Solving the Packaging Problem for Unique Gifts

christmas-presents

Could 2015 be a second-hand Christmas? There’s certainly been a flurry of activity around second-hand shopping this year. TRAID ran their #Secondhandfirst Week in November inspiring people to buy, swap and wear second-hand clothing. I joined in on Twitter and Instagram, posting pictures of my favourite second-hand pieces including a vintage Chelsea Girl tea dress, Florida thrift shop frock and bargain charity shop Christmas top. As well as lots of Instagram activity, events were held across London and the UK, and we were all encouraged to pledge to source more of our wardrobe second-hand.

There’s also the second-hand Christmas campaign by Truly Gifting’s founder and MD Tiia Sammallahti. I had a chat with Tiia last week to find out more about her new venture into sustainable gifting. ‘Truly Gifting’ are, quite literally, selling the second-hand ethos. What started as an MBA business plan has quickly been put into action by Tiia and her passionate team as they produce packaging and labelling to make second-hand gifting a viable gift giving option. I’ve written about the etiquette of giving second-hand/used/vintage gifts before. For my PhD research I interviewed mothers about their habits for buying second-hand childrens’ clothes, toys and equipment and it came up that some would give second-hand items as gifts to other people’s children but only if they looked nearly-new (or new) and/or they knew the parents well. There was an etiquette of gifting second-hand.

trulygifting selectionboxes
necklacebox

For many adults gifting second-hand items is a no-go. This is different of course to regifting presents, which three-quarters of people find acceptable. Yet there is a rise in environmentally conscious consumers and voluntary simplifiers who don’t want to buy into the commercialisation of Christmas. For them, a carefully selected second-hand book, necklace or retro wall clock is a thoughtful gift and a way of asserting their beliefs. As a long-standing study on gifting suggests, ‘We give, receive and reject gifts strategically, thereby symbolically predicating identity’ Sherry et al. (1983:159).

The team at Truly Gifting recognised the need to make second-hand gifts more socially acceptable if we are to move towards a more sustainable future. They have created a range of packaging items that make it easier for us to gift second-hand pieces that would normally be devoid of labels and bubble wrap. A range of boxes, made themselves from recycled and responsibly sourced paper, offer a neat way for us second-hand shoppers to gift something unique. They are also great if you make your own gifts and need a way to present your handmade creations. Furthermore, the boxes come with little message cards describing the Truly Gifting ethos – ‘we extend the lifespan of products and reduce the burden on the planet’.

Take a look at trulygifting.co.uk

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“Dead White Man’s Clothes”

Did you see the ‘Secret Life of Your Clothes’ last night? The BBC2 This World documentary followed the fate of your charity shop donations, showing that most of your old clothes don’t end up on the rails of your local Oxfam at all, but thousands of miles away in Africa. This has never been something charities wanted to admit but it is a massive business. It’s also something I had mixed feelings about – charity shop prices aren’t that cheap anymore, they always seem to be begging for donations, and to think that they have all this surplus that they are shipping out to the poorest countries of the world not in aid but to sell to them (the bales are always tightly packed and wrapped so it’s pot luck what traders end up buying).

In the programme Ade Adepitan follows the trail to Ghana, the biggest importer of our castoffs. One million pounds’ worth of our old clothes arrive here every week. Ade meets the people who making a living from our old castoffs, from wholesalers and markets traders to the importers raking in a staggering £25,000 a day. They call them ‘dead white man’s clothes’. The documentary really did show a story of two-halves. On the one hand, people are building businesses selling second-hand clothes (the size of the markets were astonishing) and trade is booming; but on the other hand, local traditional textile businesses are struggling to compete on the low prices of second-hand fast fashion. The second-hand clothes are simply much cheaper, and not only that but many young Ghanaians want to wear Western clothing. It shows that they ‘know what’s out there’.

