2977425354_37f91822aaI’ve read several interesting posts recently on shopping habits and it’s got me thinking about why we buy what we do and how we got there.

In the early 2000s I was a student, and I spent a lot of money on clothes. I was a High Street Honey, not a Designer Diva, but those purchases all add up when it’s going on an overdraft, and credit cards, and straight off your student loan, and, finally, when I worked part time at River Island, on the dreaded Store Card and catalogues.

By the time I graduated meeting those repayments was a real struggle

The final straw was when I finally left a job that was making me truly miserable. Rather than looking for a new job I decided to give self employment a go and started selling vintage and second hand clothes eBay as Retro Chick.

Such a huge drop in income made me drastically review the way I shop, as has an increasing awareness of environmental issues.

I love fashion now, probably more than ever, but I have rediscovered something that I had lost somewhere between my thrifty teens and the conspicuous consumer I became in my early 20s. I have discovered some of the creativity you can apply to fashion and clothing you might otherwise dismiss.

I buy second hand and vintage clothing for a lot of reasons

  • It’s how I make my living.
  • I can’t afford to shop new.
  • I am aware of the environmental and ethical impact of the disposal of unwanted clothing and the production of new clothing.
  • I love that buying “thrifted” items or recycling my own old clothes means I can put together a more unique look than a lot of the identikit High Street clones.

There are probably more that I find harder to put into words.

Each time I shop I balance several things

  • Do I NEED that item or WANT that item?
  • Can I get it cheaper second hand? By looking on eBay for instance.
  • Can I buy more ethically by looking second hand?
  • Could I delay this purchase until I can afford to save up for a better quality or more ethical alternative?

Primarily what influences my purchases is budget. Unfortunately if my shoes are letting in water and I simply can’t afford to buy new ethically produced shoes for £50, and I can’t find what I need second hand or in a sale then I shall go to Primark, or Peacocks, or another low priced retailer.

I can’t deny that style plays a part in my decisions too. I won’t buy ugly shoes just because they’re vintage and therefore better for the environment. What I will do is look more carefully at things. Are they really ugly? Can I adapt them or change them in some way? I’m continually amazed at the difference a well chosen belt can make to a dress I might previously have dismissed.


So, that’s my story.  I know many people don’t shop second hand because they don’t have time for the random aspect. If they need a dress for an event and have 2 hours to shop thrifting might not be an option. Some people opt for vintage because they like the look of a certain era (I personally have a soft spot for 1940s and 50s styles), ecological and ethical considerations don’t even cross their minds when they shop for that special vintage piece.

Back in March I wrote a post on cheap fashion which highlighted that the alternative to working in sweatshops in developing countries was often a lot less appealing and that refusing to buy clothes produced in those countries could see workers ending up in far less savoury conditions.

Balancing ethics and green issues isn’t easy either, an issue highlighted by Ashe Mischief in her post where she discusses the environmental impact of “ethical” vegan bags.

Other issues include the impact on the economy. Only buying from small scale local producers is an option, but large scale production is an essential component of our economy and small businesses that do well often become big businesses. Lush Cosmetics and Innocent Smoothies spring to mind in the UK, so where do you draw that line?

I believe all we can hope for is to achieve some balance in the way we shop, the way we eat, and the way we live.
That we take a little time before we do any of these things to ask ourself if we are making the best choice we can given our personal circumstances and the way the world is at that moment in time.
If we all did this then maybe ultimately we could make the world a better place to live and shop.

What choices do you make when you shop and how do you make your decisions?

Photos courtesy of Simon Pais-Thomas and me and the sysop