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Motivation for Buying Secondhand Clothes: Ethics & Politics

Posted by Emma Waight Oxfam Fashion blogger

9th Aug 2013

Shop festival fashion

Last month I introduced Guiot and Roux's 8-point motivational scale for second-hand shoppers. The pair conducted an academic study surveying second-hand shoppers with the aim of finding out why people choose to buy things second-hand. Cost came out top but saving money isn't the only motivation, as all you diehard charity shop lovers will agree I'm sure. If you just wanted cheap clothes you would probably go to the supermarket or nearest value retailer so this month I'm looking at another, perhaps growing reason, for why people choose to buy second-hand clothing - ethics and politics.

As you can see ethics and politics covers points 3 and 4 on the list below:

  1. Search for fair price
  2. Gratificative role of price
  3. Distance from the system
  4. Ethics and ecology
  5. Originality
  6. Nostalgic pleasure
  7. Treasure hunting
  8. Social contact

(Source: Guiot, D. and Roux, D., 2010. A Second-hand Shoppers' Motivation Scale: Antecedents, Consequences, and Implications for Retailers. Journal of Retailing, 86(4), pp. 355-371)

Shoppers are becoming increasingly aware of the impact of consumption and whilst shopping is fun and shopping for certain items is certainly necessary, excessive consumption can be damaging for people and the planet. Last month I looked at the desire to save money and grab a bargain, but perhaps some of these other reasons also motivate you to buy second-hand clothes?

Avoid corporations

Tax dodging scandals and stories about big businesses making huge profits at the expense of others has made some of us disgruntled shoppers. We're also living in an era where high streets up and down the country look pretty much identical and indies struggle to keep a presence amongst the chain stores who can offer discounted prices to shoppers and pay bigger rents. As a charity shopper you might still be buying high street brands, but by buying them second-hand none of your money is going to the big business.

Give money to charity

Rather than giving your cash to big businesses, as above, second-hand shoppers are motivated by the fact that they are giving money to a good cause. It's win-win!


People who are concerned about the environment will often try to reuse and recycle as much as possible. Buying second-hand clothes makes use of perfectly good items which might otherwise go to landfill and avoids the need to use virgin resources to make something new. Happy shopper, happy planet!

Social ethics

Many people are aware of sweatshop labour and unfair working conditions placed on garment workers overseas but buying fair trade or ethically made clothing might not always be a financially viable option. By buying second-hand, shoppers can still avoid buying directly from retailers by making use of clothes that have already been bought and worn by someone else.

Next month I'll look at the final main reason for why some of us buy second-hand clothes; that it's just more fun!

Blog post written by Emma Waight

Oxfam Fashion blogger

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Emma Waight