New Threads? Vintage/Upcycled Clothing and the Benefits for the Consumer and the Environment

‘Second-hand’ fashion was a phrase once synonymous with older sibling hand-me-downs, wear-and-tear patches on old school blazers and ‘growing into’ trousers. However, in 2019, vintage items are not only coming into their own but are very often trendier than some of the newly produced ‘fast-fashion’ items out there.

In our article looking at climate change, we argued how upcycling and repurposing items is one small way of helping to save the environment. This can be achieved through the upcycling of furniture items, but also extends to other areas such as the retail clothing market.

Clothing production – consumer waste and the CO2 impact

A study completed by Manchester Metropolitan University as part of the 2015 ‘Product Lifetimes and the Environment’ (PLATE) Conference highlighted that clothing is often disposed of with up to 70% of its potential lifetime still left. The report also highlighted that 3.1 million tons of CO2 is produced by the fashion and textiles industry every year in the UK. Looking at the bigger picture, this is a massive contributor to the UK’s annual CO2 emissions.

According to 2018 figures, overall annual expenditure on clothing in the UK was £42.8 billion, the majority of which is being made through so-called ‘fast-fashion’ retailers, known for the mass-production and sale of clothing in response to the latest trends. These items are usually designed and produced in response to designer and fashion trends as seen on fashion show catwalks, replicating the ‘in-looks’ in an inexpensive and accessible manner.

Developing tastes and trends

General opinion of what constitutes as ‘fashionable’ changes frequently, but people often look to previous fashion trends as a source of inspiration. Vintage fashion alternatives are beginning to muscle in on ‘fast-fashion’ options. Many department stores and designer brands are taking notice, dedicating significant product space in shops and online retail to the promotion of vintage retail items.

Purchasing retro and vintage items is becoming the in-vogue trend, with many celebrities wearing repurposed or upcycled items on the red carpet, so-much-so that there are also dedicated ‘re-sale’ sites popping up, offering consumers the ability to purchase items or sell clothing that they already own.

With so many options out there, which offer consumers alternatives to ‘fast fashion’, retailers are adapting. However, many savvy-shoppers have already been buying smart for years.

Hidden gems & individuality

Colleen regularly visits vintage and charity shops to put together her look, which she describes as ‘retro military-casual’ and takes advantage of the low costs for the various items that she finds.

“It’s not just about the cost for me though, it’s about the excitement of the hidden gems that you come across. You can go to the high street and purchase something new, which nine-out-of-ten-times a friend will have, or it will be a generic print. When you look in different places, you can pick up something that stands out and looks different.”

Public opinion of charity and vintage shops are changing again, as many companies are adopting upcycled fashion as a sales strategy. This approach has influenced trends and the general public, manifesting itself in consumer spending patterns.

Colleen believes that this move is a positive one, not only in terms of style but also for the benefit of the environment.

“It feels like my patterns of purchasing aren’t only about me, and that I am taking into consideration the impact that my spending habits have further down the chain. My big concern is for the planet and the impact that we are having on the ecosystems of other species. By making minor changes to our lifestyle, recycling and avoiding pollutant production processes, we can positively impact the effects of global warming”.

Colleen discussed her patterns of spending and the way she operates as a consumer:

“I went through a phase of hating the many ways in which consumerism had taken over my life. I was spending money I didn’t need to, on things I didn’t particularly like and was getting frustrated about my involvement with brands and their production processes. Then, I discovered a new way of thinking and realised that it’s the smaller changes which initiate change on a larger scale.”

Changing patterns of behaviour

Sometimes it’s about taking a step back and considering the impact that we have on the world around us through our patterns of consumer behaviour. For most, changing existing habits and behaviours is not an overnight process, but by making small adaptations to how operate as consumers, we can make a difference.

At, we have put together our top tips on the best ways to take advantage of vintage and upcycled fashion, options that will not only help your budget but also help to tackle the environmentally unfriendly production methods often employed by ‘fast fashion’.

  • Look for diamonds in the rough – Collectables can be found in charity and vintage shops. Upcycling can be fun, cost effective and helps the environment at the same time.
  • Don’t be a hoarder – Remember that the items hanging in your wardrobe that you no longer wear may be of use to someone else and could potentially make you some cash.
  • Research online – There are many websites out there that specifically deal with upcycling and vintage fashions. Do your homework, you may bag yourself a bargain!
  • Take stock of what you already have – Do you really need to buy something new? There may already be the perfect item in your wardrobe that could be spruced up by accessorising or making minor modifications.
  • Swap, borrow and give back tomorrow – Talk to friends and family. Do they have items that they could borrow or swap with you? Pleasant surprises may be hiding close to home!

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