What should second-hand be about?
Until recently, second-hand was seen in many cultures as degrading. What? Wear someone else’s hand-me-downs? It was seen as admitting that you were poor. After the second-world war however, in Europe and countries that had fought in the war, few had a choice and in fact, most people were skilled in repairs of clothing and footwear as you HAD to make it last! Many cultures still have this repair and value mentality – such as Japan’s sashiko or kagetsugi (repair with stitching and invisible mending respectfully).
Charity shops with used clothes began to boom during the economic crises of the 1970s, as people had to watch their budgets. Then after the explosive 80s, with a rapidly changing society and globalisation, slowly, from the 1990s, “vintage” and retro began to become a trend – albeit, still a small niche. Then in the 2000s, second-hand begin to establish itself further, with e-commerce and changing of cultural acceptance to wear other’s clothes.
Indeed, I have lived through many of these epoques.
My family came from a no-nonsense British-Australian culture where my grandparents had lived through the war and had a very strict no waste attitude. Much of it seeped into my education. My grandmother used to bring me hand-me-downs and I got the first pick!
My mother – a young adult in the 1960s – followed fashion like many of her peers, through making her own clothes, as designer prices were out of reach. My love of style began with that. I adore the 1960s and upcycled as many of mum’s pieces as I could. She also taught me about materials and how to sew. Additionally, she had a fabulous box of sewing patterns and a drawer full of old Vogue magazines that I used to cut out the best photos of style and plaster them on the wall.
Photo: Skyla Kang
When I become a young adult, I was lucky enough to experience second-hand in the 90s and early 2000s, when you could browse in out-of-the-way boutiques with all sorts of goodies. Fashion stylists found a way to make celebrities cool, with unique pieces from stores like New York’s Screaming Mimi’s.
Today, with the glut of horribleness from fast-fashion, second-hand can be a better way to find that addition of a certain colour top or a style of pants to complete your wardrobe. The consequences of COVID, that pushed everyone to online and technology, has meant that it is easier than ever before, as you can now source globally & buy online from your lounge-room!
Sustainability, as the word had been hijacked, does not equate with responsibility, unfortunately. A re-sale platform selling second, third, forth, ….ninth hand items is not “sustainable”. Sustainability is about consuming less and making your wardrobe a style minimum closet of mix’n’match so that you KEEP your clothes and wear them, not just keep them to re-sell! Rather, to hand them down to your daughters and sons or someone that will treasure it for a lifetime.
This has been our mentality and principle from the start, which profit minded people do not understand, as of course you encourage people to buy less! However, to steal a quote from one our favourite ethical brands, Veja, no-body understood, but we kept on doing it.
We curate first-hand second-hand, meaning we only take items from clients that bought them first-hand in the original boutique and we are the first to sell them second-hand on behalf of our clients. Reasons for this? THAT is sustainability. When the second-hand market may seem to be booming, but it is actually saturated with items of which you do not know the origin and this saturation pushes price-value down.
We provide a service of curated one-owner pre-loved items, hand authenticated AND a boutique to try them on in! So it can be frustrating when people expect a price from us, comparing to third-hand used items, with no verified provenance, no-where to try it on and no sales expertise with a deep knowledge of fashion. It would be nice if people left us a tip now and again 😉
In addition, re-sale platforms with extraordinarily high return rates cannot deny the environmental consequences of transport and warehoused and abandoned items. It is well investigated that landfills full of clothes are mainly rejects from second-hand and charity.
Does it work?
So, does it work, second hand? A bizarre question that we often field. It is a shame that people do not ask this more of other industries. What is your definition of “working”. If it means making extraordinary profit, this is not that type of industry. It is an industry that you work in for the love of stylish pieces of quality and the joy on someone’s face in finding a treasure. For us, it is not about finding a recent season luxury piece for less. That can be a side benefit, but we more interested in the look than the label. The sustainability challenges aforementioned, also point to the state of the second-hand industry as not “working”.
It works if the customer – you – takes more care in treasuring valued pieces and buying for value, not for price. We have a sign in our boutique that many people like. It says :
“Don’t educate our children to be rich. Educate them to be happy, so that they know the value of things, not the price.”
Enjoy your secondhand September!
Cover photo: Izabella @bella_zofia for @downtownuptowngeneve