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  • Carola Kolbeck

Finding a Social Community Through Thrifting

© Illustration by INJECTION - Alicia Lupieri

Why the communal aspect of preloved and vintage fashion, thrifting, and charity shop shopping may be the key to longevity

Since the event of fast fashion in the 1980s and Zara’s promise in the 1990s to take a mere 15 days from design to store, the fast fashion industry has been in overdrive to create not only tens of collections each year but also to become one of the biggest polluters of the environment. Its garments are cheap, and thousands of tons end up in landfill each year. Fortunately, change seems to be in the air.

Thrifting - fad or future?

Hashtags such as #preloved and #thrifted have been trending on social media for some time, seeing an increase in people turning to second-hand shopping, attending kilo sales, clothes swaps, and thrifting at car boot sales. The intention is good. Keeping any kind of fashion, be it fast, slow, or designer, out of landfill is a bonus. But what if it’s only a temporary trend that disappears as quickly as H&M’s latest collection from the rails in its shops?

One of the differences between fast and slow fashion appears to be that the latter has a community aspect, whereas the former doesn’t. What’s more, social bonds between second-hand clothes lovers seem to go beyond social media.

So is the social aspect of thrifting its sustainable currency? INJECTION Mag attended a clothes swap and found out.

© Photography by INJECTION - Carola Kolbeck

I arrive at the historic Sneinton in Nottingham with a large shopping bag filled with garments and shoes I haven’t worn in years. I have agreed to help out at a clothes swap and when I arrive in a small corner of the market, a busy group of other volunteers is already busy sorting through garments the first customers have dropped off. Many of those ladies have been part of this community for years. Steph, a personal stylist, and teacher, with an eye for colourful and unique finds from vintage and second-hand shops has been helping at the swaps for three years. She has since become close friends with Laura, and both women meet regularly to socialise or to potter around charity and vintage shops.

A size-inclusive community

Half of the clothes rails are reserved for larger sizes, making the event a haven of size inclusivity. Zoe, one of the organisers, never felt included and made it her mission to cater to every body in society. And as the last garment has found a coat hanger, and we peek around the corner, we see a long queue of women, ready to find new items in exchange for their old ones. As the first swappers search through the colourful and bright mix of clothes, the atmosphere starts buzzing. There is friendly chatter and cordial advice between strangers and friends alike.

Nancy, a plus-size blogger from Nottingham, has picked up six new items in return for the ones she brought from her wardrobe. “I’ve seen some of my bits being picked up by others,” she smiles, pointing out that this is the 4th time she has come to a clothes swap. “I have met lots of people here, including some other plus size bloggers,” she tells me. “Everyone is so friendly, and it feels like a proper community.”

© Photography by INJECTION - Carola Kolbeck

Normalise buying preloved

Olivia, a life coach from Leicester, and Nancy’s friend, stopped buying fast fashion at the beginning of the pandemic but discovered that a lot of sustainable fashion was out of her price range, as well as her size. “When we see ourselves represented as plus-sized women, it’s got more momentum.” To her, like so many thrifters, turning to clothes that are already in circulation makes more sense. Does she think that preloved is only a trend or here to stay?

“It’s definitely a trend,” Olivia tells me. “But equally, we need to normalise buying preloved. With fast fashion, we are like sheep. And I don’t want to bow to the pressure of wearing something new every time I step out of the house or show myself on social media. Buying preloved, thrifting, or attending clothes swaps is my way of making a difference, and it sits well with my consciousness.”

© Photography by INJECTION - Carola Kolbeck

Positive peer pressure

As the crowd slowly clears and people leave with bags full of new “old” garments, there are hugs, laughter, and social media handles being swapped. Sharing the same values and goals can create much-needed people power and pave the road for a more sustainable fashion scene. What is more, it creates accountability, if you are part of a group or movement. And those have power.

“The group that is most likely to make a change is consumers” . Dr Mark Sumner, in Bravo, 2020, p.26

Although it will take more than swap events and the hashtag #founditatthecharityshop to change the way people view and buy clothes, it’s a great starting point. “It’s positive peer pressure,” Olivia says, and I sense she may be onto something. Most importantly, the communal and social aspects of thrifting are strong currency in the preloved and thrifting game, as they contribute to turning thrifting as a momentary fad into a long-lasting and permanent lifestyle change.

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