I think we’ve actually become used to seeing Africans wear Western clothing, haven’t we? Where did we think they came from? At one point Ade visits a professional factory that have specialised in uniforms and exporting garments to the US. The factory manager describes how Africa has become a dumping ground for stuff – ‘when will it end?’ she says. I understand her frustrations but it’s hard to deny that the second-hand economy is thriving and these are clothes that still have plenty of life left in them. Yes we should be consuming more sustainably in the West but part of me is pleased that these clothes can be loved and used after we’ve discarded them.

Ade makes the point that these clothes go full circle – from being manufactured by some of the poorest people in the world they come back to some of the poorest people in the world, via a few months in our UK wardrobes. In Ghana it’s so difficult for their own factories to stay afloat they have to specialise (funeral wear was the example they gave) and/or export. In the UK we import African-produced products via fair trade groups and Western-based social enterprises/businesses who sell their wears to the middle-class ethics conscious consumer looking to divert from the fast fashion mainstream. These networks of trade are astonishing, clothing perhaps more than any other product really do link the world together within this evitable thing we call globalisation.

You can catch up with the show here.
If you are interested in the academic debates on this topic I recommend the work of Dr Andrew Brooks.

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Bored of Shopping? Christmas and Stuff

johnlewischristmas

Having now studied shopping for a few years, I think I’m finally well and truly bored of it – the act that is, not the research. It’s something that I’ve particularly noticed this year, as I wander round shops alone or with friends, my thought process is entirely different to how it was pre-PhD.

Although I’ve had an interest in ethical fashion for at least five years, ever since my undergraduate dissertation, it’s only in the last two years that I would say my shopping practices have radically changed. When I first started blogging about ethical fashion, I was still shopping quite a lot, buying the odd bit of fair trade fashion to supplement my normal clothing. It’s only in the last two years where I’ve delved deeper into the theory of consumption, the links to material culture and identity, the reasons behind why we shop, that I’ve been able to step back and look at my consumption decisions more subjectively. And it has taken the fun out of shopping.

I was lucky enough to win some John Lewis vouchers so I did much of my Christmas shopping there. It was a Thursday evening two weeks before Christmas, I had a list and wanted to get in and out pretty quickly. Back home, I put the shopping bags down in my living room, sat on the sofa and literally just stared at them for a while. I was trying to remember the last time I’d bought so much stuff. I’d also bought a couple of things for myself – new shoes and a duvet set from M&S. I felt like I had to make the most of being in a shopping mood and buy myself something whilst I had the chance.

Clothing wise, I don’t think I’ve bought anything more than a couple of t-shirts from ‘normal’ shops for myself this year. Oh, wait, I remember buying a dress from Monsoon! But I like Monsoon. I bought a couple of things online from People Tree, a couple of second-hand pieces on eBay, and a lot from charity shops. I’ve done really well with charity shops. The funny thing is I used to spend hundreds of pounds a year on clothes and this year without even trying, I clearly haven’t. I tried to buy myself a new dress for the Christmas parties but as I wandered the shops I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Everything I liked was £150+ and I’d rather spend that money on doing something fun (or a bread maker – perhaps it’s an age thing!), not on something I’ll only wear a few times if I’m lucky. The cheaper dresses, I just didn’t like them/don’t trust where they came from. All those sequins, how did they get there?

Every time I spot a new skirt I like in the shops, I just remember that in a couple of weeks’ time it will just be another skirt in my wardrobe. And in a couple of years’ time it will be just another skirt in the pile to go to the charity shop. I think about where it’s been made, where my money’s going and what I could spend that money on instead. I think about the branding and whether I want to give that company the satisfaction of buying into their brand. Essentially, I think far too much.

In conflict with this, I think shops are amazing places. So much goes on in the space of a shopping centre. Friendships are solidified or stretched, we learn a lot from our surroundings, we interact with others, we create or break down our desired image and display our identities through where we shop and what we buy. It’s because I know all this that part of the fun is taken away, but it doesn’t mean I’m exempt. Give me the choice of a Cath Kidston tablecloth or a floral one from Sainsbury’s and I’ll take the Kidston. I don’t even mind spending more money on it because whilst there are many clubs I don’t wish to belong to, the middle-class, British homely club is one I’ll happily be part of. So maybe, I’m not some kind of eco-warrior but actually just a snob?? I actually own no more than a keyring by Cath Kidston, but I’m just saying – if I had the choice.

