How and why to shop thrift and consignment stores

Hunting tips

You can always alter!

  • Don’t guess size or fit. Always try on items. Then hem, repair, resole, etc.

Choose natural, sustainable fibres

  • Avoid synthetics. Prioritize items made from wool, organic cotton and bamboo, silk, hemp, linen, etc.

Look for well-made garments

  • Used or new, check seams, elastics, etc. Choose brands built to last decades and outlive trends.

Choose local

  • “Made in Canada” (or nearby) is one way to ethically source.

Go often

  • New items arrive all the time.

Shop end of season

  • Already affordable items will be discounted, e.g., buy winter mitts for next year in the spring.

Go for kids, too!

  • Find a kids’ consignment store and put the money you save into an education fund. Buy for next year when you see a good deal, then store it (silica gel packs can help).

Treat/hide stains

  • Found a smudged something you can’t pass up? Think you ruined a favourite piece? Try an eco-friendly stain remover. Or consider dyeing the piece, or covering the spot/tear with a patch, button or embroidery. Maybe a good washing will help (don’t dry clean — wet clean)!

Wash before you wear

  • Many thrift and consignment stores have new items with tags still on! Always wash new clothes to reduce your exposure to formaldehyde. Wash used items to remove synthetic fragrances and some chemical treatments (you may need to air them outdoors or soak in baking soda and water, too).

Search for special occasions

  • Check out consignment stores specializing in formal wear (e.g., bridal) and look for eco-friendly fabrics like organic cotton, linen, vintage lace or “peace silk.” Wet clean pieces in good condition and find a tailor to update/alter! Look for silks that are less-processed (rougher in texture) and other unbleached fabrics.
Sustainable wild peace silk being woven on a loom

Pick peace silk

Silk is made from silkworm cocoons. Standard factory silk is the most processed. “Peace silk” is the Earth-friendliest option.

For peace silk, the moths leave their cocoons and live out the last five days of their 70-day life cycles. The silk is collected and woven on hand looms, mostly in northern India. Many small villages still harvest wild silks — often left their natural, golden colour — to use in traditional fabrics and textiles sent worldwide.

Photo: sj liew via Flickr

Hand down, consign, donate, swap

  • Get the stuff you don’t need or want into the hands of those who do! Set up an account at an adult or kid’s consignment store. Donate what you can’t use or hand it down. Host a clothing swap — a great way to build community and a circular economy.