growing a minimalist wardrobe: buying and selling secondhand sustainable fashion.

June 26, 2018

secondhand sustainable fashion | reading my tea leaves

There’s a lot of talk in the sustainable fashion world about investing in high-quality pieces that you’ll love forever. It’s a very noble goal, but in nearly four years of writing about sustainable fashion in this space, I’ve found that there are two major stumbling blocks on the way toward reaching it. The first is affordability. For lots of folks, investing in beautifully made clothes is something they’d love to do, but faced with decisions about how to spend hard-earned income, investing in a dress that might cost as much as a month’s worth of groceries feels foolhardy if not downright impossible. 

The second stumbling block feels a bit like the elephant in the room. And it’s that clothes, and people, are fickle. The reality is that sometimes things don’t work out. And sometimes we change our minds. There are alterations that turn out wonky, jumpsuits that shrink in the wrong places, a fit or material or color that ends up being not quite perfectly lovable for whatever the reason and without concern for how carefully or thoughtfully something might have been made.

An interesting conundrum in the world of ethical fashion is what to do with a piece of clothing that isn’t something you want to wear until the last thread is ready for the compost pile. Despite all of our good faith efforts to choose our clothes thoughtfully, to invest with care, to say no to impulse purchases, making a purchase from an independent sustainable fashion label and then not loving what you end up with is something that…happens!

Indie labels are often sold online only. Investing in something without the ability to try it on first is nerve wracking. Moreover, small labels often aren’t able to have the same kind of robust return policies as other fashion brands, which means that you might buy something and find yourself without a great option for returning it. (One of the first big purchases that I made from an indie label was from a designer who sold just one style of dress and their smallest size turned out to be too big for me. I could return the dress, but only for store credit, which wouldn’t have been usable in my particular case. I ended up tailoring the dress, but a measuring error meant that it became too small. I eventually sent it off to a thrift store, practically unworn.) Finally, when you invest in small, independent companies, the price point is often higher at the same time that your ability to resell it becomes a little trickier. I once tried to consign a dress from a lovely indie brand, but the consignment shop I took it to didn’t recognize the label and wouldn’t accept the item.

Clothes are tricky and investing in them is far from foolproof. But lately I’ve been noticing a bunch of efforts on the part of clothing companies and independent enthusiasts to try to put a dent in the problem. In-house resale efforts and crowd-sourced platforms for swapping clothes are two really encouraging ways that folks are trying to keep beautifully made clothes from ending up in the landfill (or languishing in closets). After all, what might not have been perfect for me, could have ended up being perfect for someone else. During Fashion Revolution week I wrote about responsible decluttering. Here, I want share a few alternatives to simply giving clothes away. secondhand sustainable fashion | reading my tea leaves

Below are just a few examples that have come across my radar from folks in my particular sphere. Full disclosure: I remain an infrequent shopper and so I can’t claim to have tried most of these methods myself, but I’m glad to learn about them and glad to point you guys their way. I would love to hear if anyone here has had good luck or knows of any other great options. Please don’t hesitate to add favorites of your own in the comments below!

Ace & Jig: Ace & Jig clothing swaps are equal parts community building exercises and opportunities for Ace & Jig enthusiasts to trade their pieces for something new-to-them. Follow the Ace & Jig instagram account to learn about swaps happening near you and follow the #aceandjigcommunity hashtag to find folks swapping in real time.

Hackwith Design Sustain Shop: Earlier this month, Hackwith Design House launched The Sustain Shop—a secondhand store within the HDH website where they’re selling gently used HDH pieces and one-of-a-kind samples. They launched the shop as a way to provide customers a less expensive price point and to help take responsibility for the lifecycle of the clothing they create. Customers can send along worn and loved HDH pieces, including those that might have small tears, stains, or missing buttons. Pieces sent in good-as-new condition will be washed and re-sold as is and all other pieces will be mended or picked apart and transformed into something new. Every piece sent in is worth $20 in Sustain Bucks, which can be put toward anything on their website, including in The Sustain Shop.You can follow them on Instagram and shop directly on the website.

Noihsaf: One of the original Instagram buy/sell accounts trading in—among other things—indie labels. I’m a little bummed I missed the chance to replace the Birkenstocks I put out on the curb a few years ago. Listing pieces to sell costs $2.80.

Sell/TradeES: SellTradeES is an independent, customer-driven Instagram account for Elizabeth Suzann brand enthusiasts to sell or trade previously owned Elizabeth Suzann items. It’s kind of incredible to see the extended lives that clothes on this feed are getting. Folks have an option to either sell or trade the pieces they have in their closets, so someone who bought a medium top, but decides they need a large, can post their query to the feed. Also a great source for finding designs that are no longer being manufactured (like the Elizabeth Suzann dress in these shots…not that I’m giving it up!). More on how it all works, this way.

