Say Yes to Second Hand September with Oxfam

Stephanie Steele Monday, 7 September 2020

The Second Hand September campaign from Oxfam has been around for a good few years now. The aim is to urge the everyday person to pledge to only buy second hand items for 30 days - throughout September - in an effort to reuse what is already in existence, and support the charities and businesses that sort and resale our unwanted clothing.

In this article, we check in with the benefits of buying second hand, the reasons you may want to purchase new, why you should tidy up your unwanted clothing before you get rid, and campaigns you should be aware of should you be interested in where your clothes go.


Why buy second hand instead of new?

According to WRAP,

The value of unused clothing in wardrobes has been estimated at around £30 billion. It is also estimated £140 million worth of clothing goes into landfill each year.

This means that there are valuable items that could be being loved by someone else, could be raising funds to combat poverty (as with Oxfam's vital work) and could be preventing later discard directly into landfill through lack of care or damaged pieces.

WRAP's Valuing Our Clothes report from 2017 highlights ways in which Local Authorities could be promoting better care for clothing to avoid discard in landfill (or incineration as with London), or otherwise alternative management strategies such as with swapping, better collection facilities and education on repair.

As a whole in the UK, the average lifetime for a garment of clothing is estimated as ~2.2 years. Extending the active life of clothing by nine months can significantly reduce its environmental impact.

What WRAP picked up on through their report, is that there are a number of factors that can impact on whether a garment is used for longer. These include: 

  • how owners look after their clothes, e.g. whether they follow washing instructions and care information
  • willingness to wear the same item repeatedly, e.g. as part of different outfits, or to buy pre-owned clothing
  • design features such as classic cut and fit, and built-in adjustability (e.g. hidden elastic, stretch fabrics) to promote comfort and a flattering versatile fit
  • technical aspects such as resilient fabrics, dyes and colours
  • consumer ability to repair or alter clothes
Mechanical recycling

Buy why would second hand solve these issues with design?

It's a change in mindset.

Honestly, it's still going to be a task to find something second hand that will suit your needs, as with trawling shops or online retailers. However, when it comes to preloved clothing, you're more than likely going to get them at a fraction of the cost, could provide those you're purchasing from a little extra cash, and will ensure the value in that garment is going to be appreciated for a bit longer. Often, you're also looking for preloved items because you can't find the particular style with your favourite brand anymore, and when it comes to actual vintage thrifting, you're going to be finding something unique.

Buying preloved therefore needs to be a change in mindset. It could take a touch more time, but because of that effort, it's been found that you're more likely to cherish and care for the garment.

What if I can't find what I need second hand?

Need vs want.

The first thing to address here is your feeling of "need". Do you actually require the garment for a purpose, or is it more of an emotional pull? Another benefit of the Second Hand September challenge - and it can be a challenge for those who often shop - is to slow down and consider. By refusing and avoiding, you can come back to the item in October and discover if the "need" has worn off or not. This works whether you're buying new or preloved.

New may be better.

Another point is that yes, second hand may actually not be better for your requirements. For example, while garments produced for longevity such as outdoor clothing can be found in tip-top second hand condition, you may decide that you're looking for an item you'll have for many years to come, that will have to respond to extreme conditions, and could therefore benefit from already being in new condition. Especially if safety is a concern, don't make yourself feel bad for looking at new clothing. This is where other assessments are made; the brand's authenticity, the overall sustainability of materials and trims, the price per wear.

Check all the nooks and crannies.

Also, have you checked all avenues? There are so many platforms now where you can sell and buy our unwanted items. You have the classic eBay and Gumtree, but in recent years there have been surges to using Facebook Marketplace and Depop for more directed audiences i.e. Facebook for specific groups like triathlon goods, and Depop for the more unusual vintage, upcycled and homemade garbs. Actually understanding what marketplace or shop sells what, can help in your search - and it can become a game.

What about textiles?