I still like stuff; I just don’t like unnecessary consumption. This year my first port of call for shopping has been second-hand – this goes for anything from an on-trend tartan skirt (wool Aquascutum found in Winchester charity shop) to a glass chopping board (found in Horsham charity shop). It’s a politicised form of shopping, allowing me to meet my material needs without adding to my carbon footprint or to the profits of corporate companies who think they know me. It draws on cultural capital as much as financial capital – it’s alternative consumption, about being ‘in the know’. Christmas has been a good time to reflect on this, I still enjoy being given stuff and I enjoy giving gifts in return. I find material culture fascinating and I think I’ll be studying it for many years to come, although if I can’t quite put my finger on my own motivations I don’t know what hope I have of tracing other people’s.

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Twenties Night at the Candlelight Club: My free outfit

The Candlelight Club host 1920s nights across London – a “clandestine pop-up cocktail bar in a secret London venue, a stunning, tucked-away den with a 1920s speakeasy flavour, completely lit by candles.”

I went to their Christmas extravaganza last night, it was beautiful. It was in a wood panelled ballroom near Paddington; there was jazz music, Charleston dancing and amazing Christmas-themed cocktails. Of course, a 1920s night called for a 1920s outfit and half the fun of the night came from people watching. It amazed me just how many different and beautiful outfits there were. My own outfit was very cheap and chic, in fact most of it didn’t cost me anything. I had looked around the high street but the only dresses I liked were super expensive (this one by Ted Baker was quite nice), plus it seemed a shame to buy something new when I knew I could find the real deal in a vintage shop. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the time or money either to find a great vintage dress but with a little bit of thought I put together an outfit which didn’t cost me a penny (apart from the shoes which I wanted to buy anyway).

twenties

I wore a Zara dress borrowed from a friend who had bought it herself from a charity shop for a similar 1920s themed party. I teamed it with a necklace that I picked up from the last University of Southampton Swap Shop and a bag I already owned. Around my head I tied a piece of ribbon/trim that came in a bag of textile knick-knacks bought from an antique shop in Brighton. The gloves were borrowed on the night. I wondered how other guests had pulled their outfits together. I know one of my friends had found a dress in a charity shop, another had bought one new. Charity shops are the perfect starting point for themed nights like this – they are treasure troves of random pieces. And don’t forget to ask around and borrow from friends too, just be prepared to repay the favour!

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Oxfam Posts: Three Key Reasons for Second-Hand Shopping

Clothes rail

For my last three blog posts for Oxfam Fashion I looked at why we might choose to buy second-hand clothes and accessories. Reasons and motives are more complex than you might first think and vary depending on an individual’s priorities and circumstances. I used an academic study as my basis and fed in elements of my own research (I should write a PhD update at some point). I then pulled the reasons into three key points:

Buying clothes second-hand (with a focus of charity shopping):
Saves money
Is more ethical/sustainable
Is fun!

If you want to read more about these reasons click on the links above to the respective posts. I’m always keen to hear about why people choose to buy things second-hand and what you buy, so let me know by leaving a comment or tweeting me @EmsWaight

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Oxfam Posts: Three Key Reasons for Second-Hand Shopping

Clothes rail

For my last three blog posts for Oxfam Fashion I looked at why we might choose to buy second-hand clothes and accessories. Reasons and motives are more complex than you might first think and vary depending on an individual’s priorities and circumstances. I used an academic study as my basis and fed in elements of my own research (I should write a PhD update at some point). I then pulled the reasons into three key points:

Buying clothes second-hand (with a focus of charity shopping):
Saves money
Is more ethical/sustainable
Is fun!

If you want to read more about these reasons click on the links above to the respective posts. I’m always keen to hear about why people choose to buy things second-hand and what you buy, so let me know by leaving a comment or tweeting me @EmsWaight

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