Sell/Trade Slow Fashion: From the same founders of Sell/TradeES came a new Instagram account focusing on Slow Fashion brands more generally. Altered Jesse Kamm pants? Gently worn Bryr clogs? All of that plus so much more. More on how listing and buying works, this way. UPDATE: These folks also run an account called Sell/Trade Plus, featuring clothes size Large and up with the same focus on slow fashion and sustainability!

Slowre: A few readers have mentioned this new-to-me site that functions similarly to thredUP (below), but specifically for smaller brands. It was founded by Grechen Reiter of Grechen’s Closet. In her words, Slowre “sells and consigns women’s clothing, shoes & accessories by independent designers, smaller brands & some larger companies that use natural fabrics, provide supply chain & production transparency, source innovative eco-friendly fabrics, produce in the US, and/or engage in other responsible business practices.” Sounds pretty good to me 

thredUP: I’ve worked with thredUP on campaigns in the past to spread word about their resale efforts. They stock a lot of options from mainstream and fast fashion labels, but a bit of digging will find you lots of options from clothing companies making an effort to do things differently. You can search by brand and find really great deals on thoughtful companies like Eileen Fisher and Patagonia.

Kids:

Misha & Puff Bazaar: Misha & Puff hosts their own secondhand Instagram account called Misha & Puff Bazaar. Misha & Puff doesn’t inspect or ship the goods themselves, and all transactions are between buyer and seller, but they do curate the feed and ensure that goods are verified M&P originals.  

Noihsaf Kiddos: The kid-filled sister account to Noihsaf Bazaar, listed above. One of my good friends found an adorable pair of vintage jeans for her kiddo on this account. There’s so much from many of our favorite brands. The same $2.80 selling fee applies as on the adult version.

Over the Ocean Pre-Loved: Over the Ocean is a beloved online children’s shop of mine that stocks beautiful European-made items for American consumers (for European customers hoping to shop American-made goods, they just launched Over the Ocean II). A few summers ago they launched OTO Pre-Loved, a portal on the OTO site that allows customers to send in pre-loved clothing for resale. To be considered, clothing must be in excellent condition. OTO Pre-Loved sellers receive shop credit—between 20-35% of the original price minus a $5 shipping/ handling fee—for individual items they send in. Follow along on Instagram to lookout for updates on new listings.

What else is out there?

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43 Comments

  • Reply Stephanie June 26, 2018 at 12:01 pm

    Kidizen is an app for selling and buying children’s clothes and gear. While it’s not specifically for sustainable or indi brands, you can search for the brands you like, such as Misha and Puff or Mabo etc. I’ve sold and made purchases through the app and it’s been a great platform for this!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE June 26, 2018 at 12:02 pm

      Thanks so much, Stephanie! So glad to know it.

    • Reply Rebecca June 27, 2018 at 4:44 pm

      I second Kidizen for kiddos. It has a huge range of brands and also sells toys, kids accessories and smaller gear. Have had good success there,

      • Reply ERIN BOYLE June 27, 2018 at 6:26 pm

        Awesome!

  • Reply Schuyler June 26, 2018 at 12:28 pm

    Thanks so much for this post! I’ve had great experiences with Poshmark – super easy to use, and I love knowing that once-loved (or misstep) pieces are going to a happy home.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE June 26, 2018 at 12:31 pm

      So glad! Do they take a wide range of brands, or do you find it’s mostly big names?

      • Reply Schuyler June 26, 2018 at 12:38 pm

        Wide range, for sure! You can list anything for sale.

        • Reply Kathleen June 27, 2018 at 8:44 am

          I agree–I have found a much wider selection of items that actually interest me on Poshmark than sites like Thredup. The other nice thing is that the majority of things I’ve purchased or sold myself have been packaged in recycled tissue paper and mailers.

          • ERIN BOYLE June 27, 2018 at 9:41 am

            So great! So glad to hear so many positive Poshmark experiences!

    • Reply Sofia June 27, 2018 at 9:26 am

      Totally agree re Poshmark. J Crew and Madewell used to make these super comfy sleeveless cotton dresses, and I found two on Poshmark for $25 each. They are a huge staple in my wardrobe as a physician (comfy, professional, high neck). I’ve found some great deals on Poshmark and also sold clothing of my own.

