn’t what they thought it was.”

Choosing style over stigma

However, it’s not all about breaking down the stigma, it is also about learning how to move away from the suffocating trends of fast fashion. Charity shops allow you to be an individual, develop your own style and play around with different colours and patterns, something which fast fashion industry doesn’t necessarily allow an individual to do.

60, year old Paula Regan is an inspirational woman with a real passion for fashion. She believes it is important for people to wear clothing which they truly love and have an “emotional connection too” otherwise we will become less caring about the items we own.

Paula pictured in Hyde Park, Leeds.
Paula believes clothes enable women to express their personality and show individuality.

Over the years Paula has developed her own style from buying second-hand clothing, she says: “Buying from the charity shops is much more interesting because you get a mish mash of different colours and styles.

“Sometimes when you are pushed to get something that you probably wouldn’t normally get it’s great because it’s more individual. Whereas the mainstream market would just have you wear whatever they want you to wear.

“It’s about being tuned into your alignment with life on this planet and you living your best life. You are not a monochrome module you are your own being so, don’t be afraid to be yourself because a lot of the stigma comes from fear.”

Say yes to second hand sign pictured in Oxfam
Approximately £29m is raised each year from selling clothing in Oxfam shops.

Whether you have been shopping second-hand for years or have been persuaded to try something new by your favourite high-street shop, it’s clear that the trend of shopping second-hand isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. It is actually more than likely to increase in popularity over the coming years.

At the end of the day, the second-hand industry is reliant on fast fashion and always will be because if consumers didn’t buy as much clothing as they do, less clothing would be donated. 

It is inevitable that people will discard of clothing throughout their lives, but companies should be promoting alternatives to simply throwing old clothing away. However, these alternatives shouldn’t add to fast fashion by buying back into the company with a voucher or money off, it should be providing better alternatives and more sustainable options.

So, perhaps next time you go to Asda or pass a charity shop, give it a go, try something new, and most importantly say yes to second-hand.