There’s joy and connection when you search for secondhand fashion treasures

May 15, 2024 | News

Aja Barber, stylist and designer, says that creativity and fun are integral to the secondhand and ethical treasure hunt. She says that rethinking the relationship we have with clothing can be a “gateway” to exploring environmental and socio-political challenges.


Preloved clothing is on the rise as a result of the cost-of-living squeeze and an increase in eco-consciousness. Secondhand sales are now expected to reach 10% of global sales. eBay has also just eliminated fees for sellers of preloved clothing.

In our Second Nature Series, we explore this growing trend. We also meet the pioneers of preloved who are helping it become mainstream. Preloved is no longer the moth-eaten, austere item of yesteryear. It’s now stylish, expressive, and fun.

Aja Barber, a writer and stylist who is also a consultant, has become one of fashion’s leading voices in the field of sustainability. Her work explores racism, colonialism, feminism and colonialism, as well as privilege, wealth inequality. She is an American-born author who now lives in London. Her book Consumed: the Need for Collective Change explores privilege, wealth inequality, racism, feminism and colonialism.


Aja Barber


Aja Barber is a firm believer that a good secondhand purchase is worth the wait. Aja Barber knew that a good secondhand find is worth the wait.


Barber says that the pattern of gradated wavelets slinking across a royal-blue background is “really trippy and special” – a collectors item for sure.


As she grew, the author kept her secondhand clothing purchases a secret. Now she is a proud advocate. She says, “I have no choice but to buy secondhand designer clothing.” “I spend less money than I used to [when I bought fast fashion] now because I don’t feel the need to consume constantly. Once I find that thing I’ve been searching for, I am really happy. The thrill of the hunt brings so much joy and connection. .”


Barber’s entire wardrobe is now aligned with ethical values. She styles her secondhand finds using pieces from independent ethical brands like The Emperor’s Old Clothes who custom made a dress for her (pictured above) out of secondhand floral print Marimekko fabric. Barber’s fashion philosophy is based on collaboration and a strong community.


Barber chose NorBlack NorWhite, an Indian brand, to support designers from the global south. The brand is a beloved check dress, also pictured below. “That’s how we can shift power back to those who live where most of our clothes are made,” Barber says.

Barber loves her bright check dress from Indian brand NorBlack NorWhite


Barber encourages those who follow her on Instagram and Patreon to build their wardrobes with the most vulnerable people and underrepresented people of the fashion supply chain in mind. She notes that “consumerism keeps us pacified, and prevents us from thinking deeply” about these systems. “Ultra-fast consumerism gets us in the mindset that we need to buy five new clothes to participate in each microtrend.” It’s a distracting factor.”


She was distracted by the constant flow of new, cheap clothing, and her own awakening occurred on a walk in a mall following a volunteer shift at a charity shop when she was in her 20s. “It was eye-opening to see the sheer amount of things that people were trying to sell. “I looked at everything inside this mall and thought, ‘This is going to be someone else’s problem someday’,” she says.


Barber does not buy secondhand items unless she has to. She says that buying pre-loved clothes shouldn’t be an excuse to buy and throw away as much as you want. It should be part of a wholesale mental shift. She writes on Instagram that “one of the most important parts of not buying fashion fast for me is to make sure every aspect of my life is beautiful.” “The clothing that I own is of such high quality that I am not tempted to buy more things I don’t want. If it’s no longer useful to me, I return it to the ecosystem so that it can serve someone else .”


I don’t buy fast fashion because I want to make sure that every aspect of my life is beautiful.


Barber believes that the joy and creativity of ethical and secondhand shopping can be a gateway into issues related to the fashion industry such as social and environmental justice. It’s an easy way to make a difference. “When we consider the problems that plague our planet, such as the climate crisis, a lot of it is difficult,” she says.

“But changing our style isn’t.” You can help people to do great things by giving them the tools they need to feel excited about their clothes and their style. You start with your clothes and before you know, you are composting and telling everyone you can about it .”


Aja Barber photographed by Will Sanders for Positive News


The facts

  • 30 %


    eBay UK has seen a 30% increase in pre-loved clothing listings year on year

  • $ bn


    According to US marketplace Thredup, the secondhand clothing market in the US is expected to grow three times faster than other markets, to $177bn (PS138bn), by 2027.

  • 82 %


    Vestiaire Collective’s research shows that 82% of the items sold on its resale website replace a new purchase.



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