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Something Old, Something New

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In #SecondhandSeptember, diversify your shopping habits  …

Hands up anyone who conducted a lockdown clear-out of their wardrobe and vowed, from this godforsaken year onwards, to shop more sensibly and sustainably? To invest in one quality piece you really love over five not-quite-right impulse buys? To be more realistic about what you wear in your real life, as opposed to the one in your head? Yep, me too – and by and large, I’ve stuck to it. (Not going into a shop for four months helped.)

Vintage shop Noble Daughters on Portobello Road, London

It’s not just the enforced reset of the pandemic: the fashion industry has been examining its conscience for some time now, as consumers look to change their buying habits and everyone from small labels to high street behemoths become more answerable on sustainability. This movement towards a more ethical approach to fashion is the impetus behind Second Hand September, an initiative launched by Oxfam at the weekend and pioneered by stylist Bay Garnett. The simple idea is that for one month, people pledge to buy only second-hand clothes, thereby reducing the environmental impact of an endless cycle of mass production and mass disposal of unwanted garments. Garnett, an influential figure in UK fashion, has long been a champion of “thrifting” – famously, the banana-print top she found in a New York flea market inspired an entire Chloé collection in 2001 – and has always mixed her finds with contemporary pieces. For this year’s campaign, the second, she has teamed up with Selfridges to launch a pop-up shop on the legendary store’s designer floor (opening next Monday 7 September – expect socially distanced stampedes), selling only second-hand pieces, personally selected by Garnett from Oxfam’s warehouses, at charity-shop prices. Were that not buzz enough, the campaign is fronted by Michaela Coel, creator and star of this summer’s second-most-talked-about TV show, I May Destroy You.

Michaela Coel photographed by Tom Craig

For all its laudable aims and serious intent, the SHS initiative also has the happy side effect of encouraging shoppers to venture beyond their usual haunts – something we’ve all grown used to in recent months. My lockdown fashion fix was scrolling through the Instagram feed of Noble Daughters, an online vintage retailer based on London’s Portobello Road, to see what gems had come online and that I might wear if I ever left my house again. Founded by Edel Kelly, a Cavan native with a brilliant eye, Noble Daughters stocks an eclectic mix of pieces from exquisite 1930s embroidered gowns to more everyday-suited silk blouses and print dresses from the 1970s and 1980s. After moving to London to study fashion, Kelly ended up selling vintage clothing at a local antiques store, eventually going out on her own to set up Noble Daughters earlier this year. “In the beginning, the inspiration was mainly a huge passion for beautiful design and vintage clothing. And perhaps what I saw as a slight gap in the market at the time, for wearable vintage which could easily slip into women’s wardrobes and work alongside contemporary pieces.”

Edel Kelly

Until Covid changed everything, Kelly sourced much of her stock on buying trips to France, Belgium and Hungary, but has found that markets and fairs around the UK have more than filled the gap. Her best find this year was a “a vintage silk Saint Laurent ruffle blouse in immaculate condition”, and she does around two stock drops a month, with 15-20 pieces in each. Prices start from around £40stg for a top or skirt from a more recent era, and she ships internationally (and thanks to family and friends, already has “a solid little customer base in Ireland”). Kelly is also her own best advertisement, dressing almost exclusively in vintage with occasional basics from M&S and second-hand designer pieces from ebay and Vestiaire to fill gaps in her wardrobe. Her advice to newcomers looking for that perfect pre-loved piece? “If you don’t like the less glamorous side of the vintage hunt (the very early mornings at markets, often sifting through mounds of clothes in the rain!) then trawl through Instagram and Etsy to browse sellers who have more curated selections.”

Partly thanks to people like Kelly doing all the hard work, I’m excited about Second Hand September, but I’m also looking forward to shopping for a new pair of boots come October. As with all things, it’s about balance. Shops and designers need our support more than ever, but if there’s a way of squaring our conscience with consumption – and finding some lovely original pieces along the way – then why not take it?

For Noble Daughters, visit www.nobledaughters.com; Instagram @nobledaughters; to sign up for Second Hand September, visit oxfamireland.org/second-hand-september.

Main featured image: Bay Garnett photographed by Tom Craig

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