We live in a society that encourages us to express ourselves through our clothing with a focus on individualism. And it’s true: the way we dress defines us. What we often forget, though, is that the fashion choices we make can have a huge impact that reaches far beyond our own lives. These daily choices we make matter—for better or worse.

The term ‘fast fashion’ refers to rapid turn-over and unethical production methods currently used by huge clothing manufacturers such as H&M, Forever XXI, Topshop, and Zara, just to name a tiny handful. Whereas the fashion industry used to release two seasons per year (Spring/Summer and Fall/Winter), large companies now produce 52 micro-seasons per year—Topshop alone releases 400 new items online per week. These companies have manipulated the fashion industry to such an extent that it now operates on ever-increasing exploitation and disposability in the pursuit of profit—from the use of ecologically harmful pesticides and chemicals in material production, to the massive amount of unsold textiles which are shredded and tossed into landfills, to exploitative working conditions leading to frequent abuse, disfigurement, and death for garment workers in China, India, Vietnam, and other developing countries.

Fast fashion manufacturers have made billions by keeping the reality of production conditions hidden from their consumers, but there are some excellent exposés emerging about this aspect of our world. If you’d like to learn more about fast fashion and how you can make changes in your life, check out the documentary The True Cost on Netflix or the book Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion by Elizabeth L. Cline.

 

Most days I'm wearing an entirely secondhand outfit! (both necklaces purchased from artisans over ten years ago; blazer from Forvever XXI, passed on from a friend; band shirt, passed on from a friend; vintage slip, passed on from a friend)Most days, everything I’m wearing is second-hand and that makes me feel even better in my outfit! (blazer, band shirt, and slip passed on from friends; necklaces bought from artisans; rings gifted or family heirlooms)

 

Lucky for us, there are tons of easy options for avoiding fast-fashion and reducing your effect on global waste-production and exploitative labour. By buying secondhand or from local artisans, thrifting, trading, and swapping, you can find unique and durable pieces that will last you a lifetime instead of a week! I haven’t bought “new” clothes in years and I haven’t missed it one bit. Some of my favourite ways of keeping my closet interesting are to have clothing swap parties with my friends twice per year (donate the unclaimed pieces to your local women’s shelter or queer/trans clothes-share), and to sell my clothes to Kind Exchange for store credit. And of course, I love ‘the hunt’ of sifting through thrift outlets for that perfect vintage find (Goodwill/Renaissance is my fave, for reasons Mick explains below.) And while I doubt I’ll ever be a ‘true minimalist’, researching minimalism and capsule wardrobes has been a great way to learn about reducing overall consumption and loving what I do own.

But enough from me! I’ve recruited three uniquely fashionable Montrealers to give you some fashion inspiration and shopping tips. They prove that you can be uniquely stylish and put-together while shopping second hand.

 

Rhiannon Collett is a playwright, performer, and Artistic Director at Gender Rubble RhiannonCollett.com @dangerbun_

Rhiannon1Blue Sweater: I bought this at Value Village in Port Coquitlam at the advice of my father. Polka Dot Skirt: I’ve been wearing this skirt for years. I thrifted it from the Salvation Army probably in 2013.

 

What is your personal style and what draws you to second-hand fashion?

I like bright colours and pastels. I wear a lot of blue and purple, a lot of dresses and knee socks and tights. In the winter, I tend to really drop the ball and just wear the same thing day after day to keep warm. I feel like my online presence is really fashionable, but that in real life I’m probably just naked or wearing an old sweater. One thing I’ve discovered this year is a real love of lingerie – my body has always seemed like a distraction for me from what’s actually going on (aka, my writing career), but I’ve been trying more and more to lean in to the idea of being comfortable in my own skin and not much else. A lot of the time when I’m writing I’ll actually put on lingerie as a power move against my own internalized misogyny. Trying to practice my craft and love my body at the same time.

I’ve always worn second hand clothing. I find it lasts better and is much more suited to my price range than anything I can find in a normal retail store. I also have a hard time finding dresses and shirts that fit my chest in normal retail, but my body type is surprisingly adaptable to whatever I might find at Value Village.

What is your favourite way to find new clothes? Do you shop often, for fun, or more practically, only when you need something in particular?

