Second hand fashion: cool, but also very necessary.

Interview to zero waste and vegan lecturer and blogger Gittemary Johansen

If you are as much of a fan of second hand fashion as I am, you, too, may wonder why this way of buying clothes isn’t yet more popular. It’s sustainable, economical, the process of finding good items is fun and its result can be surprising.

It’s true that there are more and more people who, after becoming aware of all the negative aspects of fast fashion, are changing their habits and buying second hand or vintage clothes. But considering all the benefits it brings to our lives and the lives of others, I think it should be even more popular, don’t you agree?

Today we speak with lecturer and blogger Gittemary – who leads a minimalist, zero waste and vegan lifestyle – to discuss the recent growth and future evolution of this form of fashion consumption. We talk about the many advantages, possible disadvantages, labour exploitation and the gray areas that may appear when with respect to second hand fashion and veganism.

Foto: Gittemary Johansen

ESTEFANIA. Gittemary, what do you think are the main obstacles stopping people from changing their consumption habits and starting to buy their clothing second hand? What do you think people perceive as the disadvantages of buying second hand?

GITTEMARY. I think one of the more common misperceptions is that second-hand clothes are dirty. We as consumers are so used to having everything from new, single-use and sterile, that the mere thought of another person having used your jeans is revolting. Of course, second-hand clothes are not dirty at all. Another misperception is that people cannot be fashionable whilst wearing second hand, it’s not luxurious or prestigious enough and it is impossible to communicate individual expression with used clothes. I argue that no matter what your style is, you can wear second-hand. And when it comes to luxury, we need to stop idolizing overconsumption, because that’s all luxury is, and frankly I think it’s disgusting. If you really love a certain high-end brand you can always go for vintage pieces. But I personally would love to live in a world without high-end fashion.

“We need to realize that things will only start to improve if we, as consumers, start spending our money differently.”. 

Gittemary Johansen

E. While preparing this interview I asked some close friends who don’t currently buy second hand what, in their opinion, the advantages and disadvantages were. Many of them highlighted the environmental benefits as an advantage – showing at least an awareness of the fashion industry’s widespread pollution and an admission that, by buying second hand we are sparing resources. However, I was surprised that none of them mentioned the terrible working conditions in the fast fashion industry. In your opinion, how do you think people deal with the idea of human labour exploitation in the fashion industry? Do you think there is a general awareness?

G. Most of us know that the people who produce our products in China, India, Bangladesh etc. are working in sweatshops and do not have the best working conditions, it seldom comes as a surprise to us when we are made aware. But it’s hard to truly sympathize with people we cannot see and people we do not know, hell, it’s hard for many to sympathize with people who live right next to them. The link we should focus on creating, to get more people to drop fast fashion, is the link between buying something and paying for something. When we buy a product, we pay for all aspects of its production. So when we pay 2 $ for a t-shirt we accept the conditions under which it was made. We need to realize that things will only start to improve if we, as consumers, start spending our money differently.

E. I am interested to know if you have observed a shift in peoples perceptions of purchasing second hand clothes over the recent years? For example, about 10 years ago, I already enjoyed buying second hand, but it wasn’t quite normalized for me – I was cautious telling people or mentioning it in public. I think people thought that second hand clothes were a bit… disgusting, or dirty, because you don’t know who wore them before you. But now, when I look at my social circles, though most still don’t buy second hand, I think there has been a definite shift in their perceptions, moving toward normalizing it. Have you noticed a similar change in peoples opinions? How do you think it will evolve in the coming years?

G. I have definitely also seen a positive change of attitude towards second-hand clothes, which I really love. I hear so many people that really want to do more second-hand shopping but stuff like practicality and size issues bring them down and make it harder. But simply the fact that more people are interested, because of both environmental and economic advantages, is a huge step in the right direction.

“When you buy a product second-hand, you are not supporting the industry it came from. So when you buy a wool shirt, you’re not giving more money to the industry that then produces more wool because you’re not increasing the demand. […] However, I see an issue with wearing, for instance, second hand or vintage fur pieces, because when wearing it you are sending a clear signal to the people around you that this kind of clothing is okay”.

Gittemary Johansen
Foto: Gittemary Johansen

E. Because you are also vegan, I’d like to know if you have any difficulty finding certain vegan items which may lead you to making some ‘exceptions’. In my case, for example, I have a winter coat which contains some wool, given to me by my mother in law (who no longer used it). For me, finding second hand, vegan coats has been basically mission impossible so far, so I prefer to accept a gifted, non-vegan one. This way, I personally am still not putting money into the industry or creating more demand. What are your thoughts on this? Are grey zones acceptable in your opinion? What grey zones are acceptable for you?

G. When you buy a product second-hand, you are not supporting the industry it came from. So when you buy a wool shirt, you’re not giving more money to the industry that then produces more wool because you’re not increasing the demand. The money you pay goes towards the second-hand shop or a charity of some sort. However, I see an issue with wearing, for instance, second hand or vintage fur pieces, because when wearing it you are sending a clear signal to the people around you that this kind of clothing is okay. Other people don’t know it’s used and will see you wearing it as acceptance. As someone against animal exploitation, this is something to be aware of. However, it is not always the case, I also have a couple of jumpers that contain wool, but it does not show in the same way a fur coat would.

E. I couldn’t agree more. I imagine that some vegans will not agree with the small exceptions mentioned, but when, in addition to animal suffering, we contemplate human suffering, these occasional exceptions (in which neither the demand for clothes of animal origin is promoted nor is their use normalized) can allow us to find a balance – so that neither animals nor humans suffer.

Tell me, can you think of a way to make second hand clothing more attractive to the general public?

G. I think the thing that makes the most positive impact on the second-hand clothing industry is representation. When we see all different types of people, different races, sizes ages and styles, using and loving second hand clothes, then, I think, it becomes easier for us all to embrace. I often hear that I look nothing like a person who shops second-hand because I am not all boho-looking (I mean I was once haha). And seeing someone pursue a minimalistic and slick aesthetic can be inspiring for some. Just as seeing someone that smaller or larger than average buy second hand can be motivating for others.

E. What is the best second hand item, price, quality and amazingness combined, that you have ever bought? And how much did it cost? What’s so great about it?

G. I recently found a pair of vintage pointy-toed cowboy boots and I absolutely love them to bits. They cost me 70 Danish Crowns, which is about $10. I have worn them ever since getting them, and they’ll probably become a staple in my wardrobe from now on.

E. Finally, what would you say to people reading this who have never bought anything second hand?  

G. I hear people tell me a lot that they could never do second hand because of various reasons – but never say there is something you cannot do, especially not when it is as mundane as simply wearing something that has already been worn. Just try, and if the first does not work out for you, then try again. The hunt for something good is something that I look forward to, it’s not an obstacle, it’s part of why I love this way of shopping so much.

Interview by Estefanía Lozano

Editing assistance: Anna Kommers