Fast and affordable fashion doesn't have to be unethical.
Since the age of 17, British fashion blogger Louise Croft (aka Pauper to Princess) has rarely spent more than a couple of pounds on an item of clothing.
“I set myself a very strict limit of £5, so I never go over and most items I buy are either £1 or £2,” the 25-year-old tells stylist.co.uk.
Croft only shops in charity shops, and will typically buy around 10 to 15 items a month.
“Most of the ethical rhetoric has been ‘you should buy little and less often and buy things that you really love,'” she says. “But for me, I like to stay up to date with this week’s trends, trying different styles and playing with crazy prints – I love fast fashion.
“I also can’t bring myself to buy clothes that are brand new and throw them away after a few wears. So for me I use charity shops as a kind of library. I buy something, wear it once or a few times and then next the week I'll take it back so that they can sell it again.”
“I think fast fashion can be ethical if you do it on this cyclical system," Croft says. “Rather than buying fair trade investment pieces, I buy from standard high street brands, but I buy them in charity shops and I just wear them a couple of times and donate them back again.
“I don’t think anyone else is talking about an ethical approach to fast fashion but that’s totally the way I live. I only wear things a couple of times and I don’t feel bad about it because it’s all gone to charity.”
It's a fascinating concept, but we're sceptical about the choice of fashion on offer. Can we really stay on trend if we're buying old goods?
“Yes, 100%,” says Croft. “Partly because people have bought it last month and are donating it now, but also the trends do come around so quickly. So every year you have denim, safari and nautical and I find the trends actually stay around for a couple of years. Specific examples of what you can find right now are printed trousers, drop-waist denim dresses and that denim skirt with buttons down the front which everyone's wearing at the moment. There are stacks of these skirts in charity shops because they’re from the Nineties.”
Croft never feels the need to hit the UK high street anymore. “Now when I do go, its seems expensive to me and also it seems so boring. There’s 100 of everything and I dread going to an event and someone else wearing the same. I just think, 100 people are going to have the exact same one. So yes, I hardly ever buy anything high street. I occasionally go in the sale – I can’t remember the last time I paid full price.
“Each of my purchases comes with a story, memory and quest. I buy a lot abroad as I find second hand shops a great way to get away from the tourist parts of town and mix with the locals, so each purchase reminds me of a holiday or adventure. I do try to keep a bit of emotional detachment though so I can re-donate them as otherwise I'd be drowning in clothes.”
Inspired? We dip into Croft’s shopping world with her guide to the best charity shops and car boot sales and her tips on how to find the best bargains.
Top charity shops in the UK
Croft tells us that the best car boot sales and markets are not often on the internet. "They’re so hard to find," she says. "You can look on notice boards or posters at supermarkets for summer fetes with clothing sales. But the charity shops are, of course, always there." Here are her favourite spots to shop at.
"Jade at Fertha is a young fashionista who picks all the items from local charity shops and sells it on their behalf. It’s much cheaper than I expected. I love Mary Portas’ Living and Giving charity shops and they’re beautifully done, but they’re a bit more expensive. Jade's shop is really affordable."
36 Hereford Road, Notting Hill, W2 5AJ, fertha.com
Capital Carboot Sale, London
“This is the best car boot sale in London. All the vendors are very cool and stylish. I found one girl who was obviously a total Topshop addict who was getting rid of her entire wardrobe for £1 a piece."
Pimlico Academy Chichester Street, Lupus Street, SW1V 3AT, capitalcarboot.com
Lewis Manning Hospice, Poole
From a vintage Jaeger skirt for £3.50 to a pair of printed denim dungarees for £4, Croft has found some real gems in one of the eight Lewis Manning Hospice shops in Dorset. Having worked for the brand as a retail consultant, Croft is one of the brains behind the redesign of the shops.
1 Crichel Mount Rd, Poole, Dorset BH14 8LT, lewis-manning.co.uk
New to You, Poole
This project is a monthly warehouse sale which aims to give everyday items a new home at affordable prices. The products are unwanted items left at housing tips, but are in too good of a condition to throw to the landfill.
"They’ve got lots of amazing things like big vintage suitcases and dolls houses and all kinds of awesome things," says Croft. "Once a month they announce which Saturday the sale is going to be held on."
For more details, visit: facebook.com/newtoyoupoole
Top charity shops around the world
Louise spends months living in the Far East with her boyfriend, exploring second-hand shops in the region, while remotely working as a fashion blogger and online teacher of fashion, beauty and business. (She spends about £1,000 on her flights, rent and meals over two months).
These are her favourite charity shop destinations around the world.
Chiang Mai, northern Thailand
“The capital, Bangkok, can be a little more expensive than Chiang Mai. It’s a really good city for second-hand and market shopping. You can expect lots of cut-off denim shorts with embroidery, chic little jackets and make-up. You can pick up some lovely items.”
“I found a clothing market in Tallinn where everything was in big boxes for two or three euros. I bought some really nice things there and it was all European high street stuff so I knew it would fit fine.”
For details on how to get there check Louise's post on paupertoprincess.com
During her business degree, Louise studied in Boston for six months and discovered the city’s wealthy of charity shops. On of her favourite shops is the Goodwill Store on Harrison Ave, where she found a printed Banana Republic pencil skirt for £3.50. She also recommends San Francisco. “Any American city is great for thrifters because they seem to have lots on confinements and second hand charities. Forget the outlets.”
Rules for finding a great charity shop bargain
1. Look for bobbles and stains
“It’s really important to look properly for marks on things because I often buy something in a bit of a rush and I’ll get home and find the collar is really marked or it’s got a bit of bleach spilled on it. You have to try and work out why that person is donating it and if there’s something wrong with it.
“Quite often I’ll find something I love but it’s a bit bobbly. I’m like ‘Ooh it’s really cute’, but actually you’ll just look like you’re wearing old things. It’s a tricky balance with charity shops because someone has owned it and you want to make sure someone hasn’t owned it too well. I think it’s worth being strict with yourself about how worn clothes are, even if it’s the prettiest item in the shop.”
2. Don't look for your own size
“I would definitely say, don’t look at sizes. I buy things in all kinds of sizes because they fit differently on me and I wear them differently. I’m a UK size eight but a vintage 12, so I’ll often pick something up and think, ‘Oh no, it’s a size 12, it’ll be way too big’ – and then I can barely do it up. Sizes have changed so much over the years that you really should try on all sizes.”
3. Check menswear for jumpers and belts
Menswear sections are often great for oversized knits and classic leather belts. If you find a belt you love and it’s too big, it’s easy enough to make it fit right by adding an extra hole.
4. Feel the fabric
Charity shops have rails of clothes and it would be inefficient to go through every item. “I tend to go by fabric,” says Louise. “I'll sweep along a rail and pull out the clothes with amazing fabric. Quite often it'll be by a brand like Cos. I think it's fabrics that gives away the top brands.”
5. Only buy what you love
“If you don’t want to wear it out the shop, that day or tomorrow, then you’re probably not going to wear it. I only buy stuff that fits me and doesn’t involve losing or gaining weight to fit in it.”
Images courtesy of paupertoprincess.com