Stuff NZ - Covid-19 a boon for pre-loved clothes shops

A look for sale online at vintage seller Girl Gone Retro, run by New Zealander Rachel Lynch.

The next big watchword in fashion goes by many aliases. Some say vintage, others prefer pre-loved, or designer recycle, thrift, nearly-new, op-shop or hand-me-down.

Whatever you choose to call them, second-hand clothes are the way forward. Fashion that needn’t cost the earth – monetary or eco-wise – is changing the way we shop.

Back in 2019, US fashion bible Women’s Wear Daily reported the used-clothes market would leap from US$24 billion to a projected US$51 billion in 2024.

The world’s largest online consignment and thrift store Thredup’s most recent annual report notes that 70 per cent of women have, or are open to shopping second-hand and that Generation Z is adopting recycled fashion quicker than any other age group.

There are several good reasons for this consumer turnaround that may well leave fast fashion in the dust.

The most obvious is an increased awareness of the detrimental effects of throwaway fashion on our planet.

When you know that even the World Bank advises buying second-hand clothing (especially since in some countries “40 per cent of purchased clothing is never used”) and that the BBC reported that just wearing a piece of clothing for nine months longer can diminish its environmental impact by up 20-30 per cent, second-hand, slow fashion makes sustainable sense.

With the world in pandemic mode, and plenty of time to edit, de-clutter and KonMari the living daylights out of a closet, the second-hand market has filled up with other people’s discarded treasures.

Charity shops worldwide might have struggled with sales during lockdowns, but online platforms such as Depop and Thredup, with their search functions and sidebars that deliver a more sanitised version of op-shop bingo, have thrived – something that New Zealand outfits such as Recycle Boutique have capitalised on, too.

GETTY IMAGESModels walk for Gucci's Fall/Winter 2020-2021 show, during Milan Fashion Week.

Kiwis might be the early adopters of the second-hand movement.

“Anecdotally, there’s been a big upswing in interest in second-hand clothes, you only have to see the increased number of shops on the streets,” says Greg Harford, chief executive of Retail NZ.

“The increased interest is in part because there’s a general interest in wanting to do the right thing, reuse and recycle, but also because it makes it a bit cheaper to buy something high end or designer and also in the second-hand market you can often find something unusual, so people can make their own individual statement.”

Wanting to look more individual could be a reaction against the homogeneity of high street offerings, but there’s a wide range of momentum behind the yen for second-hand.

Vintage has long been on the fashion cognoscenti’s radar – designers John Galliano and Ralph Lauren built reputations upon trawling the past to find inspiration for all that’s new.

Now designers like Gucci’s Alessandro Michele are making all that’s new look mismatched and quirky, sending a luxe spin on op-shop chic down the catwalk.

TV period dramas like Neflix’s The Queen's Gambit have helped serve as inspiration and boost the idea of retro-chic.

Fashion inevitably reflects the zeitgeist. Singer Billie Eilish encourages fans to shop at charity shops when she donates her tour outfits to Oxfam.

The recent obsession with period dramas The Crown (Princess Diana’s black sheep jumper set the fashion world alight once more) and The Queen’s Gambit, are rich in retro-chic references and serve as inspiration.

Women with the fashion world at their feet – from Kim Kardashian to Meghan, Duchess of Sussex – have been seen to eschew new in favour of secondhand (although at this level it always goes by the more rarefied soubriquet of “vintage”, even if the item in question is only a couple of seasons old).

Consider it not only an eco-conscious act but a marker of inimitable style. This of course, doubles the attraction. No wonder popular attitudes are changing.

There’s no longer any stigma attached to wearing other people’s cast-offs and there are various places to shop for it, no matter your look, location or price range.

A new spin on op shopping

“We got incredible donations in a steady stream after [the first national] lockdown,” says Talei Kitchingman, New Zealand Red Cross national retail manager.

“Staying at home gave Kiwis more opportunities to clean up their storage.”

There are 50 Red Cross shops across the country, and the quality of goods received is on the up.

Alexis Meadows, who works at Christchurch's Red Cross op shop, models a look selected from the racks.

