Slow Fashion: Is Buying Second-Hand The Key to Clothing Bargains?

In the fast-paced world of whirlwind fashion and constantly changing clothing trends, it’s tough to keep an up-to-date wardrobe. Slow fashion could be a solution on many fronts, but how many consumers buy or sell second-hand?

Shot of clothing hanging on a rack in an empty boutique
(Image credit: Getty Images)

It’s tempting to take part in fast fashion and near-constant clothing purchases, especially given the influence of social media and celebrities. However, it can be overwhelming to try and keep up, not to mention the negative impact of fast fashion on the environment. Switching to slow fashion and giving clothes a second life can not only save you money long-term but is far more eco-friendly. And who says it can’t be fashionable, too? 

So, how many consumers buy or sell second-hand? Is slow fashion popular enough? And what reasons do shoppers have for switching to buying pre-loved items? To find out, we surveyed 2,000 UK consumers, asking how they engage with slow fashion and why. We’ve also looked at the evolution of the sale value of secondhand goods in Britain and included our top DIY tips on how to upcycle your clothing. Keep reading to find out!

How many people are choosing slow fashion?

According to our survey, three in 10 (30%) UK shoppers buy clothes second-hand.[1] (Quite a significant amount!) A further 14% of consumers choose to engage with slow fashion by searching for sustainably made clothes to buy.

The increased demand has led to plenty of available secondhand clothing, with 29% of survey respondents stating they sell unwanted items on second-hand sites or online marketplaces. More impressively, just under two-thirds (62%) simply give away their unwanted items to charity shops.

Upcycling clothes isn’t as popular, with only 12% of respondents doing so. Perhaps because it can seem like a daunting project! (Don’t worry, we have tips on how to upcycle further down.) 

Around a fifth (22%) of respondents claim not to do any of the above, but this means there’s still room for slow fashion to grow in popularity.

Men vs women: How do their slow fashion habits compare?

It doesn’t come as a surprise to see that women engage with slow fashion habits more than men. While 41% of women buy clothes pre-owned, just a fifth (19%) of men claim to do the same. Similarly, when it comes to selling unwanted items on second-hand shop websites or online marketplaces, more than a third (37%) of women participate, compared to just 21% of men.

As for keeping the greater good in mind, women also take the lead, with 18% of female respondents searching for and buying clothes that are made sustainably, compared to just a tenth (10%) of men. Although half (51%) of men do give unwanted items to charity shops, it’s a staggering 72% of women who do the same. It’s no surprise charity shops are always full of female clothing!

As for upcycling clothes, women are slightly more confident than men. 16% of female respondents admit to giving it a shot, compared to just 8% of men.

Why are people buying second-hand?

With societal pressure to consume, and influencers constantly promoting fast fashion retailers, you might wonder, why are people choosing to buy pre-loved? 

Cost was the main motivator for more than a third (36%) of those who buy second-hand. They say it allows them to buy items for less and makes them more likely to find a bargain.

For 19%, the choice simply comes down to wanting to help the environment, as buying pre-owned goods is a lot more eco-friendly. In a similarly altruistic nature, 15% choose second-hand to help support charities by using their shops.

A tenth (10%) of respondents claim that their main reason for buying pre-owned clothing is to try and avoid fast fashion companies where possible, with the same amount being fueled by a desire to find unique items.

A small 5% choose second-hand clothing because they like to shop with and support local businesses, with another 5% stating they do so for other reasons.

Is second-hand shopping becoming more popular?

Yes! Second-hand shopping is growing in popularity. In fact,  the retail sales index for second-hand goods has been steadily increasing over the last decade in the UK.[2]

In 2013, the retail index for second-hand goods was at an average value of 76.9. Almost a decade later, in 2022, the same value is at a much higher 111.1! The value has been increasing year after year, dropping only during the years 2015 and 2020.

These figures suggest that more and more consumers are wanting to buy and sell pre-loved items. Increasing second-hand sales could also help break the stigma around buying pre-owned goods, further allowing the slow fashion market to flourish.

How to upcycle clothing: Our DIY tips for a brand-new wardrobe

Fashion upcycling and DIY clothing are two of the most cost-effective ways to engage with slow fashion. 

But…what is upcycling? 

Put simply, upcycling means using discarded items and materials and transforming them into something new and usable. Essentially, it’s taking old clothes, giving them a bit of a DIY makeover, and enjoying them as a new fashionable wardrobe upgrade! 

The next question is…how do you upcycle? 

There is no ‘right’ way to upcycle. Work with what you have, keep it simple, and be creative! 

Here are some of our top tips:

Use beginner-friendly guides: The internet is full of DIY guides on how to upcycle clothes. These can provide you with plenty of ideas and inspiration, and sometimes they’ll even come with step-by-step instructions! YouTube videos and social media can also be great sources of tips and tricks for your upcycling journey.

Start with easier clothes: Some clothing items are easier to upcycle than others. Start simple and work your way to more difficult garments so you can grow your confidence and develop the necessary skills. We recommend you begin with an old T-shirt, a pair of jeans, dresses, shorts, or even button-down shirts.

Change an item’s shape with scissors: If you want a no-sewing solution to your upcycling project, why not try changing the item’s shape through a few cuts? For example, you could turn an old t-shirt into a fashionable new crop top, or a pair of ragged jeans into cute denim shorts. 

New colour, new life: Sometimes a splash of colour is all it takes to give your clothes a fresh look and a second life. You can easily use fabric dye to change an item’s appearance, just remember that it’s easier to switch to a darker colour rather than a lighter one! You could also draw on art with bleach, for an extra personal touch.

Add embellishments: You can merge two items into one, or add some embellishment details to your clothing through the application of lace, embroidery, or an appliqué. And if you don’t want to brave the sewing, you could always get some iron-on patches!

If you want to learn more about how to update your wardrobe in a sustainable and budget-friendly way, check out our upcycling clothing guide

 

About this data:

[1] To collect the data used in this report, we ran a YouGov Survey of 2,000 UK adults on 7 October 2023. Respondents were selected at random across several demographics. All statistics were sourced from this survey unless otherwise stated.

[2] The value of second-hand goods sales was sourced from ONS Retail Sales Index time series (DRSI) data. The statistics show the retail value of second-hand goods in stores annually in Great Britain, from 2013 to 2022, as an average business index score. 

Sarah-Jane Outten
Editor

Hi, I’m SJ. I’m an editor and content executive here at MyVoucherCodes. I started my journey here as a deals expert which gave me the skills to become a money-saving expert. You can find my tips and recommendations in various publications including The Sun, The Mirror, and The Telegraph.

I gained a degree in English Literature and Creative Writing in 2018, and I’ve put my writing skills into many projects since then. My portfolio at sarahjaneoutten.com includes my work with Cardiff Times, Buzz Magazine and more. 

I write poetry and short stories for pleasure and enjoy getting creative with watercolours and lino printing. I hope that I can merge my love of writing and art into a children's book in the future - watch this space!