Sunday, 8 November 2009

More Sustainable Fashion, by M.O.


First things first - congratulations Clare for winning some Covert Candy credits! There were two comments to the post, and generated the winning numer 2:

Random Integer Generator
Here are your random numbers:
Timestamp: 2009-11-08 15:37:19 UTC

Any occasion is good to plug Clare's fantastic blog and shop, Pretty Green (though I will blog more about the stuff she makes in a few weeks, talking about Christmas gifts).

I already wrote about charity shops, freecycle, and other ways of swapping or buying second hand clothes in the last post. One place I forgot to mention is Bang Bang Exchange: two way cool shops that buy and sell "secondhand vintage, designer and high street clothing that is in good condition and seasonally appropriate". They say they are "choosy and prefer the quirky over the conservative or basic", which I'll confirm - that's a place where your old clothes may get rejected (some of mine did). If you bring some real good stuff, they offer you cash (30% of selling price), or exchange (50% of selling price), but either way what you get in return is an amazing, and let me stress this - AMAZING stock of second hand, ranging from very affordable high street/miscellaneous items all the way to strange and great and wonderful designer or ancient pieces. It's well worth a-visit-and-a-browse every so often. One branch is right by UCL at Goodge Street, the other in Soho.

Sustainable Fashion Part 2 - Street Markets
Brilliant places for finding second hand gold. You just gotta know where you're going and get there early. Avoid the stands that look too clean and organized: don't be afraid to plow through the piles and piles of stuff often lying right on the ground. Talk to the sellers, they're usually interesting people. You can try your luck in bargaining. Exciting, right? All you need is a little patience, and a little luck.

In London, there are some obvious street market destinations, but actual second hand stuff is either hard to find in places like Brick Lane or Portobello (if only because of active customer crowds), or it's way expensive (and only sometimes worth the exorbitant price). In any place, well-known or underground, my advice is to divert from the main street(s) and look around. There's always some activity, clandestine or not, on the outskirts.

My absolute six-star favourite in London is Deptford Market. The Wikipedia page doesn't even say it sells clothes. The market is filled with people's real actual junk, so it may not be everyone's cup of tea, but to the persistent and the determined - I implore you to go. It's far as hell and it doesn't make much sense to go after 1pm, but it's well worth an early morning on a weekend. Take a fast train from London Bridge and explore - I can't remember the exact location of the best part, but it's not big, so just look carefully. It's great for all manners of things, not just clothes: I bought my (fully functional and unused) Polaroid camera there for £5, a big bunch of records including Beach Boys and Simon and Garfunkel for £10, and some very over the top ridiculous earrings there. Just don't be discouraged by the lack of order and glamour, search through the piles, and you should be rewarded.

Talking to the sellers is also a great thing to do. It's one thing if they're just nice people, but another if they can also recommend you stuff (of their own or someone else's), tell you stories about the things they sell, maybe when they're getting more items, maybe even where they get them from. Obviously not every seller will be keen to do that, but usually if you're nice and inquisitive, they will be nice and informative in return. With bargaining: I always give it a try, but at the same time try and be as polite as possible. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. In some places figures go down closer to closing time. It's crucial to assess whether a particular item is really worth its price - try to weigh it against the period it's from and the condition it's in. If it's dirty, I'd say it doesn't matter that much - you'll wash it anyway, but if it has holes that will be trouble and not trashbin chic, either try to pay less for it or leave it. The fantastic thing about street markets is that they are fluid - nothing stays the same, so every time you come back, there'll be different stuff around. So if something catches your eye but you're not sure - leave it. You might find ten things with a better proportion of cool and cheap round the corner, or next time.

Price of course is completely relative, as 50 quid might be a bargain for an original piece from a couple of decades ago. Though personally, I like to challenge myself to find cheaper rather than more expensive things. It's not difficult to pay a lot of money for cool shit. It's a real hunt to go after hidden gems that cost you next to nothing. The pride! The raised eyebrows! The spent-yet-saved cash! That's why I dig the junk and pile appeal more than the tidy racks.

If the weather sucks or getting up early is too much process, the closest there is to a wonderful and exciting street market online is Etsy. In short, Etsy is AWESOME. That's not a very journalistic expression, but in all honesty, it's true. It hosts zillions and zillions of shops selling handmade goods, vintage items at least 20 years old, and supplies. What more can you want? And like on a street market, it all comes from real people, and in most cases it also goes by an important sustainable principle: it's been handmade by them, too. You could argue that's hardly second hand, but loads and loads of Etsy sellers upcycle (or reuse) stuff. Like on any market, there's a lot of shit to look through, but it's a nice place to spend your time. There is not enough space in one blogpost to praise it; I will definitely blog more about the handmade aspect of it soon. Meanwhile check out what Etsy say about themselves in a video.

Diverting slightly from the topic of markets: there's a more radical way of finding clothes: exactly that - finding them. This obviously involves a lot of luck, but miracles do happen. Clothes often lie around near trashbins or straight in the street. Most will probably not be that great, but take my word that impossibly, unbelievably good stuff can also be simply found. One person's trash is another's treasure, and some people prefer to chuck out their shit rather than take it to the recycling centre, which creates these magical instances when you can just find clothes for free. Have a look at FoundClothing, a website documenting these fantastic occurrences (sadly based across the ocean, but useful if you ever go on holidays to Chicago and want to know which intersections to take into account when planning itineraries for walks). From my very limited experience, the rich and poor of Paris often use the street for their unwanted stuff, and you really get the full spectrum. Earlier this autumn I rescued a handsome cropped sweater from a pile near Belleville station that was clearly very, very dirty, and possibly had also been pissed on (that's a disgusting reality of street finds, that's why they should go into separate plastic bags and then straight into the washing machine), and two days later, late at night in Montmartre, my friend and I found a neat, freshly washed and pressed stack of Diesel jeans, topped with a black 100% cashmere sweater dress. A cashmere sweater dress! I'm not trying to inspire jealousy, rather faith - this shit is real and possible. It's just not easy, and can be unrewarding despite efforts. Luck, knowledge, and community information exchange should be starting points. If you thought this was interesting, read more about freeganism or dumpster diving.

Lastly, and not much in connection to any of the above, I found a super interesting and awesome project: The Uniform Project. It's Sheena Matheiken pledging to wear one dress every day for a year, and still making the outfit exciting with accessories and things. She calls it "an exercise in sustainable fashion", and likens the variations of the same outfit base to wearing a school uniform and still striving to express some individuality. I think it can be very inspirational in more than one way to look at the impressive archives of outfits she's already worn. You can also donate accessories for her to wear, or donate money: The Uniform Project is also "a year-long fundraiser for the Akanksha Foundation, a grassroots movement that is revolutionizing education in India". I'm thinking impressive, creative, charitable, sustainable.

I've no prizes this time, but post your favourite street markets or directions to clothes piles in the comments! And invariably, keep it Modo people ;)

[I took most photos at my local Mercat Del Encants. The rest are from The Uniform Project, or Google Images. The found clothing image is from Perfectly Good via FoundClothing.]


  1. As well as Etsy, check out Folksy ( and MISI ( both similar to Etsy but more homegrown UK handmade crafter talent to support with your pennies :)

  2. nice one; thank you for some more local recs!