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.
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.
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. [Updated 2021: No longer in operation!]
What else is out there?