Under the microscope: Meet the women who thrive on the economy

When I first started shopping at charity stores, this was a huge secret. I was looking around to see if anyone knew me before I walked in.

Rosaria Barretto used to be ashamed of her thrift habit, which began when she was just 12 years old. But now, more than a decade later, she’s proud of her wardrobe that has been refined through years of dedicated research.

Rosaria, a 25-year-old from Kent, says she saved “thousands” through charity shopping, and furnished her apartment almost entirely with second-hand treasures.

It is one of a battalion of frugalists who are overcoming the cost-of-living crisis by thrift with clothes.

“I used to be made fun of because all of my clothes were handicrafts or finds from a charity store,” she explains. “Now times have changed and people are amazed at what I find.”

Rosaria, owner of PT Vitality Hub, estimates that at least 85% of her wardrobe is pre-loved. I recently attended a luxurious premiere of a £5 French Connection dress that looked ‘amazing’. You buy tops for as little as 50p and often find deals that haven’t taken off with their tags still attached.

One of the nine, Rosaria’s parents weren’t able to buy a lot of new clothes for the kids, so she grew up “dressed chic”, but into a lot of DIY.

Rosaria in checkered pants and a yellow jacket in front of an illuminated sign that reads

Rosaria says she loves thrift shopping because it means she can buy £500 worth of clothes for £5 (Image: Supplied)

“When I got to year seven and started going to parties and socializing more and got more independence, I didn’t have any clothes that felt strong,” Rosaria recalls. “I had no sense of identity, so I started looking at charity stores.”

She adds that thrift stores were considered “not nice at the time” – people were accusing her of wearing things that “people died in”. Now Rosaria frequently finds designer labels and is proud of the compliments she gets for her style.

I know I can go to a charity shop and find a £500 dress and pay £5 for it. And now, because I’ve been doing it for so long, I absolutely refuse to pay full price.

Rosaria spends around £50 a month on clothes – a figure she says would be five or six times as much if she was buying new clothes.

Rosaria wearing a green dress and kissing a man on the rug, next to another photo in which she is wearing a black and white mini dress, standing on some grass

Rosaria has a great selection of second hand clothes – this green number from Zara (L) costs just £14 (Photos: Supplied)

“Most of the clothes I buy are from well-known designs and brands,” she explains. I refuse to buy fast fashion and only buy for quality. I will not buy anything worn out or of low quality.

Get things for one fifth the price and save thousands. It’s borderline addictive. If I go out with my friends in a new town or city, I have to go to the charity store. I’ll be thinking about this thrift store for the rest of the week if I don’t go to it, because I know there can be something great there.

There are plenty of arguments for ignoring the big box stores in favor of your local charity store – not the least of which is the huge savings to be made. With prices of women’s clothing rising nearly twice as fast as wages over the past five years – that’s a 37% rise – and a crushing cost-of-living crisis, buying new clothes is no longer as affordable as it once was.

Rosaria in a white dress, next to a picture of her in a puffer jacket, sweater and blue jeans

Rosaria in her £5 French Connection dress (L) and her £9.99 Pepe jeans (Images: Supplied)

Fashion is the third largest polluting industry after food and construction. Apparel production releases 1.2 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year – more than the shipping and aviation industry combined. In the UK we buy more clothes per person than any country in Europe – which leads to a lot of waste. According to Greenpeace, about 300,000 tons of used clothing are burned or buried in landfills each year.

Concerns about fast fashion have become so high on our agenda that this year’s Love Island—a show previously sponsored by Boohoo—has paired up with eBay.

Of course, there is a charitable component to thrift shopping to consider as well, as the money earned by charities is invested back into good causes. Oxfam, which has 570 stores across the UK, generated £39.4m in 2020/21 – cash for people in humanitarian emergencies and other crises.

Chloe wears a long beige jacket, striped T-shirt and jeans, next to a selfie of hers with a colorful sweater and T-shirt

These jeans (L) are £3 from Chloë, while she bought the coat on the right for just 99p (Photos: Supplied)

This is the feel-good factor that inspires Chloë Webster to do all her shopping at thrift stores and on eBay.