Forget old notions of charity shop offerings that have seen better days, now brand-new items crop up regularly.

“More designer clothes are being donated,” says Kitchingman – recently, a Chanel bag among them.

Red Cross is going some way to giving charity shops an image overhaul. There are retail incentives for donating, Kitchingman says.

Wares for sale at the Christchurch Red Cross op shop.

“As part of Fashion Trade, people are rewarded with a $10 Country Road gift voucher when they donate pre-loved Country Road items at any Country Road store or Red Cross Shop across New Zealand, any day of the year.”

The Hawke’s Bay team organised an upcycle challenge to raise awareness and last year design students of Ara Institute of Canterbury held an event called Retooled, an op shop expo, promoting and celebrating the potential of shopping second hand.

A shoe bargain at Christchurch's Red Cross shop.

The one-day event in Christchurch featured upcycling workshops, a classic clothes swap and a pop-up shop of highly desirable pieces cherry-picked from Red Cross shops.

With these kind of events occurring more frequently, it’s no wonder that perceived stigma around buying second-hand clothes is on the wane. A new generation keen to engage in a sustainable circular economy are happily putting a new look on discarded treasures.

TIP: Pop-in regularly to charity shops (daily, if possible) to keep up with recent deliveries. If you’re a member of Neighbourly, you can find updates from your local Red Cross shop there.

Stylish bargains empowering women

Everlasting was conceived by personal stylist Anna Paterson three-and-a-half years ago as a dual response to the job she loved and the amount of perfectly good clothes that she knew were heading to landfill.

“I started storing clothes in the garage and organising pop-up sales,” she says.

Her shop opened in March 2019 in Auckland and the website launched a month later. A charitable trust, at the heart of these ventures lies philanthropy.

“Our profits go to helping women in New Zealand. We run the website, but also bring women in to gift them clothing via the nomination form on our website. I love the idea that I can help women feel good about themselves and give them access to great clothing that’s affordable.”

Paterson sells womenswear and children’s clothing online at various price points, but at the shop, which opens one day a week, every item is $5 or under.

For Paterson, the feel good factor is all. “We have a broad range of people shopping with us; women who can afford to shop at high-end stores and women who can’t.

Everlasting owner Anna Paterson says the profits from her shop go to helping New Zealand women.

“A woman might come in and tell me she is going to a wedding: we get them a dress, jacket and shoes for $15. They are amazed! They look great, they feel great – and we just love seeing them so happy.”

A freepost scheme with NZ Post allows people in New Zealand to send donations without charge.

“We get incredible labels – Prada, Gucci, Trelise Cooper, Kate Sylvester – from all over: Blenheim, Invercargill, or the top of the North Island,” says Paterson.

However, she cautions against bargain-label bias.

“A lot of people think they should buy an item just because it has a designer label. That’s not enough. If it doesn’t make you feel amazing, don’t buy it.”

TIP: Look at the style not the label. Prioritise feel good clothes: only buy what you feel great in, no matter the bargain.

‘Guilt-free fashion'

Recycle Boutique started 15 years ago with a shop in Auckland, swiftly followed by one in Wellington. Now there are 10 of the designer consignment stores up and down New Zealand.

“Demand doesn’t seem to be slowing,” says general manager Mark Cowie.

He puts this down to the fact that buying pre-loved through a consignment store not only sates consumer desire for variety but, “customers can frequently turn over their wardrobe without the guilt of fast-fashion practices”.

Inside Christchurch's Recycle Boutique on High St. Demand isn't slowing at this popular, NZ-wide second-hand clothes franchise.

“I would say roughly 25 per cent of our sellers would also shop with us”.

An added incentive is the price structure. “At Recycle, we try and price so that both the consignor and the customer get a fair deal. We price at around a third of retail,” says Cowie.

“There are always bargains to be had.”

The appeal of a store selling bargain second-hand clothes in a clean and spare, modern environment is also key.

CHRIS SKELTON/STUFFAn outfit on sale at Christchurch's Recycle Boutique.

