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The opportunities in second hand sparkle

 (ES Composte)
(ES Composte)

I hosted an awards do last the weekend, wearing a second-hand dress and, far from being considered an out-of-date cheapskate, I was bang on trend. Finally, even big brands are seeing value in ‘vintage’, but it’s been a long time coming.

I’ve always been a fan of thrift stores and charity shops, a hobby born of a childhood spent delving deep in jumble sales with pennies earned in the church choir and honed as a student, trying to carve out a look on a limited budget.

To be completely honest, I still find charity shops strangely compelling. But, even just a few years ago, anything but this season’s togs were still viewed with disdain in fashionable circles.

I remember a cocktail party at which I played down a compliment on another designer frock I was wearing by revealing it was from a charity shop. The hostess turned to welcome the next guest with the words “Well, your dress definitely isn’t second-hand is it? You look marvellous.” A perfect put down for my hand-me-down outfit.

As I dished out the gongs in my £50 Alexander McQueen number though, it was clear I was on a bandwagon the celebrity world has now leapt onto. Reality stars are wearing second-hand bikinis on prime-time TV and with Zara, Marks and Spencer, John Lewis and even the king of fast fashion - Primark offering pre-loved initiatives, the recycled fashion glitter ball is really starting to spin.

The social and economic forces propelling it seem fairly obvious. The collision of looming environmental catastrophe and a cost-of-living crisis that is already upon us makes repurposed clothing a no-brainer. High street fashion brands, already disrupted to the brink of extinction, have no option but to jump on board.

Kudos should go to ‘Queen of Shops’ Mary Portas who, by giving British Heart Foundation stores a vintage makeover more than a decade ago, helped propel second-hand into the mainstream. The Primrose Hill branch, staffed by marvellous volunteers, was where I spotted my McQueen number (please don’t all rush at once). Now, eBay is going back to its roots, by pushing second-hand purchases over new in its Black Friday promotions, this year.

Let’s not let the trend stop with fashion, as it could help us turn the tide on the disastrous wave of plastic waste washing up on shores. Just as scratched, ‘mid-century’ furniture is now whipped out of the skip quicker than you can say Parker Knoll - we need to start attaching value to the plastic toys of previous decades that still clutter up lofts up and down the country.

We have a Fisher-Price campervan that has survived two generations of children and is now being dusted down, ready for a third. Such hunks of plastic have brought so much joy on rainy afternoons but would be lucky to command a few pounds on a charity shop shelf. Discarded they will linger in landfill for centuries, along with mountains of other ‘fast-toy’ detritus

We have quickly adjusted to a tax on throwaway bags, but still baulk at a tax on hard plastic, worried that it could add to the cost-of-living crisis afflicting families and concerned about the drag it could have on retailers’ growth prospects.

But if companies can turn pre-loved garments into sought after fashion items once again, toy retailers can surely unlock a new revenue stream, in the must-have gifts of yesterday. Society needs to re-attach value to the stuff tucked away in cupboards, where manufacturing energy is stored and wasted through lack of use.

There will be moans that a levy on new tat could amount to a tax on fun, but there’s not much joy in seeing plastic waste blocking our waterways and COP 27 warnings that the planet is sounding a distress signal.

Christmas morning could be every bit as joyous if pre-loved toy treats are lovingly wrapped up instead. We just need to persuade the army of You Tube stars to start revealing Hasbro or Disney classics in their ludicrously popular unboxing videos.