Full disclosure: This is not going to be a debate. I love consignment stores. I always have and I always will. At first, I loved them because it meant buying designer items I couldn't afford retail. Then I loved them because it meant I could rehome my carefully loved pieces and pocket some cash. Now I love them on a deeper level. Consignment represents extending the life of an item and giving it a second chance. It means that we're doing better for the environment. It means we're harming fewer animals and it means that we're taking pride in our possessions. I love the thrill of finding a blazer that someone wore for years just as much as I love discovering a dress that sat ignored in someone's closet with the tags still on. I love that in 2019, #sustainablefashion is a hashtag with over 3 million posts attached to it.
Backstory time: When I was a kid, I had a favourite outfit. It was grey stirrup leggings and a white cotton/jersey shirt that was cut to look like a blouse, with a lace collar. I loved that outfit so much and I wore it every chance I got. In fact, the only reasons I ever changed into a different outfit were laundry and guilt. I felt genuinely bad for the other clothes in my closet. I wasn't rolling in outfit choices at 8 years old and what I did have was hung up neatly in a tiny closet that I would peer into every morning before I got dressed. If my favourite outfit was available, I would reach for it. Then I would apologize to my other clothes, promising them that they would get their time with me soon. Clearly, I've always had a strange attachment to my clothes, so it's no surprise that when I discovered my first consignment store a few years later, I was hooked.
As an adult consumer with a decent budget, I have rarely deviated from the path of "buy smart". I love nice things, yes, but I have rules. If something is trendy and I can't resist, I buy it on sale and make sure the quality is up there so I can resell it, or I buy it secondhand. I can probably count on one hand the number of times something I purchased full price has been marked down before the end of the season. When you're vegan you never buy anything without thinking of its origin, but I also never make purchases without considering the afterlife of the item. To me, they are of (almost) equal importance.
So it goes without saying that I have a hard time buying fast fashion. I want quality, and I know that just because something is vegan, that doesn't make it good for the environment. In fact, it's often the exact opposite. The irony is that so many of these high street stores sell vegan products because leather is expensive and the alternatives are cheap. Their concern is with their bottom line, not animal welfare. If you want to go down that rabbit hole, I wrote a blog post about balancing veganism and sustainability a while back. I made the decision to stop purchasing pre-owned leather, but I don't feel that buying a wool jumper or a silk shirt secondhand is going to damage the animal rights movement. Does that make me a hypocrite? I have no idea, but it's where I'm at right now.
Wearing a Chloe blouse from Turnabout Consignment in Vancouver, Canada.
If you're wondering why I will no longer purchase second-hand leather, it's because I want to raise awareness about leather alternatives as often as possible. When someone says "I love your shoes" and I reply, "Thanks, they're Gucci", I'm doing nothing to help the cause. When I tell someone about a vegan brand and they can't believe how cool and modern it looks, or how "real" the material feels, I know that I'm making a positive impact. If I'm discussing a shirt with someone who’s interested, I have found that they will be much more drawn to the item being second-hand than they are to the type of fabric (vegan or not). Simply put, it makes me more relatable. With society just beginning to make the connection between what they're consuming and where it comes from, I don't feel that a lecture on silkworms or mulesing is the best way to pique a person's interest. If someone is genuinely curious, the conversation will gravitate towards veganism naturally and that curiosity is what inspires change.
My point (finally, I know) is that transforming your wardrobe into a cruelty-free and vegan masterpiece is not going to happen overnight. I started by selling my favourite leather jacket and then moved onto my bags and small leather goods, slowly replacing them with items I believed were just as good, if not better. I'm still working on my shoes, and I know I will be for quite some time. Whether you've just started your journey or you're further along than I am, consignment stores are a fantastic tool that can help guide you and keep you stylish along the way.