Even though turnover is relatively high, the online offering looks fresh and up to date while, importantly, easy to navigate.

“Through our company rebrand about a year ago, we’ve been able to tap into a new area of the market as we remove stigma around what second-hand shopping looks and feels like. In store, and online, the shopping experience rivals any other traditional retail space,” says Cowie.

The racks are stacked, but the feel is bright and inviting. “There are very few retail businesses that have such a diverse range of customers. It’s what makes us, us. Recycle is for everyone.”

TIP: When consigning, “Think about what you would love to find and remember, if you wouldn’t give it to a friend, we probably won’t be able to take it either!” says Cowie.

Pre-loved for 35 years

“We were the first shop to do high and low secondhand retail and a mash-up of furniture, antiques and clothing together,” says Charlotte Hall, manager of Hunters and Collectors, the Wellington vintage store that has been going for 35 years.

“Back in the day we were the first to import secondhand Doc Martens. We’ve changed with the times – we don’t do furniture anymore.”

They have also streamlined their seven stores up and down the country to one shop in Cuba Street. It’s buzzing.

“Ours is a big shop. We now have a gallery where we show emerging New Zealand artists. We get sponsored by New Zealand alcohol firms and do openings on the first Friday of every month. Our students come and our customers come.

"We have that community/social aspect that your normal 9-to-5 shop doesn’t have.”

The shows and the shop feed off one another. The crossover is high.

“It’s often how we’ll meet our artists – they’ve been shopping here since they were teenagers and still do.”

The appeal is broad and lasting.

“We have women in their 80s who like Issey Miyake and kids from Wellington High come in here, too. We do high - a $3000 Junya Watanabe piece – and we also do low - a $30 top. Chrissy and I hand pick all our stock,” she says of the owner of the store.

“It’s not bought by the kilo from America like some so called ‘vintage’ shops. We tend to focus on secondhand designer or interesting stuff because true vintage – art deco or stuff from the 40s and 50s - has become harder to get and people don’t wear it or fit it these days. So you’re better to have Dries van Noten and Jean Paul Gaultier - things that people do want to wear.”

High fashion with a sideline in seconds

Not all “designer” pre-loved clothes would be considered the real deal by the fashion cognoscenti. There are no such worries at Scotties’ Ponsonby branch in Auckland.

The carefully curated Scotties Recycle section, which you can shop online, is populated with rarefied labels that are as sure to lure aficionados as the designer rails – sprinkled with the likes of Dries van Noten, Comme des Garcons, Marni – that they hang alongside.

The store is an addiction for many of those in the know – the tempting mix of box fresh and pre-loved is a clever fashion hybrid, and there are plenty of crossover customers.

LAWRENCE SMITH/STUFFSonja Batt started Scotties in 1978 with business partner Marilyn Sainty. Fifteen years ago they added Scotties Recycle.

Sonja Batt started Scotties in 1978 with business partner Marilyn Sainty. Fifteen years ago they added Scotties Recycle.

“It wasn’t any great plan. We had our workrooms here, too, all in one place. Marilyn and I put our own clothes in to begin with. Our customers liked the idea – they could bring their used clothes and get money to buy new things.

“We offered a credit instore to go towards new purchases. It was a nice way to avoid throwing things away and it gave the opportunity for people who couldn’t afford to wear designer labels to do so and for young people to learn about designer clothes.”

The carefully curated Scotties Recycle section is populated with rarefied labels that are as sure to lure aficionados as the designer rails.

While Scotties are currently working on putting more of their huge designer archive online, it is still receiving a steady stream of serious designer labels in impeccable condition or so desirable a style (Hermes Kelly bags, Isabel Marant or Gucci trainers, for instance) that what little wear that they’ve had only adds to the insouciance of the look.

Often though, things come in totally unworn: “These days, with so much bought online, we get shoes and clothes that have never been worn because when they arrive they don’t fit. One person’s mistake is another person’s good fortune.”

TIP: Shop with care and you could set up your own circular fashion cycle: “We have one customer who brings in a pile of clothes to Recycle and uses the credit to buy again. No cash changes hands. It’s a lovely way of shopping!”