Sewing yourself sustainable.

We highly recommend checking the #SewYourselfSustainable hashtag on Instagram. East London's deadstock entrepreneurs New Craft House launched this challenge to bring the sewing community together. With each day of September offering a new theme, Instagram's sewists will open up about the topics, and from here you can learn new places to shop, tips on sustainable sewing, insight on materials and inspiration for makes. With daily challenges such as eco-friendly fabrics, repairs, deadstock and offcuts projects, you're for sure going to increase your knowledge.

View this post on Instagram

DAY 8: FABRIC WASTE // When you’re sewing you inevitably end up with some fabric waste. Do you do anything to minimise the amount you create? What do you do with the fabric that does end up as waste? We’d love to hear of any recycling or repurposing schemes for fabric you may have found! #sewyourselfsustainable

A post shared by Sewing Workshops + Fabric Shop (@newcrafthouse) on

Fabric scraps.

Through traditional textile recycling routes, mechanical recycling (where the textiles are simply shredded up by machine) enables textiles to be downgraded and used as fillers for car seats, as rags, and as insulation. So the textiles are of use, but only if they're sent to recyclers rather than put in bins. This means that even if you think your textile scraps - big or small - are not worthwhile, then think again. Save them up, pop them in a bag and donate them via a street textile bank. I personally write "fabric scraps" on the bag, but who knows if this actually helps. It's just clear from having visited TRAID's sorting facility in Wembley that they have a lot to get through, and this act may just help a touch.

Alternatively, if you're part of a sewing group, you could purchase a 15kg bag from First Mile for £17 who will come and collect and swap out the bag once full. By doing this, there's more traceability in knowing your scraps are actually being looked at. Or otherwise, if you have kids, see if their school could benefit from the scraps for art projects.

And these are suggestions only if you really can't fathom working with the small piece. If they're useable sizes, offcut projects could be a nice evening session - and Christmas is coming around again! We are always inspired by Rebecca's attention to detail with her makes, and her offcuts are no different: she saves each scrap of fabric sorted into natural and synthetic, which she then shreds herself and uses as filler in her own projects like dish scrubbers.

View this post on Instagram

#sewyourselfsustainable DAY 8: FABRIC WASTE // To reduce fabric waste, I nearly always cut things out flat (I.e. through a single layer of unfolded fabric) so I can tesselate the pieces as much as possible and use as little fabric as possible! . Whilst sewing, I like to separate all my little scraps and threads into synthetics and natural fibres. I put them into these jars, then when they’re full, I cut them up into small pieces so they’re ready to be used as stuffing in future projects. . I cut quilting squares from bigger awkward shaped scraps, for making a quilt ONE DAY 😅

A post shared by Rebecca Evans-Merritt (@revansmerritt) on

Where should I donate my clothes?

Textile banks vs charity shops.

One of my questions to our guest experts for August's live panel discussion on textile recycling, was whether donating to a textile bank or charity shop makes a difference to the lifecycle of the item. Textile banks are paid for by a specific charity or organisation, so you'll have seen oxfam, TRAID and probably Love Not Landfill banks around on the streets. The organisation or charity will then collect, and send to their partner sorters, and from there the textiles will be sent to shops (as with charities who have them), for export, or for mechanical recycling to downgrade it.

If you donate directly to a charity shop, the shop staff themselves will do the sorting. It could mean that the staff aren't as knowledgeable on brands, on style and era, or on condition. Either the item could be resold at an incorrect price - higher or lower than it should be valued at, and therefore potentially a hindrance for the charity - or send elsewhere for further sorting or direct export. There is therefore then a bit more of a gamble with donating direct to charity shops, though, similarly, perhaps more control because your favourite shops could have first dibs e.g. the more exclusive Oxfam Vintage shops and Save The Children Mary's Living & Giving shop.

Donation schemes.

