Recycling clothes – seek and you shall find

Previously: Becoming an ethical fashionista

The road to my becoming an ethical fashionista has challenged the way I  look at fashion and shopping. It can no longer be about satisfying an immediate want and going to the cheapest fashion store to buy it. I have to consider what my ethical choices are and the first consideration should be looking at what already exists – second-hand or vintage clothes.

Mo Mo's Vintage

With so much waste in the world, fashion certainly contributes with its ever changing trends encouraging people update their wardrobe constantly and subsequently throw away old, out of fashion clothes. But where do these old clothes go? Either the bin (I hope not!) or to goodwill clothes bins for recycling.

Firstly, let’s get two things straight. I might refer to things as ‘second-hand’, ‘recycled’, ‘op-shop’ or ‘vintage’ – what’s the difference? The only difference is, specifically referring to something as ‘vintage’ refers to clothes typically from the 70’s and earlier (and are almost ‘in demand’ for their uniqueness) they are usually harder to source. Most of them still exist today thanks to vintage enthusiasts and people storing bags of old clothes and eventually giving them away! When I say ‘second-hand’ or ‘op-shop’ or ‘recycled’ – despite technically meaning all pre-loved clothes, typically refers to clothes from the 80’s onwards, including relatively new clothes. The reason these ‘new’ clothes have been given to goodwill is probably because they are not in fashion anymore and the owner needed to make room for new fashionable clothing!

There are positives and negatives to buying second hand or vintage clothes. In the positive, you find can find cheap, unique or rare clothes and it’s good to know that reusing something means it doesn’t go to waste.  The only negative is it can take more energy to trawl through racks of clothing, to then hope it’s in the right size and also repair possible damage. Sometimes if it’s really special or rare, it’s not even cheap! True vintage enthusiasts find that it’s all part and parcel of vintage shopping – it’s a treasure hunt.

My recycled clothes adventure

vintage scarf
vintage velvet skirt with neck tie turned into a belt

Walking into a vintage store is like walking into a costume shop – you have to have an idea of what character you want to play and be willing to try a few on before finding the right one – and sometimes you just don’t know where to start. I had fun looking through all the racks without anything particular in mind, I was just hoping something would stand out.

I eventually stumbled across a navy velvet skirt, tried it on and it fortunately fit perfectly. I also found myself getting giddy at the scarves rack (I have an obsession for scarves), and found a great mauve coloured fabric which was the perfect length for a neck or head scarf.  I also spotted some awesome fabric in the way of a neck tie and thought it would make a good belt. All three things cost me $60. If I was to buy this from an op-shop it would have costed even less.

Needless to say, you certainly have to be creative when looking through recycled clothes. I usually browse by fabric, if I see a fabric that catches my attention I’ll have a look at the outfit. It also pays to understand the history of fashion so that when you find something you understand how it was meant to be worn and how you can incorporate it into your modern wardrobe.

A recycle fashion hero

Jessi Arrington

I recently stumbled upon Lucky So and So blogger Jessi Arrington on the ‘ideas worth spreading’ website TED, and her inspirational talk titled ‘Wearing nothing new’.

Jessi, self-confessed ‘outfit obsessed’, doesn’t buy anything new and buys everything second-hand.

“Second-hand shopping allows me to reduce the impact my wardrobe has on the environment and on my wallet, I get to meet all kinds of great people, my dollars usually go to a good cause, I look pretty unique…”

Jessi believes if you believe that you are a good person inside and out, then there is no look that you can’t pull off. She also puts great emphasis on not getting emotionally attached to clothes. To prove her point, she came to the TED Seminars with a suitcase of underwear and only the clothes on her back. She bought every outfit for every day of the seminar from second-hand stores in the area.

“You do not have to spend a lot of money to look great”

What Jessi makes you realise is that buying recycled clothes gives you the best opportunity to dress uniquely. There’s something slightly unsettling about going to a fashion chain and picking up an outfit from a rack of 30 other matching outfits.

Watch Jessi’s inspirational video here:

Swap with friends

If you’re not keen on trawling through second-hand stores, another option is to have a fashion swap night with your girlfriends where you can bring all your unused outfits and swap them with your friends. I once accidently did this with a bunch of girls from work, where we discovered we all had bags of clothes to give to goodwill in the boots of our car at the time, so we brought them all into the office and we went through each other’s bags. It felt a lot less invasive to know where the clothes were coming from.

Another option is websites such as Thread Swap which is virtually the same thing, but online. This involves a straight swap system though, so in order to ‘take’ something you will have had to have ‘given’ something of the same value. It’s still a great way to find people who will truly use your pre-loved fashion items.

Perth vintage

Whilst you can quite easily find goodwill clothes stores (such as ‘Good Sammys’, ‘Salvation Army’ etc), the true vintage stores are harder to find. Here are a few that I know of:

Memory Lane : 768 Beaufort Street, Mt Lawley

She Seldom Blushes : Shop 5, Atwell Arcade (just off High Street Mall) Fremantle.

MoMo’s  : 849 Beaufort St Inglewood.

Lola Rose Vintage  : 42a Old Perth Road, Bassendean WA

Pigeonhole Vintage : Shop 10 Bon Marche Arcade, Barrack Street, Perth

Bluebird Vintage  : 288 Cambridge St, Wembley

You can also keep your eye out for advertised markets such as Polka Dot Vintage Markets and the Sugar Blue Burlesque’s Retro Markets.

The conclusion

Personally, I am a vintage girl at heart loving everything retro. I usually don’t mind going on a treasure hunt for clothes and I love the idea of finding a really unique outfit. But I know that it’s not for everyone and I know that it can become tiring, especially if you’re desperate for a specific item and you just can’t find it.

An alternative to buying second-hand or vintage clothes is upcycling.  Upcycling uses these old clothes and fabrics but reconstructs them into something different (both in retro and modern styling) and this is the next stage of my ethical adventure.

Next: Upcycling

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