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If you were to arrive home on a Sunday night from your holiday after a drive of several hours, I imagine you would repair to the chaise longue with a nice drink, savouring the last few hours of your annual break.
Not me, mister. Back-to-work eve is reputed to be the best time to upload new sales listings on Vinted: I spent that final, precious holiday evening glued to the laptop, thinking up the best way to describe a pair of worn-once teenager’s shorts to potential buyers on the online clothing marketplace.
Many summers ago, in the carefree time before the environment weighed on the collective mind so heavily, the end of July would have found me at the Harvey Nichols sale, rummaging around for a D&G cardigan at a knockdown price. These days, I and millions like me get my retail therapy trading “preloved” clothes online — chasing the high that results from making a sale. In the words of Dolly Parton, my life is likened to a bargain store — and I’m not alone.
A third of Brits now sell their possessions on online forums of some sort, and a large proportion of it is apparel. Even more of us (four in 10) have bought second-hand online, and the second-hand clothes market ballooned to £6.5bn last year — it’s expected to almost double by 2027.
It’s a rare and happy phenomenon: a hobby that gives you the dopamine hit of buying and selling but combined with a step towards reducing your environmental impact.
The Ellen MacArthur Foundation, founded by the solo sailing record-breaker, is working on ways for the fashion industry to become more sustainable — a circular loop focused on high-quality items that can then be reused and recycled. According to its research, the number of times an item is worn before being discarded is declining across the world. Some clothes are given only seven outings before being chucked in the bin.
Add this wastefulness to the hard sell of fast fashion, and the spectre of landfill becomes even more haunting. Even donating to the charity shop seems inadequate after you’ve witnessed their own refuse bags on the street, stuffed with unsold items. At least if someone buys my daughter’s outgrown denim jumpsuit on Vinted for £4.99, then they actually want it. Hoping that a “thrifter” might find it after diligently raking through the racks in a made-over charity “boutique” seems a risk. There’s no high when you pay too much for something that looks, feels or — there, I’m saying it — smells used.
The online frenzy offers different ways to get your shopping thrills. First, there’s the pleasure of rediscovering vintage style. A recent binge-watch of the whole of Seinfeld has left me fixated on Kramer’s 1950s and ’60s rayon jackets and bowling shirts — the character’s wardrobe has a whole bunch of fans on Instagram. As teenagers we spent days at Flip of Hollywood, the cult Covent Garden store whose demise is much mourned, deciding on which pair of beaten-up Levi’s 501s to pair with checked shirts from the school jumble sale. Now, I’m back in retro heaven; I’ve just scored an amazing shirt with western details for £8 and, as Dolly sings, “with a little mending it could be as good as new”.
But mostly it’s the dealmaking that quickens the pulse. On eBay, before the buyers for office attire evaporated during lockdown, I used to enjoy a bit of arbitrage. Of course, I was never going to retire on the £5 profit I might make auctioning, for example, a “no returns” blazer that didn’t fit. The process was a hoot, though, and awakened my inner shopkeeper. On Vinted, it’s the opposite — the asking prices are so modest that almost everything is a steal. It’s a skinflint’s paradise.
Tales of horrors abound, but it’s all part of the eco journey — you thought no one wanted your ancient moth-eaten sweater? Well, think again, my friend. Those 99p starting prices on eBay auctions were designed to whet the appetite of competitive bidders. On Vinted, it’s a desperate search for someone, anyone, to stop a plastic-coated anorak, say, ending up on a boat to the world’s busiest trash pile in South Korea, or contributing to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, that monster gyre of swirling debris.
I can feel some readers flinch at such undignified confessions. But the imperative behind a growing band of us bartering over rags is genuine horror — and by going so low maybe we are going high. The Scottish government now has a minister for the circular economy; I would argue that an army of amateur online clothing traders is already forming the political vanguard, albeit an eccentrically dressed one. (It would be unkind to observe in passing that the Scottish Nationalists and their Green coalition partners seem to be more circular firing squad than circular economy these days.)
Sometimes the circling back gets a little extreme: Vinted is an incredible source of replacements for items I regret offloading on eBay or to charity a few years ago — at a fraction of the original price. Deranged? Well, perhaps. But campaigners would surely be delighted with my attempt to squeeze a few more wears out of these items rather than buying new. And at least you know that when my response to a compliment is “what, this old thing?”, it’s not self-deprecation.
Miranda Green is the FT’s deputy opinion editor. Jo Ellison is away
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