A Guide to Charity Shopping Your Wardrobe
by Eve Jones
The concept of ‘fast fashion’ encourages, like so many things in modern society, disposability; you could walk into a charity shop today and find last month’s trends hung up on the rails. We have created an accelerated demand for fashion that is wasteful, environmentally destructive and socially damaging. This is why I choose to buy as many of my clothes and accessories from charity shops or thrift stores. After several years of doing this, the majority of my wardrobe is thrifted, gifted or vintaged and the practice not only cleans a tiny spec of my conscience, but has encouraged me to diversify my style and feel more confident in what I choose to wear.
Charity shops offer cheap clothes and a philanthropic, non-consumerist shopping experience. Even if you regret buying an item, you donated to charity and can just take it to another shop to be re-sold or gift it to a friend—win, win! And the benefits do not stop there: charity shops provide a far more laidback shopping experience than the glossy-floored, glassy-walled, high street stores. The clothing is often not sorted by size, but colour or product; this allows you to forget, more than in most clothes shops, our socialised ideas of fashion and beauty that relate largely to body type. No longer are you comparing your changing room reflection to the hip shopping assistants or the docile mannequins; you’re not shopping for ‘petite’, ‘curve’ or ‘tall’, instead you’re free to try on clothes at your leisure, the primary qualification being how they make you feel.
If the idea of another human having already worn the clothes puts you off, there are alternatives that still rebel against our superficial fashion industry: look to your existing wardrobe and upcycle. My sewing abilities amount to little more than running stitch and cutting things up, but even these limited skills have led to garment transformations. If you’re wary of the chop, why not dye or iron on some badges? Swap clothes with your friends, fix clothes when they break, drop the rarely worn at a local clothes bank—it's all about expanding the lifespan of clothes.
So, now that you have been 100% converted to the chazza shop lifestyle by my highly persuasive arguments, here are some of my top tips for getting the most out of your thrift trips:
Do not buy the item if you would not buy it in a high street store. Although this is kind of contradictory to the point of charity shopping, it prevents you from accumulating a huge number of items that are ‘nice enough’ and instead leaves you with just the gems. This is especially important if you’re on a budget as it can be easy to impulse buy stuff just because it’s cheap.
Embrace the unconventional. Charity shops are one of the few places that you can afford to take risks with wicked-ass patterns or wacky shaped garments, so do it! One of my favourite things to do is take an item that could look trashy or strange and just wear the hell out of it. This 80’s-cut leopard print jacket? Yeah, just gonna wear it to get coffee. Colourful earrings bigger than my face? I can totally waitress in these.
Persistence is key. I will frequently go weeks without finding anything and then stumble upon several great items in the same store. And you really have to search the racks; it always seems to be when palming through the final rail that you find a pair of Levi’s jeans for £4.50.
Okay, okay, so you weren’t convinced by my mediocrely persuasive arguments for charity shopping? You can still be conscientious about where you buy new clothes from. The H&M Group is one company that, though not perfect, is striving to make a change in their production line, while still, essentially, being affordable. In their 2016 sustainability report, they outlined plans to encourage a more circular textile economy (both reusing fabrics at the end of their life and increasing sustainability at the beginning of textile manufacture) and confirmed their alignment to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). But, as you can also see in the report, they still have a way to go, particularly in terms of worker safety guarantees and their ‘social impact’. According to them, this is because they don’t own a lot of the factories involved in the initial manufacturing processes, so have limited control.
For so long ‘fast fashion’ has relied on the ignorance of consumers to the supply chain. A lot of brands are changing official policy and making commitments to change without actually improving worker conditions or traceability. As with anything, it is important to educate yourself and make the choices you feel comfortable with. Brands usually have a page on their website dedicated to their code of ethics, but there are also sites dedicated to brand comparison and these can be helpful in exposing any companies attempting to ‘greenwash’ their brand.
‘Fashion Revolution’ is a great example of a campaign organisation trying to tackle this. They work tirelessly with brands to increase transparency and accountability with the aim of evoking change in the industry and they have such a diverse range of campaigns that anyone can get involved and be engaged - from zines and clothes swap parties to podcasts, symposiums and film screenings. Even just following their instagram provides a daily reminder to be aware of #whomadeyourclothes and a rotary of inspiration for rejuvenating your wardrobe.
So many people are becoming more conscious of their environmental and social impact in terms of food, transport and energy use, but clothing is often overlooked. Charity shops can give you more than just a top quality fancy dress costume. They are, arguably, the easiest and definitely the cheapest way to support ethical fashion.
Swap, chop and charity shop ‘til you drop, people.