LAWRENCE SMITH/STUFFA dress waiting for a buyer at Scotties' Recycle.

The online vintage seller

“Online shopping has been trending upwards for years, but the pandemic has forced more people to look online for their fashion and most online vintage resellers flourished,” says Rachel Lynch of Girl Gone Retro, who started her business selling on Trade Me, before taking it to the next level when she moved to Australia.

“People went online, looking for hope and happiness,” says Lynch, and she was happy to supply both by way of her unique collection of bold and beautiful vintage finds.

Another motivating factor was conscience.

SUPPLIEDRachel Lynch from Girl Gone Retro, who sells her vintage online.

“I think everyone is a little more woke on the detrimental effects of fast fashion on the earth and the people producing it (with the help of the documentary The True Cost) and truly, vintage is probably the most sustainable way to shop.”

Alongside ethics, she says, “My whole thing is showing people that vintage is actually super wearable, it all comes down to how you style it and how confidently you rock it.”

Lynch credits Gucci, Versace and Chanel for making this easier to do because, “they’re tapping into vintage looks, making those styles relevant again”.

And now there are also all the vintage and thrifting references that have gone mainstream by way of “songs like Thrift Shop by Macklemore and Netflix series [and book] Girlboss by Sophia Amoruso, making second-hand and specifically vintage super-hot”.

For Lynch, shopping vintage is not about finding designer labels.

“The thing that jazzes me up about vintage clothing is that it’s made so damn well. Clothing was made slower and way more thoughtfully back in the day.”

On her social media feeds, you’ll see that for Lynch dealing vintage is not just work, it’s a way of life.

“I supply absolute queens with the loudest and most bold vintage through my page @girlgoneretro. I also support other second-hand sellers on my page @mygirlrache because I feel so pumped to do what I love everyday and I like sharing that feeling.

“It supports my passion financially and I believe the vintage/thrift community – particularly on Instagram - empowers people to be more daring with what they wear. The thing about vintage is, you can always look ‘on trend’ but in a way more unique and elevated way.”

TIP: Rachel Lynch’s favourites for online vintage include:

@Insearchofglory for classic understated vintage that elevates your everyday

@moderndaytreasurehunt for edgy 90s vibe vintage

@saltandfunk for fun and super unique vintage

@percys.vintage for vintage band tees and sportswear

Seasoned op-shopper

Imogene Bevan prefers a charity shop over a designer second-hand store, because of the vibe.

Artist Imogene Bevan has shopped for vintage all over the world.

From Mt Eden in Auckland to the Paris markets, in Tokyo, London, and across the US.

A former job as a stylist and working for places like Angels, the London costumers to the entertainment industry, still informs her choices today.

“Costume taught me about the structure and the breakdown of clothes.”

“I’m always on the lookout for a label," says Bevan, comparing herself to Marge Simpson in the episode of The Simpsons where she picked up a bargain Chanel suit in a thrift shop.

However, she prefers a charity shop over a designer second-hand store. “I like the music they play [the golden oldie hits], it’s a vibe – and it always has been.”

But it’s also the thrill of the chase.

“We are all trying to find the Chanel suit for $10. There’s a feeling I get – almost like gambling, a feeling like I’m going to win – and I follow that sparkly feeling.”

Persistence is key. “You don’t go once and just give up. There’s a high turnover at charity shops, so you need to keep going back.

“There’s an op shop - I won’t say it where it is; it’s my happy place - that has recently been getting lots of international students who have had to leave their flats and landlords have been dropping off their stuff. I found a 2018 Gucci sweater for $55. It retailed at $970.”

These kinds of rare finds are a delight for Bevan, and prove op shops are the gift that keep on giving.

“When I’ve had hard times, if I need a break, there’s something about repetitively looking at things that I know I can afford – it gives me some joy.”

TIP: Be patient. You have to go through every nook and cranny because it’s always the last scarf that you pick up that will be the rare find.

Everlasting Clothing New Zealand Trust is registered under the Charities Act 2005 CC60813

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