Vintage and Pre-loved – The Faces of Sustainable Fashion

Vintage and Pre-loved – The Faces of Sustainable Fashion

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Have you ever stared at that overly stocked closet of yours wondering, if you love them enough? How much do you love your clothes? Is it measurable? What price are you willing to pay for it? Well, if you can’t seem to figure it out, here’s a little story.

You see it, you buy it. You wear it over and over again – at a party, a date, a family evening and what not, until, something else catches your eye. You do the same with every outfit and the cycle goes on. These clothes lay hung in your closet, until, one day you feel the need to get rid of it – for whatever reasons – size issues, wear and tear, or out of boredom. Those that once bought with so much love, are either passed on to a sibling or are dumped in the dump.

A report revealed that the fashion industry consumed 79 billion cubic meters of water — enough to fill 32 million Olympic-size swimming pools. That figure is expected to increase by 50% by 2030. It is true that fashion revolves around trends but is the industry focusing on the need to radically alter the consumption patterns that are essential to ensure the survival of the planet? Do we need to produce more? Can’t we circulate all that is created among ourselves? Will it not aid the environmental crisis?

With millennials and the Z-generation becoming conscious consumers and sustainable fashion proponents, the global fashion industry is trying hard to create a more environmentally conscious fashion landscape and design a sustainable retail economy. It taps on production, re-use, and recycling of the products.

Giving rise to what we call ‘pre-loved and vintage fashion.’

Are these buzzwords new? Or, did they just make a comeback. Similar in their meanings, both the expressions are differentiated by a thin line. You open your wardrobe and find the shirt you haven’t worn in years. But it’s going to keep hanging in your wardrobe because either it is in good condition or you have memories you can’t let go. That moment you choose to swap your old outfit with someone’s old outfit so that someone’s old becomes your new– that’s the concept of “Pre-loved Fashion”. Whereas, “Vintage” is a colloquialism commonly used to refer to all old styles of clothing, jewellery or an artefact. If you see an item that’s 20 to 100 years old and if it clearly reflects the styles and trends of the era it represents, it is considered vintage.

The trend for “vintage” clothing as fashion exploded in the 1960s when clothing defined the class differences. The ethos of “make-do-and-mend” allowed the lower classes to position the wearing of old clothing as thrifty and, during wartime, patriotic. On the other hand, the practice of wearing old clothing passed on through generations, became known as “vintage,” moving from the market place to the upper market boutique catering to the elite.

Fast forward to today, there’s nothing more modern than wearing pre-loved clothes. An avid supporter of pre-loved fashion since 2009, Labdhi Shah, Artist and Art Therapist, started practicing swapping on the New Year’s Eve as part of her new year resolution to live as a minimalist. Having travelled to multiple cities in India and abroad for studies and career, Labdhi shared her first swapping experience at Ciceroni’s Pre-loved Garage Sale “I have attended clothes- swap many times in Ahmedabad and continue to do so every six months. Thanks to Renu Pokharna and Supriya Gupta for hosting the swap where it all finally started for me. I have been glad to have good female friends who believe in the same phenomenon, and exchanging clothes with them is not merely for fashion or having different wardrobe. I love swap because of the stories my girlfriends have lived and cherished. It’s our way of sharing and being close.”

With fashion finally waking up to the environmental damages it has caused, shopping ‘pre-loved’ is seen as a well-versed and a smart buy. By buying responsibly, you are reducing the carbon footprint in the environment. But above all, it’s embracing the old with heart-holding stories that come along. As we become more conscious about what we wear and how, it is no surprise that pre-loved fashion is on the rise. Once reserved for those who had the patience to scout around at Mumbai’s fashion street or Delhi’s Sarojini Market or flea markets and vintage shops, shopping pre-loved has officially made its mark in the mainstream fashion market with stores like Depop and Insta-thrift stores.

