For many of us, the recession represented an opportunity to think over our shopping behaviours, with more people turning to vintage shopping and DIY solutions. 

It used to be that we would buy, discard and buy more. Now we tend to buy, reuse and reuse more. Since the economic downturn hit the country, more Brits have found themselves visiting second-hand shops, with two-thirds of UK consumers purchasing previously owned items.

According to recent market research, despite the economy struggling, the second-hand retail business has grown by 1.6 per cent every year since 2009, as people have become smarter and more resourceful in the way they shop.

Mix vintage with current trends

An estimated £140 million worth of used clothing – the equivalent to 350,000 tonnes – goes to landfill in the UK every year, and it is estimated that up to 95 per cent of the textiles that are land-filled could instead be recycled.

Second-hand shops like Beyond Retro adopt the latter approach. A leading vintage brand with shops in the UK and Sweden, Beyond Retro stocks vintage clothing from every era of the 20th century. An item of clothing is considered vintage if it dates back from 1920 to 1960; anything after this date is classified as retro.

Christophe Ruiz is the Head Visual Merchandiser at the brand’s store in Dalston. Christophe noticed people still want to buy new things, but with the recession happening they had no choice but turn to second-hand shopping. He added: “The high street offers a wide range of styles and prices, but vintage is such a different area of fashion.” Christophe explains that ‘vintage’ does not necessary mean ‘used’: “They can be items that didn’t sell back in the 60s but, of course, it could also be your grandfather’s shirt.”

What is interesting about vintage fashion is that one can adapt it to new trends. At Beyond Retro’s they “look at what happens on the catwalk and in the street, so say we take a party dress from the 1950s and we mix it with what is current”.

“Especially in cities like London, people have a taste for being unique and the good thing about vintage is that you can buy unique pieces for affordable prices”, Christophe added.

Give old clothes a second chance

The average lifetime of a garment today is about three years. But when buying from second-hand shops, charities or vintage markets, people are not only shopping for less money but they are usually getting better value for it too, as old garments are generally better produced.

Judy Berger is the director and founder of Judy’s Affordable Vintage Fair, the UK’s largest vintage fashion fair, as well as the brain behind the Vintage Kilo Sale, which offers a revolutionary way of shopping retro clothing by paying by the weight of the clothes.

Judy is a huge vintage enthusiast, who values the long-lost concept of good-quality clothing: “I love how each item has a story, it has stood the test of time and is too valuable to be thrown away. Shopping vintage means you’re getting something that was good quality in its time, it was well produced and valued – If I could give an item of clothing a second chance I would.”

To own a garment that has lasted 30 years or more is indeed testament to how well-made it was. But besides the price and quality factors, more people have turned to second-hand shopping because there is no stigma anymore. “It’s been flipped upside down and vintage is now the cool way to shop and dress”, Judy concluded.

Upcycling: junk turned into treasure

Another way of going about saving money is restyling and twisting old garments to create new ones or, in other words, upcycling. Upcycling means recycling textiles by using unwanted factory surpluses, offcuts or materials that would otherwise be discarded.

Traditionally, the fashion industry has a reputation for being a world of waste and decadence, but it looks like designers have now become more conscious in the way they source their fabrics. British designer Christopher Raeburn, for instance, produces garments using de-commissioned military stock.

Of course upcycling needs to be done well, so one would need the right dose of creativity and the correct sewing skills to do the garment justice. Jade Biggs used to take upcycling classes back in high school and enjoys doing some wardrobe surgery from time to time. Jade said: “I upcycle my clothes because it’s a cost efficient way of keeping up with the trends.”

“Last summer I really wanted a pair of distressed-looking shorts, but couldn’t find any I liked. Instead of wasting money on shop-bought shorts that I wasn’t totally in love with, I took a pair of my old jeans and cut the legs off. I added effects myself by using sandpaper to distress the fabric and scissors to rip holes. I ended up with a pair of shorts I loved, and that cost me nothing.”

The UK yarn army grows by 12 per cent every year

If you feel like staying on the cheap whilst learning something new and making friends, then knitting classes may be your thing. According to the UK Hand Knitting Association, there are 7.2 million knitters in the UK, with a 12 per cent upsurge in people joining the craft year on year.

“How to knit” reached number 5 in Google’s Top 10 “How-to” Searches of 2013, with a 70 per cent increase in searches for “knitting and crocheting” over the past year. I Knit is an independent wool shop in Waterloo, which organises free knitting nights every week.

Gerard Allt, who co-founded the activity, said: “Knitting groups are a really important way of sharing with, and learning from, other people. Not everyone socialises by drinking in pubs or eating in restaurants, so it’s important to offer alternative ways to socialize.”

“The knitting groups are free to attend and it’s a great way to make new friends and spend time knitting outside the comfort of your own home.”

The knitters’ fever has already hit a whole population of celebrities from Scarlett Johansson to Kate Moss, Madonna and even Ryan Gosling – so it looks like knitting will soon be the new black.


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