Why the gentrification of the secondhand clothes market is a good thing

One the emerging criticisms of the secondhand — or preloved — clothes trend is that it’s being gentrified. Charity shops and thrift stores used to be places where people who couldn’t afford brand new items could go to buy clothes cheaply. But now that the preloved trend is being taken up by middle class types, the secondhand market has been gentrified, squeezing out those in real need.

But is that true? It sounds true. There are lots of examples of services that started off with great intentions — solving a real need, while being accessible and democratic. AirBnB started as a way average people could make a bit of extra cash renting out a spare room, while enabling other people to travel on a budget. But within a few years, people had begun buying up properties with the intention of using them as AirBNB rentals exclusively, driving up the cost of rents for local residents, and bringing antisocial behaviour into neighbourhoods.

Is something similar going wrong in preloved clothing?

There is lots evidence that preloved clothing is becoming cooler and a more popular choice. However, there’s much less evidence that the growing popularity of secondhand clothes is squeezing out people on lower incomes.

First, there’s absolutely no shortage at all of secondhand clothing. In fact, charity shops are so inundated by donations that most clothes they receive are shipped overseas. Up to 90% of donated clothes may meet that fate. I had a good clear-out recently. Charity shops in East London where I lived had signs up saying they were full and could only accept limited amounts of new stock. That’s not surprising when you see how many new clothes we’re still buying. The purple line below shows growth in clothing sales over the past 20 years, while the green line shows that the number of times we wear clothes before giving or throwing them away is declining.

There’s no shortage at all on Depop or eBay either. A quick search on eBay UK just now revealed that there are over 18,000 used adidas women’s clothing items available right now, as well as more than 25,000 of new-with-tags adidas items. Most of my ‘liked’ items on Depop are still available weeks after I first saw them. Finally, Oxfam’s online shop (which I highly recommend) currently has almost 300 women’s knitwear items on sale for under a tenner.

Photo by Jonathan Faria from Pexels

There are certainly posh vintage shops that sell secondhand clothes for hefty prices — check out Wolf and Gypsy clothing. And that’s a very good thing if that’s instead of buying a new item. Anything that makes second hand an appealing option is to be celebrated; it’s the amount of brand new clothes purchased at huge cost to the environment that we need to worry about.

#preloved #secondhandfirst #ethicalfashion #sustainablefashion #fashionblog #makefashioncircular #sustainability

Blogging about sustainable (mainly preloved) fashion. Reformed shopaholic, Londoner, bookworm and hispanophile