Deciding whether to thrift your wardrobe or make your own clothes? Chloë Cipra discusses #SecondHandFirst in Part I of this series.

When it comes to slow fashion and the idea of creating a sustainable wardrobe, buying second hand or making your own are two of the options that come to mind. But which is better? What considerations should we take into account when looking for a new garment? Thrifting or making, that is the question.

In Part I of this series, let’s explore the exciting world of thrifting and second hand.

A #MeMade dress and a thrifted cardigan, the best of both worlds?

#SecondHandFirst, for the love of thrifting

Buying second hand can come in very different forms: thrifting at op shops big or small, vintage or antique shops, at second hand/flea markets (such as the amazing Suitcase Rummage or Round She Goes), at a garage sale, or buying from someone local via Facebook Marketplace, Gumtree or a specialised app like Depop or Carousell. You could also buy online via one of these apps or through a website like Asos Marketplace and get the item shipped to you if the seller isn’t local.

The one thing these options have in common, and the major advantage of thrifting over making, is the idea of making less waste. How? By giving a second life to an existing item that may otherwise have gone to landfill, and by creating less demand for new items. Theoretically, thrifting is therefore a more sustainable practice than making your own garment, not to mention usually cheaper.

But let’s question that statement for a minute. Is thrifting really more sustainable when you are only buying trendy items from fast fashion brands? Is the lifetime of this new-to-you garment going to be very long, given the often poor quality and sometimes fit of these pieces? Will you grow tired of them and inject them back into the second hand market in a few seasons? 

There is a real pitfall, as thrifting becomes more popular and accessible, to become a “second hand fashion junkie”, constantly seeking the thrill of the chase. On a treasure hunt for the next amazing deal you will score. Cluttering your closet with unneeded items because they were so cheap, and essentially recreating the same issues we are seeing in the retail side of fast fashion. 

Although I love op shop “superstores” like Savers, I find that the “supermarket” look and feel of their stores will likely enhance that type of behaviour. Personally, I tend to favour small charity shops in small towns. Both for the idea of giving back via a not-for-profit organisation; and because that’s where I find the best items. You might not find the trendier brands, but you will come across some great quality vintage items, whether clothing or sewing materials (more on this later).

The sustainability aspect of thrifting is also lessened when shipping is involved, because the carbon footprint is certainly higher, not to mention the risk of the item not being a good fit because you couldn’t try them on.

So how do you make thrifting as sustainable as possible? Here are some things I like to keep in mind:

  • Make a ‘to-thrift’ list: a list of timeless pieces you would like to find second hand one day, without necessarily putting a deadline or some sort of time pressure on. Some items on my list are: the perfect pair of vintage jeans, a nice vintage silk shirt, a knitted cream jumper.

Fluffy vintage cardigans with pretty buttons are always on my ‘to-thrift’ list.

  • Focus on higher quality fabrics and brands rather than fast fashion brands where possible. Avoid H&M and Zara, think upper market brands or natural materials like linen, cotton, silk. 
  • Try. it. on. (and plan to be wearing an outfit that makes this easier when op shopping, like a loose fitting dress). It may look great on the coat hanger, but you never ever know how it will fit you until you’ve put it on. Avoid buying online unless you know the fit.
  • Stop and think before you buy, avoid the fast fashion mindset or buying it just because. Just because it’s cheap, or you don’t have one in that colour, or it’s so trendy this season. Instead, think: Do I need it and can I see myself wearing it? Does it integrate well with my wardrobe/can I pair it easily with other things I already own? What is the fabric composition? Does it have specific washing instructions or ironing requirements that will make it less practical to wear? Does it have any holes or stains? And be ruthless about which items will make the cut.

I hope this article gave you food for thought when it comes to your thrifting routine and how to be a more mindful and sustainable op shopper. The next article in this series will cover the #MeMade side of this debate so stay tuned. Until then, I would love to continue the conversation on Instagram, so please follow me @theslowlifesews and come say hi!