fashion

Giant savings and an income stream: What I learnt buying everything second-hand for 15 years.

Pretty much everything I've bought over the past 15 years is second hand. There. I said it. 

But why should I feel embarrassed? I choose the much (so much) more sustainable option and save a whole lot of money too. Go me.

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The thing is, I do know why I feel shy coming out as a second-hand shopper. 

Sadly, there’s a lingering stigma.

If I was maybe 25, then perhaps I’d be able to find my tribe. But as a Gen X-er the view is most commonly: “Oh, I wouldn’t ever buy second-hand.” 

If you too are of the view that it isn’t good enough for you, then give me a few minutes.

Second-hand doesn’t mean 'cheap'.

I remember heading to the shops as a young teenager with a generous $20 in my purse and spending all day weighing up my options, because $20 was a lot of money and warranted due gravitas. 

After considerable deliberation and some hard conversations with myself, I bought a very on-trend vinyl belt from Esprit. 

Nowadays, the cost of the cheapest new clothes is scary cheap, as cheap as second-hand. $20 will buy you a whole outfit at Kmart and, if you’re particularly thrifty, you could even get shoes. 

So it’s not really true that you buy second-hand because you can’t afford new. 

…of course exxy clothes are still more affordable the second time around.

It certainly is true though that you might buy second-hand because you have other uses for your money, and it’s a truth universally acknowledged that pricey items are always much cheaper second-hand. 

Unless Kate Middleton (and it would seem Kate alone) wore an identical piece once. 

Include a money shot of Kate wearing that Reiss dress, or whatever, and a magical aura is duly conferred to render said item worth more second-hand than it ever was new. 

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You need to move past your germ-phobia.

The other criticism I’ve heard against buying second-hand, is that it’s somehow dirty. 

I get it, I do, but let’s shine a light on this view. You buy something second-hand and you wash it thoroughly. Now it’s not dirty anymore. Right? 

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I know, I know, it’s the idea of someone else wearing it rather than any lingering remnants of that person, but this is a nicety it’s worth overcoming in the name of dramatically reducing the 27kg of new textiles Australians consume per capita each year, incurring all the attendant environmental costs of the production of those textiles, along with minimising the purported 23kg the average Australian contributes annually to landfill in textile waste.  

Go Australia!

Buying second-hand is a buyers’ market.

It may be true that Zoomers are embracing a pre-loved life, but dedicated on and offline thrifters must still be a rarity because buying second-hand remains so damn cheap and the range of choice is enormous. 

You can find almost everything on one of the platforms. 

Speaking of platforms, there are quite a few new ones emerging as sustainability becomes more mainstream. 

eBay is always a good place to start as the scope of the merch is colossal and global if you want it to be. eBay looks after its buyers too (somewhat at the expense if its sellers, IMO), so you can be fairly confident you’re not going to be fleeced and, in the unlikely event that you need help, eBay, most times, has your back. 

Also, because I’m not dead yet, I like Depop which has cool stuff. 

No, there’s nothing grim about buying second-hand. Au contraire, it’s very moreish finding just what you want and the savings make it positively delightful.  

Selling is the other side of the coin.

When you buy second-hand you rarely have the option to return that pair of high-rise flares that just aren’t working on your body. 

Or, your relationship with your blingy caftan may have run its course. This is where you get selling. Just like marketing anything really, this is a true art form. 

There are lots of options to sell on items on the internet and, unsurprisingly, you pay more commission the more you outsource. 

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Yes, it’s a buyers’ market in the second-hand space but, people, the stuff I’ve sold!

I’m here to tell you, you can still sell almost everything if you charge the right price and make yourself easy to deal with. 

On the one hand, being able to recoup most of your outlay for a second-hand item by on-selling it, is a form of insurance against buyer’s remorse, but selling’s a lot more work than buying, so knowing you may have to find a “good home” for each purchase at a future date does make you think twice before buying. 

It’s a great way to support small business. Some of the smallest around.

Should I be supporting small retail businesses instead? A second-hand eBay shop is exactly that. 

Running a small eBay business out of your home is one of the most accessible ways to generate an income, be it a side-hustle or the main game. 

You don’t need to speak fluent English, you can scale it up and down according to your appetite, and it’s completely home based so it’s compatible with raising small children. 

Did I mention the financial rationale? 

The savings I have made over 15 years are huge, in the tens of thousands, as I’ve furnished a house, kitted out a couple of babies, clad the family and generally equipped our lives.

This is not just money saved but money available for investment. I could use it to pay down my mortgage or invest it in the stock market. 

If I had invested a fraction of my savings, say $1000, each year for the past 15 years in an Australian shares exchange traded fund and reinvested my dividends, that $15,000 would be worth nearly $31,000 today. 

Despite the GFC; despite the market downturn in 2018; and COVID notwithstanding. And that would have required pretty much no work or oversight from me whatsoever. 

But mostly, it’s for the environment.

The financial benefits of buying pre-loved are too significant not to mention, but they are still just a very nice additional benefit. 

For me, the overarching motivation is environmental. Orsola de Castro, founder of Fashion Revolution, says in the introduction to her excellent book Loved Clothes Last, “Of the supposed 53 million tonnes of textiles produced globally every year, 75 per cent are discarded, both in the production phase and at the post-consumer level.” 

That’s pretty bad, isn’t it?

So come on. Give second-hand a go.

Feature Image: Canva.

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