Our clothes are a powerful tool to communicate stories and a means for social signalling. TRAID’s #secondhandfirst campaign seeks to explore a stronger and deeper relationship with our material things by reusing what we already have but also includes a social and cultural dimension that has the potential to transform us from individual consumers into collective citizens, that connects us with history, with communities and people, and that loosens the grip of advertising and corporations on shaping our style and identity. With this in mind, to celebrate Secondhandfirst Week, we welcome guest blogger Victoria Staniforth to tell us about her #secondhandfirst story.

‘I started experimenting with second hand clothes back in the late 90’s, as a wild and rebellious teen on the edge of freedom and all things alternative! Kate Moss was bringing second hand style in to Vogue and I was bringing my second hand treasures back from London to my little northern town. London was the epicentre of my world and every time I visited it felt like stepping into a whole different universe. It was the place where street styles blew my mind and I would load myself up with paisley shirts, fake fur coats, sequin dresses and cowboy boots from the endless, dreamy rails at Camden Market. Where had it all come from? What story did each piece hold? And how could I possibly carry all of this home? Like a pack horse I would drag it all back up north, along with a head full of ideas and inspiration. Oh, the joy of creating my mismatched style, clashing colours, textures and accessories. I would strut down my local high street and truly believe I was transporting the second hand fashion craze straight out of London and pushing the boundaries of expectation in this little northern town. I was inspired by the rebellious punk era of Vivienne Westwood, dancing in sequins to Moloko’s Roisin Murphy and showcasing all things leopard print to emulate an 80’s Cyndi Lauper…

One of my first purchases was a deep red, floor length, suede coat with a cosy fake fur collar. I discovered it amongst the mysterious rails of Camden market. I dusted it down, held it against myself and felt like Penny Lane in Almost Famous. I imagined the stories that the coat held, the adventures it had been part of and from that moment I never looked back. I rummaged through jumble sales, I researched on the internet and I travelled as far as Thailand to find all things second hand.

Fast forward to almost twenty years later and nothing much has changed.

Images: Victoria Staniforth
Images: Victoria Staniforth

I’m still a big dreamer, with a colourful imagination. I visualise colours, textures, fabrics and styles to suit my mood and my environment. I experiment with a variety of ways to express my creativity, mainly through my style and the way I choose to dress. At least 80% of my wardrobe is sourced second hand and that goes beyond clothing. For me the key is in the finer details – a retro print headscarf, plastic 1960’s rings and sparkly socks, teamed with clogs.

Frivolous fun and dressing up aside, the serious side of the fashion industry and learning to shop with an ethical conscience is also very much at the forefront of my choice to buy second hand. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed with making ethical and conscious choices, especially when buying clothes. Whether you are a global activist, greengrocer or lorry driver, we all love to shop! The immense popularity of fast fashion over the past ten years has meant that we’ve consumed more clothes than ever before and now we are starting to see the negative impact this has had on our humble, innocent planet. Pesticides to grow more cotton for fabric demand, chemical dyes, unfair working conditions for the people making the garments, airmiles to transport garments across the globe, cheap fast fashion, piles of unwanted garments and landfill dumping grounds.

Consider all of these things with regards to the piece of clothing you’re wearing right now, how does it make you feel and how can we help change this?

Be more conscious. Get to know where your clothing has come from. The effort that went into making it yours. Learn about the journey from designer to maker to consumer. Get involved and be part of the fashion conscious movement by shopping second-hand.

Here are my tips to help get you started:

• Have in mind what you’re looking for – a cosy winter jumper, a pair of jeans to cut off into a mini skirt, a sheepskin jacket…

• Become familiar with your local charity shops, car boot sales, your granny’s wardrobe, eBay and vintage markets. We are privileged in the UK to have such a huge variety of places to source good, quality second hand clothes.

• Remember, second hand doesn’t always mean vintage. It’s so versatile and adaptable to everyone. You can find many new, current trends and unworn clothes, for all occasions including sportswear, office wear and beachwear.

• Be prepared to experiment, expand your imagination and brush up on your sewing skills. Remember the ‘make do and mend’ movement? Revive it and make it your own.

• Think about the amount of clothes you already own. What do you really need? Donate one item for every item you purchase.

• It doesn’t have to be in perfect condition – buy it for the fabric, the buttons, take it apart, make a pattern and recreate something of your own.

• Key prints and fabrics to look out for include spots, animal, floral, cashmere, wool, denim, cord and sequins.

• Make a mood board and fill it with love, ideas and inspiration from magazine clippings, fabric swatches, anything that inspires you. You, my friend, are never too old to make a mood board!

• Be mindful and loving to every second hand item you buy and give as gifts, share, swap, reuse, recycle… Respect for you, for others and our planet.

• Once you are into the rhythm, don’t just stop at clothing. You can seek and buy almost anything second hand, the possibilities really are endless.

#Secondhandfirst week starting on 20th November is a good opportunity to start or continue your second-hand shopping journey. Visit your local charity shop and see what you can find.

‘Second hand first’…shout it from the rooftops!’