According to a report by the world’s largest resale platform – Thred Up, the online resale market is set to grow by an astonishing 69 percent by 2021, while the traditional retail sector is expected to decline by 15 percent. Putting down her thoughts on the steady growth of the pre-loved/ vintage market in India, Divya Saini, Founder – Bodements, which is known to be India’s largest vintage store that stocks unique, exclusive, handpicked styles from all over the world, shared “The culture of vintage in India is growing at a very fast pace. There is a radical and inevitable change taking place in the fashion industry. Vintage clothing is the most sustainable option that exists. What can be more ecological than reusing and not creating more garments that will eventually end up in landfills. It’s the best option we have right now. Here’s a fact: there are enough existing clothes on the surface of this earth to supply global demand for at least two decades and that’s a conservative estimate. The millennial and gen Z consumers are being more aware about the pressing issues that affect the world around them. Of course, there is an entire mass that is still unaware of the concept but we are here to educate them. We encourage our customers to buy less. As a shop that preaches conscious consumption, we want our customers to commit to their clothes as the good friends they are!”

If you were closely observing the fashion market during the pandemic, with walk-ins to retail outlets coming to a standstill, you would have realized how the pandemic accelerated the thrift/ vintage shopping process with the influx of brands like Confidential Couture, Refash, Carol’s Shop and Tea Room, Aima Vintage, The Zoo Boutique and many more that have made browsing for pre-loved and vintage fashion easier than ever. More and more millennials shoppers have shifted to vintage and thrift shopping, making it evident as to how careful they are with resources. Sujala Newar, Founder and Creative Director at The Local Vintage elaborated on the pandemic’s influence on the consumer buying patterns stating “Instagram has helped in bridging the gap between the sellers and the buyers. People were already moving towards more sustainable ways to consume fashion before the pandemic. But when the pandemic hit and the ugly truth of human rights violations and environmental distresses caused by fast fashion houses came to light, it played a big role in shifting that consumer behaviour.” Adding her thoughts to Sujala’s comment, Anu Menon, an avid vintage shopper from New Delhi, enunciated “I have always scouted for dainty vintage staples that look feminine, elegant and Victorian. And, following the #thriftindia helped me come across some of the best vintage online stores in the country. I personally feel that thrifting allows you to wear clothing from a different time. You may be searching for a summer dress, but it could be a jacket that catches your attention.” She believes that if you can avoid looking like clones and save the planet, then it’s a win-win!

Jewellery lasts, and with time, only becomes more valuable. Much like the luxury vintage fashion, luxury vintage jewellery as also seen an exponential growth. Increasingly we value the sustainability status of vintage pieces. We want to avoid plastic, unnecessary seasonal purchases in favour of something that’s been created to last. A pre-loved jewel provides the solution. It answers sustainability queries, lasts a lifetime. Indeed, these jewels might well have gone through several lifecycles before you discover them which adds to their fantasy story. In addition, there’s usually only one, and wearing something unique sends a strong message about your individuality and character. Jewellery has always been viewed as an essential accessory by the great fashion houses who produced costume design which are well made and collectible.

Mehek Agarwal, Co-Founder Viange Vintage, has been accumulating from Chanel and Dior to Givenchy, Balenciaga, Valentino, Tiffany and Co., Lanvin, Celine, Escada, Swarovski, Fendi, Karl Lagerfeld, Yves Saint Laurent, Butler & Wilson, Monet, heirlooms since 2011. The Viange Vintage Jewellery collection beguiles with stunning finds from the glittering world of costume jewellery over the last decades. Recalling her experience right from creating awareness of the word Vintage among the audience to self-curating each piece of statement jewellery, she shared “We had a hard time explaining the Indian consumers the how and why of vintage. For them it was a notion that if its second hand why is it so expensive. Slowly with the boom in internet, consumers became more aware. Each piece is a collectible. Owning a piece of Chanel is every girl’s dream. Few of the pieces in our collections are given to us by models who walked for these luxury brands, which makes them more romanticized.” Giving us a peek into the best in her collection, she said “From dainty pearls by Fendi to chunky stackable neckpieces by YSL and classic Chanel jewellery, we have had our customers placing orders well in advance. They are a slice of fashion history”

From Hollywood celebrities like Amal Clooney and Julia Roberts giving luxury designer vintage staples a shoutout at red carpet events to celebrities like Deepika Padukone and Alia Bhatt sharing their personal closet, it’s fair to believe that circular ethical fashion is the key to sustainable living. Also, if you want a dress or a piece of jewellery that’s actually unique and classic —one that you won’t see “coming and going” on the street—then vintage, thrift, and upcycled are your best shopping options.

Aishwarya Menon

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