I’m a fan of queer clothing swaps (especially considering the amazingly stylish femmes who live in Montreal). I also like to go to Value Village with my mom in Vancouver. I very rarely shop for specifics, I tend to just show up and see what finds me. This is probably why I have so many dresses.

 

Rhiannon2Purple Coat: given to me by my friend Diana in exchange for my knowledge on how to set up a dark room. They didn’t end up setting up the dark room (due to chemical danger) but left me with the coat. Eddie Bauer Jeans: I got these at a vintage store in a basement on Spadina last fall when I was visiting Toronto. They’re my favourite jeans – they fit perfectly. Boots: I swapped these with my younger sister (for what, I’m not sure, but I know I got the sweeter end of the deal.) Choker: I traded with a local Montreal graffiti artist for this choker a couple of weeks ago. I’m pretty sure it’s locally made. Bodysuit: the bodysuit is Kayleigh Peddie – she’s an amazing Montreal designer who I modeled for awhile back (in return for lingerie.) Lace shrug: I got this from Annex Vintage on Bernard where you can trade in your old clothes for store credit. They have great selection.

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What challenges, if any, have you faced in wearing second-hand clothes, especially if you wear them exclusively?

I hate shopping for pants, and especially have a hard time finding thrifted pants that fit. But I also just hate pants so maybe I’m not trying that hard.

Can you let us in on some of your best thrifting tips?

I think people who thrift frequently find the best stuff. You just have to show up. I don’t do that as much in Montreal, but my family and I always go thrifting when I’m in Vancouver. Montreal is a great city for vintage clothing, but most of my purchases are made on impulse at whatever second hand store I happen to be at. The Value Village by Pie IX is really good – lots of high quality stuff because of all the development in the neighbourhood.

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Henrika Larochelle is the author of BBHMM (Winner of Best Zine at Expozine 2015), http://melaninmelaninme lanin.tumblr.com/, @notorious_b.a.e

Henrika1This paisley shirt is polyester, which is very low maintenance. I love the print. On top I have a 100% silk blouse that’s made in India. I don’t wear it that often, but for me it’s a statement piece. I like the iridescent orange undertone. The pants have a pattern of their own. They’re great because the waist is elastic and doesn’t bother me at all. They’re probably my favourite item in my wardrobe, a staple piece. Everything I’m wearing has been thrifted from Renaissance. Even though these are not what you would think to wear in winter, they have lots of room underneath for layers without feeling too constricted. One of my biggest fashion idols is Solange – obviously I don’t have the same budget as her, but when I shop I ask myself if Solange would put that outfit together. I like mixing shapes and patterns, and I’m not afraid to be bold with my choices. I have tons of costume jewelry that I don’t often wear. This necklace I got while I was in San Pedro de Atacama, in Chile. I have yet to wear it out, it makes such a statement – I feel as though I am waiting for the right special occasion to rock it.

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What is your personal style and what draws you to second-hand fashion?

I grew up in a place where people never thrifted and the only time people went to Sally Ann was if you were poor or if you were buying a Halloween costume. People either made fun of the shoppers or the clothes they were buying. No one took it seriously. When I moved to Montreal, I met a girl who I really admired who asked me to hang out. I was very excited because I didn’t know anyone, and she took me to Renaissance. From that first visit, I hauled back so much stuff and barely broke the bank. I felt like I had been missing out all my life by only shopping retail. So I cultivated more of a fashion sense as I was also fashioning a new identity in Montreal. I became very androgynous. I sported a mohawk. I used to dress like Jersey Shore. It cost a lot, and I was working paycheque to paycheque just to afford the latest thing. So now my personal style is: comfort. It. has. to. be. comfortable. I have to be able to wear layers. I am a huge proponent of wearing pyjamas under clothing. Drawstrings, elastic waists – that’s all me. I also love thrifting because it’s a huge rush when you find that perfect piece. It feels so good when you get it for cheap.

What is your favourite way to find new clothes? Do you shop often, for fun, or more practically, only when you need something in particular?