Clothing poverty is actually a thing. It is difficult to visualise that some people may not have access to clothing, especially when it can be incredibly cheap - and sometimes dumped on the side of the road. But should this be the only accessible choice for those on low income, with no income or with lack of support emotionally or physically to shop.

Sharewear Clothing Scheme have a base in Nottinghamshire to provide donated clothing to those on some sort of benefit. They could require clothes to look the part for a job interview, uniform for their children, bedding to be comfortable when sleeping... whatever the reason, Sharewear offer a safe space and importantly a referral procedure so that it isn't abused. The clothes are only ever donated to those in need when in perfect condition, and anything not up to scratch is passed on to the normal recycling streams. The benefit of donating to a poverty scheme like this is knowing your clothing will truly be appreciated. Purchasing from charity shops will also change lives down the line through the fundraising, but here it is tangible and close to home, so donating here could be dependent on your priorities.

Listen to our hour-long webinar with passionate founder Louise Cooke.

Tidy them up.

You may find that the garment you have isn't in as good condition as you initially thought. Before you donate it is always good practice to give the garment a once over. Taking the time and making the effort to sew back on a button, or remove a stain, or even wash the item, will give it more of a chance when donated. Unfortunately, if garments are received at the sorting facility with damage, broken components, dirty, smelly, without its counterpart (e.g. shoes) and so on, then it will be added to the discard pile for incineration or landfill or downgrading via mechanical recycling. If you know that your item could have good resale value i.e. it's branded or highly sought after, I implore you to tidy it up a bit and give it the best chance. Especially if it's an item you've got some sentimental connection to, and you're letting go because you know longer wear it, then you want to see the garment's value being retained. In our panel discussion, we learnt from Olivia Weber, founder of Trashion Factory who transforms damaged garments into new styles.

Swapping.

This is also the case if you're doing a clothes swap. Most swaps are in real life, and while you're not going to be getting feedback like on eBay, you're with your peers and you don't want to be seen swapping unfairly. It's just overall better to receive something in as good condition as it can be - you wouldn't sell online through a marketplace and not describe the item properly as you'll cause yourself strife if you get a return or negative feedback. So, imagine going to a swap and being marked on what you give. This also means you're more likely going to attend them with your 'better' swaps, because in return you'll want better items. When you're doing a sort out, having separate piles is good for visualising. You can also then go back through the piles when you're done - even days later - to see if you really want to donate, swap or mend the item.

Campaigns to pay attention to

Love Your Clothes, launched by WRAP

Launched in 2014, the Love Your Clothes campaign has been developed together with industry organisations to help change the way the UK consumers buy, use and dispose of their clothing. The ultimate aim is to reduce the environmental impact of clothing across the UK and influence a more circular approach to clothing globally. Love Your Clothes is part of the Sustainable Clothing Action Plan (SCAP), which is coordinated by WRAP, a not-for-profit organisation which receives Government support across the UK.

You can find a lot of resources through SCAP as a business owner. The industry-led action plan had 80 organisations involved who had committed to hit targets that would reduce resource use across the clothing industry. You'll find reports, guidance, tools and case studies:

  • Resource-efficient business models
  • Design for extending clothing life
  • Fibre and fabric selection
  • Consumer behaviour and sustainable clothing
  • Re-use and recycling

Love Not Landfill, launched by LWARB (London Waste and Recycling Board)

This campaign wants to encourage young Londoners to donate their unwanted clothes to charity, put them in clothes banks, swap them, borrow them and buy second-hand. The campaign is run by London Waste and Recycling Board – a partnership of the Mayor of London and the London boroughs to improve waste and resource management. They focus on consumer engagement, with fun well-placed textile banks, clothes swaps, styling workshops, school activities and specially curated pop-up shops with fashion influencers.

Learn more from the campaign manager, Hannah Carter, in our recap of August's live panel discussion: Decreasing Clothing Discard By Increasing Engagement.