  • Reply Courtney June 26, 2018 at 12:29 pm

    What a gorgeous dress! I have the hardest time finding sustainable fashion items with sleeves. Would you share where you found this piece?

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE June 26, 2018 at 12:32 pm

      Hey there: Sorry it was a little buried in the post! This is a past-season Elizabeth Suzann dress. She has lots of sleeved options if you’re looking!

  • Reply Hannah June 26, 2018 at 12:36 pm

    The consignment website Slowre (https://slowre.com/) is wonderful with lots of new items every week and really fast response/shipping. Twice weekly emailed newsletters let you stay on top of the rotating inventory.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE June 26, 2018 at 12:41 pm

      Amazing! Thanks so much, Hannah.

    • Reply Stacy Hyatt June 26, 2018 at 6:40 pm

      Hannah — I didn’t know about this consignment site so THANK YOU for posting about it! I’m always digging through online consignment shops like ThredUP and The RealReal searching for sustainable fashion brands — this is just the site I’ve been wanting! 🙂

  • Reply Nancy June 26, 2018 at 12:47 pm

    Slowre.com is right in this realm!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE June 26, 2018 at 12:54 pm

      Yes! Someone else just mentioned. New-to-me! Adding to the list above!

  • Reply Bailey June 26, 2018 at 1:45 pm

    The same folks who run Sell/Trade ES and Sell/Trade Slow Fashion run an account called Sell/Trade Plus: “curated clothing consignment, size L & up, with a focus on sustainability and slow fashion” 🙂

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE June 26, 2018 at 1:47 pm

      Oh, amazing! I didn’t know! Adding it above!

    • Reply Jessica M June 27, 2018 at 1:53 am

      Hi! As a moderator of Sell Trade Slow Fashion I just wanted to clarify that the three accounts are run by different groups of moderators (it’s a lot of work!). We are all friends though, and we all have the same goals, to help gently used slow fashion find new homes, and to build community!

      • Reply ERIN BOYLE June 27, 2018 at 6:15 am

        Got it! Thanks so much!

  • Reply Alexis June 26, 2018 at 1:48 pm

    @thegeneraleconomy on instagram is another great resale that focuses a lot on indie brands! similar to noihsaf but no seller fees.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE June 26, 2018 at 1:50 pm

      Awesome! Will check them out!

    • Reply laura June 27, 2018 at 10:12 am

      +1 for gen economy. love buying and selling there!

      • Reply ERIN BOYLE June 27, 2018 at 10:47 am

        So great!

    • Reply Lilly June 28, 2018 at 8:55 am

      +1 for LOGE. I’ve nabbed some really gorgeous pieces there over the years!

  • Reply Emily June 26, 2018 at 1:59 pm

    Patagonia now buys back gently used items for store credit. Check out Patagonia.com/wornwear

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE June 26, 2018 at 2:01 pm

      Terrific! Thanks so much, Emily!

  • Reply Mary Kate June 26, 2018 at 3:16 pm

    Such great resources, thank you!

    I think you hit the nail on the head with why it’s hard to buy from smaller, sustainable brands — the lack of a comparable return policy to bigger stores. It’s complicated for me because I’m an odd size — I’m very short, but I also have curves — so anything not specifically made for petite women generally won’t fit me right. And sometimes even stuff made for petite women won’t fit right because for some reason many clothing companies assume “petite” also means “curve-less”. I return a large percentage of the clothes I order online just because they don’t fit, and just can’t afford to be paying shipping and return costs constantly for things I don’t keep, and certainly can’t afford to be buying things from stores who won’t refund me. I don’t think I’m the only “odd-sized” person out there who has this problem. I don’t know what the answer to this is — someone open up a sustainable shop for weird-sized people? Until then I’m doing my best to shop sustainably but I also need clothes that fit!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE June 26, 2018 at 3:37 pm

      Hey there: I hear you. One thing I’ve noticed from poking around on these sites/accounts is that there’s a really lovely community. On the Sell/Trade accounts in particular, folks are really forthcoming about what worked for them, what didn’t, and why they’re selling. The accounts also sometimes have moderated discussions about particulars! It might be worth a look around, just in case!

      • Reply Mary Kate June 26, 2018 at 5:46 pm

        Ooh, good to know, thank you!