I’m addicted. I used to go to Renaissance every week. I was obsessed. Things were so cheap, I could spend $20 and come home with four shirts, a sweater, a pair of pants, and a dress. Now I go more seasonally, buying things for the weather. When I was younger and single I definitely shopped more. My favourite way to find new clothes is Renaissance. Bunz is a second favourite. Then clothing swaps. My mom’s closet sometimes. I still wear a skirt that’s my mom’s. Right now I shop more practically because I live in a dollhouse with my partner, and we share a closet and a dresser. When I was single I had bins upon bins of hats, belts, shoes, purses…I collected things. 

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Henrika2

The shirt is thrifted from Citizen Vintage. I like that the stripes are three different colours. The pants I got from my neighbour’s garage sale for $5, which I thought was a steal. They’re high-waisted which is good for my figure. The geometric pattern is what first drew me to them. It’s hard to dress cute in winter, because you need to be practical – but if you leave room for layers what’s on top can still look good. The scarf, again thrifted from Renaissance, I payed $3. I rarely wear headscarves, because it makes me feel more visible, but at the same time, I feel regal and Haitian – what I’m trying to say is that my mom hates when I wear headscarves, because in Haiti it’s the “workers,” “the help” who wear headscarves. But as a black person I need to wear headscarves to protect my hair, and that’s something white people don’t understand. They think it’s a style when I’m just trying to protect my hair, but because of that it becomes a style. I feel like people get uncomfortable because they think it’s like “big hair,” it’s too “in the way,” it’s too inconvenient or something. I love wearing a headscarf because it’s like a “fuck you” because I don’t care if you’re uncomfortable.

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What challenges, if any, have you faced in wearing second-hand clothes, especially if you wear them exclusively?

They fall apart more quickly, because they’ve been worn for who knows how long. Sometimes you love a piece, then after you take it home it has complicated washing instructions that I’ll never follow because I always wash on cold and just hang dry. It’s very hard to find size 9 shoes. Usually it’s great, though. I’m a Renaissance Privilege Member, so I get notified when they have 50% off days. One downside is that more and more people like me are thrifting, and the stores near to where I live are picked through. But it makes it fun, too, to strategize: I go in the mornings, or make trips to more distant locations, or go on Tuesdays when they restock their stuff.

Can you let us in on some of your best thrifting tips?

Go when you have lots of time. Go alone, so no one can get bored and drag you away. Make sure your phone is charged and put your headphones in. Go in the morning. Go with a strategy: am I looking for something in particular? Section by section? Start at the back and move towards the register. Bring snacks. Bring a Walkman to test the tapes. 

 

Mick Hennessy is a writer, Montrealer, and Concordia BA student in Creative Writing & Interdisciplinary Studies in Sexuality @minklawn

DSC_0158Plaid pants from Fripe-Prix Renaissance;  wolf tee, Local 23; A. Jodoin et Fils (la Prairie, QC) karakul wool vest from Salvation Army.

 

What is your personal style and what draws you to second-hand fashion?

I think thrifting was the first activity I ever did alone, outside of the family home. In grade 9, I had to change schools, to one that was far away from my parents’ house and I had to take a city bus to get there. I kept seeing the Value Village on Taschereau Blvd and thinking, I’ve got to go there (I grew up in hand-me-downs but my mom never shopped secondhand). And so I would occasionally leave school at the end of the day, get on the bus, and get off halfway home to go thrifting. Then I would get back on the bus and go home. It was affordable to shop with whatever money I made babysitting as a 15-year-old, and it was literally a space between my school and family home where I could be myself and make choices for myself without any outside interference. Along with writing, I think the self-determination I discovered there made my social outcast-ness feel worthwhile. I was a loser, but then I became a loser with tricks. Secrets. My own way of doing something. It was a defining activity. Now I still prefer to go thrifting alone — and when I visit a new city or town, it’s at the top of my list. I’m always like, ok where’s the thrift store?

This has turned me into a weird and unlikely hybrid: broke unemployed student + fussy textiles connoisseur. I’m a textile brat. I’ve acquired a taste for fancy wool, silk, linen… Imagine trying to get garments of the same quality at a boutique or department store? And fur, sure I’ll wear fur, if it’s second hand. Once I get my hands on something I love, I keep it for a really long time. It’s not disposable. It has a history.

