From commodity to investment - the real value of buying pre-loved designer clothes
by The Dyás Admin·
Sometimes, when I scroll through Instagram, I find myself pausing when I come across the recommended accounts - and smiling as I notice that the algorithm has acknowledged one of my interests yet again (be it preloved stylists or professional thrifters).
Since late last year I have been on a personal mission to stop buying new clothes and fast fashion. I'm proud to style myself using existing clothes from my wardrobe, and newly-found second hand clothes, and displaying my finds on my social media grid is a nice way to make the whole process more exciting. Where I once trawled the H&M, Asos and Very apps, I now find myself on Vinted sifting through thousands of amateur photos, trying to separate the gems from the dodgy wannabes.
But even on Vinted, its easy to find fast fashion in abundance - much of it preloved, lots of it worn only a handful of times, and quite a bit with tags still attached. It sums up the first world fashion scene in a nutshell: too many cheap garments that have had too little or no wear, ready to be discarded. However, amongst the fast fashion finds, there are the designer and more expensive brands, often well-worn and much-loved items that are looking for a new home. From Kate Spade and Doc Martens, to Vivienne Westwood, Burberry and Valentino - vendors are selling their designer gear for a fraction of the original price, and the thrifting crowd is certainly here for it. But what's the cause for the growing popularity of thrifting designer goods, and is it an entirely positive development from the perspective of sustainability?
A quick scan of posts containing preloved clothes on Instagram certainly shows that buying second-hand designer fashion items is a growing trend. As one micro-influencer out-smarts the other with their bargain finds from the charity shops, and posts about it on social media, more and more people are trying to replicate their success. Moschino and Lagerfeld for fast fashion prices is the new dream of the modern fashionista. Naturally, the majority of us can’t afford brand-new designer stuff, so thrifting offers an attractive opportunity to own the things typically reserved for the filthy rich. But surrounding oneself with beautiful things isn’t the only reason thrifting continues to grow.
Investing in clothes, rather than wearing them once and throwing them away (or forgetting them or relegating them to the back of the wardrobe) is on the rise, and hopefully here to stay. Hardcore thrifters and fashion-lovers alike are rediscovering the charm of secondhand designer clothes - not only because secondhand clothes are often quirky and unique in appearance, but also because they're crafted to last. Jo Szmo, a fellow sustainable style advocate who has turned her love for designer second hand clothes into a business, recently told me, “I thrift designer or high end brands exclusively. Sometimes I may grab an item of lesser value - if I need a new tee or a pair of jeans. However, I mainly focus on vintage designer items - as they are gems for resale. I see them as investment pieces, which don't lose value. [...] I keep many of my finds, if they fit me, but I also know that I can easily make additional cash by selling them on.”
Buying a 50-year old dress for more money than a whole Asos haul is becoming a weekend-pastime for reborn stylists and aspiring collectors. These vintage pieces are not only clothes to be worn. They are equally pieces of art to be cherished and valued like a painting. Jo Szmo understands this too well: “To me, those preloved designer clothes are more than just clothes or material objects. I guess I could call myself a small-time collector and get excited when I come across unique finds.”
What's more, luxury items of clothing, accessories, and footwear tend to increaee on value over time - unlike their fast-fashion counterparts. And there's a good reason for it. As The Pretty Planeteer (2019) points out, “The main goal of fast fashion brands is to make cheap clothing as fast as they can. [...] Fast fashion clothing is made with cheap materials, stitched together in a matter of minutes, and designed to be out of style by next season. Fast fashion brands make poor quality, disposable clothes and accessories on purpose to keep people buying more.”
While it may feel like a bargain to pick up a once-worn Zara jumper from Depop for a third of its original price, chances are that in the not so far-away future you’ll have to deal with the first loose stitches or holes in the fabric. It may feel noble to save those fast fashion cast-offs from landfills in the moment, but those items will probably cause you a fast-fashion headache after a handful of wears.
Pre-loved designer items are a different game. As the owner of a preloved Burberry handbag and a Kate Spade purse, let me be the first to tell you about their quality. Carefully hand-stitched seams, metal clasps that don’t discolour into a mouldy-greenish tinge, and zips that slide open and close smoother than a knife cutting through butter, all tell me that I won’t have to get out the needle and thread to fix either any time soon. In Shush London (2021) a similar point was raised: “One of the most attractive benefits of buying preloved designer fashion is that it represents a real investment. This is fashion that is made to last. It isn’t trend-led or inspired by this season’s catwalk looks – it is designed entirely on its own merit around lasting fashion values and aesthetics. It means materials that will only grow more beautiful with age... It means styles and silhouettes that are everlasting. It means heritage pieces [that can] be handed down through generations and cherished as heirlooms. This is not fashion that will be thrown to the back of the cupboard and forgotten about. It is something to be proud of."
Rethinking and reframing our current views and perceptions of fashion and clothing is fundamental to a sustainable future. Regardless of budget, we have to be more selective and thoughtful about what we buy and where we spend our hard-earned money. The idea of investing in clothes may be alien for many of us, but there's an extra incentive beyond the allure of the clothes themselves. One day, those clothes can be resold at a profit or handed down as a heirloom - and that more valuable than any sweater from Zara no matter how cheap.
Words by Carola Kolbeck