Growing up, shopping 2nd hand was not something you let anyone know you did, you certainly did not write a blog post for the entire internet dimension to read. There was a lot of stigma attached to it I had not yet properly understood back then, particularly the nuances, experiences and associations when it came to the intersection of race/class/gender. Being part of working class community – and to add to that, refugee/immigrant African Black diaspora as well – buying 2nd hand clothes seemed absurd, for the simple reason that someone else had worn it. But the associations ran deeper than that, wearing 2nd hand clothes were also seen as an association with poverty, a negative association you try to escape from particularly if you come from this group. I understand the functions of this, it’s actually about social inclusion and the social capital that wearing designers/high street clothes can bring. You’re more likely to be considered as part of the in-group, the socially accepted group of people, or have access to particular exclusive spaces if you wear particular clothing, or rather, you show that you too can afford the kind of privilege that acquisition brings.

For a long time I was reluctant to shop second hand, but as I outgrew my older siblings’ hand-me-downs and began to earn some of my own money – which in turn made me conscious of how I was spending it and how things were made/the exploitation of labour within the clothes industry etc – I was compelled to look for alternatives. I don’t recall my first experience shopping 2nd hand – I more so gradually drifted into it after picking up random really nice items in high street charity shops.
I do, however, remember the early conversations that I had when people would ask me where I bought a particular item of clothing from, and I eventually found the confidence to tell them, without fear of being judged, that I shop 2nd hand; the responses were generally, ‘why would you do that?’, ‘can’t you afford to go to a real shop?’ and other similar nonsensical quips. This frustrated me but made me even more determined. Then, following these early encounters, shopping 2nd hand became quite trendy and fashionable, under the guise of ‘vintage’, of course, but mostly for women. They found a way to individualise and modernise their style, taking their grandmother’s church blouse and wearing it with Levi jeans, which looked greater. Men, however, we hadn’t quite yet found our feet with this (I’m not sure if we still have). As I started to meet more and more men, though, who shop 2nd hand, or were open to it, the easier it become to actually not feel like an anomaly for doing something that is not only economic efficient, but also has known environmental/labour benefits too.

I’ve started introducing some friends to second-hand shopping recently and much to my surprise, they are really interested, particularly after the quality of the clothes that I wear, but can’t associate it with a high street label. I went with a close friend of mine to a second-hand sale, and though it was dominated by women, it was good to see lots of men there too. I think if more men from diverse communities engaged with 2nd hand clothes, it would really lift the taboo that is associated and there would be lots more of a range to choose from if they began to donate clothes too.
I’ve committed to source 80% of my clothes 2nd hand for a year – 20% of course, being the essentials – and so far I have been able to stick to it. On any given day, at least one or two of the items of clothing I’m wearing is second hand, and hopefully, as the year it may be all of them. It has really changed my shopping habits. I’m a lot more conscious than ever about where I shop and whether or not I actually need, or even like, what it is that I’m purchasing. Also, it is always good to know that if you buy 2nd hand, particularly from a charity, you are continuing a charitable cycle and helping an organisation help other people in need. All whilst looking good.

JJ Bola Writer Poet wearing a secondhand jacket that has been customised by himself.
JJ Bola Writer Poet wearing a secondhand jacket that has been customised by himself.