And I’ll say all of that before I start to talk about any political or social motivations, because that all came after. I didn’t think about the environment or factories thousands of miles away when I perused the racks at Value Village as a teen. Now, I think about how my buying habits impact the lives of others and the environment.

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DSC_0175Black suede baseball cap from Local 23; vintage wool sweater made in the UK, Fripe-Prix Renaissance; COS wool pants, Empire Exchange; black leather boots lined with shearling, Fripe-Prix Renaissance; North Face bomber jacket I borrowed from a friend who subsequently left the country (woops), angora scarf I found in a free bin.

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What is your favourite way to find new clothes? Do you shop often, for fun, or more practically, only when you need something in particular?

Often. It’s meditative. I do it when I’m stressed out, overwhelmed. I mostly go to Fripe-Prix Renaissance. 100% of Renaissance’s revenue is reinvested in local job training programs for new immigrants to Quebec and others trying to integrate into the workforce. If I’m looking for a specific thing, I might go to Village des Valeurs or Salvation Army but I try to avoid those places most of the time. Though their websites boast philanthropic mandates, VDV/Value Village/Savers is definitely a for-profit company, and The Salvation Army has a history of anti-LGBT policies and practices (related to the fact that it is actually a Christian church).

A few years ago I worked at a vintage shop. I discovered the wonders of buy/sell/trade. I usually don’t shop at those places — they can be sort of pricey — unless I have store credit. Usually I bring stuff to trade for credit once a season. 

What challenges, if any, have you faced in wearing second-hand clothes, especially if you wear them exclusively?

I think any challenges I face regarding acquiring or maintaining secondhand clothes are related to my being choosy or fickle. If it gets really cold before I can pick a warm winter coat, it’s because I’m being fussy. As an able-bodied, normative sized person I think I face fewer challenges than a lot of people doing this hustle. 

Can you let us in on some of your best thrifting tips?

If this is an ethical thing for you, do some research about the thrift stores you shop at—where is your money going? Who do they employ? How do they treat their workers? Where do they get the merchandise? And most importantly, consider that the ethical shopper is a myth—I’m wary of making claims that I’ve somehow untangled myself from “fast fashion”. Big clothing manufacturers usurp economies and make communities dependent on them. If these companies were to suddenly disappear, the immediate consequences for workers and their families would be dire. So I think we need to consider the bigger picture, and shift the conversation toward empowering workers through social justice work around labour rights, women’s rights, and economic justice. I don’t think a person can really use their privilege to eliminate the effects of their consumerism (sounds like more “out of sight, out of mind” to me) but I do think it’s possible to change these effects.

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Monthly Challenge

After reading all of Rhiannon, Henrika, and Mick’s amazing tips, see if you can stop shopping fast fashion for one month! Try cleaning-out your wardrobe, getting it down to a collection of pieces that you really love and wear; using the KonMari method is a great place to start on this journey. Organize a clothing swap with your friends to shop in each others’ closets, and/or take your clothes to your local sell/trade boutique for some cash or store credit. If you really need a certain piece for a special occasion and can’t find it in a secondhand store, try searching Craigslist or Kijiji, posting on Bunz or your local trading group, or asking friends if you can borrow a piece for a certain occasion rather than buying it new.

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Jessica Bebenek is a poet & non-fiction writer, visual artist, and intersectional feminist activist currently based in Montreal. She is pursuing her MA in Creative Writing & English at Concordia University where she teaches and works as a coordinator at the Centre for Expanded Poetics. You can find info on her publications and performances on her website. She takes selfies and disturbs shit on Instagram as @notyrmuse.

 

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This post was written by Jessica Bebenek

3 Comments

  • Hello there! I know this is kinda off topic however I’d figured I’d ask. Would you be interested in exchanging links or maybe guest writing a blog post or vice-versa? My site discusses a lot of the same topics as yours and I think we could greatly benefit from each other. If you happen to be interested feel free to shoot me an email. I look forward to hearing from you! Fantastic blog by the way!

  • Hello! This is my first visit to your blog! We are a collection of volunteers and starting a new project in a community in the same niche. Your blog provided us beneficial information to work on. You have done a marvellous job!

    • Jessica Bebenek says:

      That’s wonderful! So happy to hear that there are people out there learning, writing, and spreading the message!
      – Jess

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