Love Not Landfill's school activities at Eltham Hill School

Care Label Project, launched by AEG

The Care Label Project was founded by AEG, the well-known electrical equipment manufacturer, in collaboration with Not Just A Label, Fashion Revolution, Woolmark and Electrolux, to inspire, educate and update the way we all care for our clothes. They believe that we have to stop labelling our delicate fabrics with "Dry Clean Only", stop washing in high temperatures and stop being afraid of putting wool in our machines.

"In fact, the very care labels that are supposed to guide us often make us more confused."

The project brings together various brands and designers who are eager to showcase more responsible ways to care for their products. It's beautifully shot, has effective films, and have key takeaways that you can easily share with friends.

To learn more about the impact of washing clothing on our water streams, marine life, wildlife and our own bodies, watch our two part lessons from clean water advocate Rachael Z. Miller. Part 1: Finding A Solution To The Marine Plastic Problem and Part 2: Microfibres And Extending The Life Of Textiles With Cora Ball.

Advance London, launched by LWARB (London Waste and Recycling Board)

A platform rather than a campaign - but one fashion and creative businesses should be aware of - is Advance London, a fully-funded advisory that supports small and medium businesses in London in their development, piloting and launch of well-designed innovative circular initiatives. They are an integral part of the London Waste and Recycling Board, who use their business support programme to help achieve the company mission to transform London into a world-leading, low carbon, circular city. This is all made possible by funding from the London Waste and Recycling Board and the European Regional Development Fund, and through a close relationship with the Greater London Authority.

Not only can you access their advisory for free as an SME, their website highlights case studies of cool businesses that could inspire your own journey. And if you're a consumer not a creator or designer, check it out anyway to discover the stories of those you've seen around town. A note on the London boundary: in our conversation with Lamia Sbiti, Senior Business Advisor Circular Economy at Advance London, she suggests contacting the team anyway if you're unsure whether you're in the London area. It can often allow you to participate if you produce or sell most stock within the city.

Head to the lesson with Lamia here: Developing Circularity In Urban Environments

Supported by Advance London since 2017, Nu Wardrobe, peer-to-peer clothes sharing app. Image by Olivia Sainsot-Reynolds.

Design For Longevity, launched by Global Fashion Agenda

This online platform has been produced by Global Fashion Agenda as part of the European Clothing Action Plan (ECAP) - the first EU-Life funded project to drive sustainability throughout the entire lifecycle of clothing, supported by the LIFE financial instrument of the European Community. Non-profit Global Fashion Agenda is a leadership forum that mobilises and guides the fashion industry to take bold action on sustainability. The organisation has led the sustainability movement for over a decade by hosting Copenhagen Fashion Summit, producing insightful publications and driving policy efforts. The ECAP project has also received generous financial support from C&A Foundation.

I particularly appreciate their website; it's a dynamic toolbox that tailors to feed to topics that you've said interest you, and you can save posts to return to. It's all very easy to follow, with a community where you can share comments on articles.


Five Masterclasses to dive in to:

Extending The Life Of Clothing And Textiles

Recycled Fabrics: The Social, Economic And Environmental Impact

Upcycling And The Circular Economy

Zero Waste Fashion [and download our free zero waste dress pattern here]

Environmental Impacts of Washing and Laundry


Who else to follow:

For little tidbits on clothing care, head here - it hasn't been updated since August 2018, but the articles are still ever present.

Fabrications in East London run sewing classes and workshops on upcycling, embroidery and beginner sewing.

Fast Fashion Therapy is a sewing workshop funded by the Mayor of London's Culture Seeds who encourage clothes repair. They were offering virtual repair community circles over Covid-19 lockdown.

Easy lessons on how to care for certain types of clothing and unusual mend techniques with Clothes Doctor.

And if you would like some professional mending help, check out The Seam. This is a marketplace for makers, so you can even put yourself you there if you're an expert at something. Watch and learn from our mini lesson with founder Layla Sargent.