    • Reply Liz M June 27, 2018 at 3:29 am

      If you need help with sizing for ethical brands check out The Garment (www.thegarment.ca or @thegarmentlife on insta). Morgan runs pop-ups every few months of sustainable and ethical brands, one or two items from each designer is modeled by a range of “real” models (all different shapes, sizes, ages, etc) and they include their measurements. They also have ‘try on’ parties in Calgary and register all the measurements of the women who come and what size they fit in each item. During the pop-ups you can also comment on her posts and the designers themselves chip-in with which size they think would suit you based on your measurements. Best part is if you buy during the pop-up there is a discount code. Definitely check it out if you’re an odd size.

      • Reply ERIN BOYLE June 27, 2018 at 6:15 am

        Ah! I’m so glad you chimed in! I was having a hard time understanding what The Garment was all about and what on a earth a virtual pop-up is, but now I get it! Not so hard to grasp after all!

  • Reply Stacy Hyatt June 26, 2018 at 5:53 pm

    I can’t speak to the site’s overall business ethics, but I have frequently bought from (and am constantly browsing) the online designer consignment shop, The RealReal. There is SO MUCH STUFF on there (and one could argue it’s all consciously-driven fashion, since it’s used/secondhand), but I tend to search for specific ethical/sustainable/conscious brands. Sadly, they don’t have “smaller” brands like Elizabeth Suzann, Hackwith, or Jamie + the Jones (yet), but I’ve still had great luck with other ones. My go-to (daily) searches includes Patagonia, Ace & Jig, Reformation, A.P.C., Rag & Bone, Eileen Fisher, Stella McCartney, and Rachel Comey.

    I know there are other designer brands out there that fit into the “ethical fashion” category — if anyone out there knows of any more I should add to my search rotation, please do comment and let me know! 🙂

    On another note: goodness these Instagram sell/trade/buy options are VERY. EXCITING. Just put in a big on some ES pants and am crossing my fingers! ;D

  • Reply Milou June 26, 2018 at 7:48 pm

    Thank you for this!

    I have a wardrobe that is mostly vintage (Hand me downs and picked up willy-nilly), but when I had a job that required a more conservative wardrobe (and a non-profit salary) I went to the Junior League thrift shop and the RealReal. While the RealReal is definitely “fashion-y”, there are a bunch of great brands (Shaina Mote, Black Crane, Brother Vellies, Doen…) and the site is easily searchable by brand, size, etc.

  • Reply Anna Katya Burke June 26, 2018 at 8:52 pm

    I have been looking for a list like this! thank you! this will hep me continue to stick to my New Year’s resolution through out the year- less, more sustainably.
    Thank you!!!

  • Reply Brittany Thielmann June 27, 2018 at 1:09 am

    Thanks for this post! I had no idea about most of these. Super excited about keeping an eye on these, especially the resellers. I’ve been trying to really hone in on my personal style, while buying ethically now, and the money aspect is definitely challenging. Great suggestions!

  • Reply Nicole June 27, 2018 at 2:32 am

    So grateful for this post! Thank you as usual for doing some of the hard legwork to dig up these sources so that the rest of us can benefit 🙂

  • Reply Emily June 27, 2018 at 10:16 am

    I was just thinking about this issue. I have several pieces hidden away in my closet, because I didn’t know how to resell them! This is an amazing post! You completely sum up the things I struggle with about indie fashion, and buying investment pieces.

  • Reply Naomi Hawkins-Rowe June 27, 2018 at 1:11 pm

    Thank you so much for this post, Erin. I swear you were reading my mind this morning. I try to buy as much of my stuff second hand, for the environment and as an artist/writer/teacher for my pocket book. I already adore Slowre and have found some lovely slow fashion on Thredup, though I’ve had to dig a little deeper. What an excellent list I now have to peruse through.

    Cheers!

  • Reply MC June 27, 2018 at 9:05 pm

    A very useful list, thank you!
    When ThredUp launched I filled my basket to the brim, only to realise they either didn’t ship to Canada or charged way too much in shipping fees for my little wallet. I’m looking forward to digging through your and users’ recommendations to see what can come north of the border!
    Thanks for doing all this leg work for us, as always.

  • Reply EL June 29, 2018 at 1:09 pm

    Thank you for this post! The Renewal Workshop is also worth checking out: https://renewalworkshop.com/
    They work with a few brands like Ibex and Prana to upcycle and resell their used clothing.

  • Reply Amy July 1, 2018 at 9:06 am

    Erin – I have really wanted to build a sustainable, thoughtful wardrobe but, for the reasons you describe above, I’ve struggled. You’ve really hit the nail on the head with why this is a challenge. I have two Ace & Jig dresses to unload that just didn’t fit right, and I’ll use these sites to do it. I was really bummed to have spent money on dresses that didn’t work out. Now I can try to sell them without feeling like it was all a waste. Thanks.

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