The 30-year-old meditation teacher from Chester spends no more than £100 a year on clothes and for the past decade has been shopping exclusively at charity stores.

“I don’t like creating demand for new clothes,” Chloe explains. I’m totally against fast fashion. The feeling that you are finding something unique that is not mass-produced – it’s like going for a treasure trove. I enjoy chasing everything – discovering something special.

Khloe recently attended her brother’s wedding in a £20 dress that was never worn on eBay.

“It’s really easy to go online, and buy something from a big company that will get to you the next day, but I didn’t want to do that,” she says.

Social media posts from Chloe about the deals she's gotten

Khloe often posts her deals on Instagram and says she hasn’t spent more than £100 on used clothes this year (Images: Supplied)

“We have this need to buy new things all the time, but I think we should love our things a little longer and think about the story behind it. Earth can’t handle terrible fashion. It’s sad that clothes are so cheap – you have to think about the people in the factories who make Clothes.Are they getting paid fairly?Is it fair that I’m not spending a lot of money, but someone else in the chain is being taken advantage of?

Except for lingerie, Chloë hasn’t brought anything new in four years. She loves hand shopping and exploring charity shops in new towns.

Her best deal was a pair of snakeskin ankle boots which cost £4. They didn’t fit properly so I sold them online and made £40. Her favorite item is the £3 linen coat she wears all the time.

Khloe enjoys researching clothes for charity stores, posting to her Instagram followers in-game – posting clothes to her Instagram account and gaining opinions before buying.

A picture of Khloe wearing a black and white dress, next to a photo of a social media post about a black and brown handbag.

Khloe wears her £20 dress on eBay and shows off one of her bag deals in a social media post (Images: Supplied)

She adds: ‘I enjoy doing it; I’m all about sustainability and encouraging people to live slower lives. We are all really tired all the time because of our fast-paced lives. So, going to a store and thinking a little bit about what you’re buying doesn’t mean that that donation not only goes to charity, but also that you have less of an impact in terms of your footprint on the earth.

Personal stylist Lindsey Edwards, of Bedfordshire, says she’s saved a fortune thanks to her love of thrift.

“The average person spends £43 a month on clothes, and I spend about £24,” she explains. I used to spend about £120. And I have a lot more clothes than I would have if I spent the same amount of money in a full-price store.

Since January, Lindsay has made a concerted effort to do most of the shopping at secondhand stores. At the time, she had spent £145.78 and bought 20 new items of clothing. She estimates it would have cost £650 brand new.

Lindsay next to a rack of clothes

Personal stylist Lindsay encourages her clients to try a slightly frugal style (Image: Supplied)

Lindsay in her spotted coat, next to a photo of three handbags

Lindsay bought her leopard-print Jaeger trench coat for £20 – a magpie for used handbags, which often cost less than 99p (Photo: Supplied)

Lindsey—who lives and breathes fashion—had a crisis of conscience when she discovered how environmentally devastating the industry was. After learning that 150 billion pieces of clothing are produced each year, and that on average, an item is only worn 4-7 times before being thrown away, I decided to shop more sustainably.

“I’ve always loved charity stores since I was a little girl,” Lindsey says. My mother always went, not out of necessity, just in practice. Why spend more when you can get the same good stuff you already loved, help a charity — and keep the bank balance?

When you think about the amount of clothing that goes to landfill and the real dangers of fast fashion, we must fight it. There are a lot of hidden gems inside the charity shops. It’s a fun way to shop and save a lot of money. For someone who wears clothes, this saves me an absolute fortune.

Lindsay only buys items in perfect condition, and admits they are picky. I recently got a Ralph Lauren jacket for £18 that could have been sold for £150 new. She was also delighted with the Jaeger leopard-print coat – roughly £275 – which she took home for £20. She revitalizes her wardrobe with belts, necklaces, and other accessories that cost less than 99p.

As a personal stylist, Lindsay also helps clients make their wardrobes more sustainable. In addition to charity shopping, she recommends dyeing clothes, changing the way they are worn, and encouraging them to buy things that will be worn over and over again.

Lindsay adds: “We’ve all been taught to go into stores to keep up with the latest fashion and find the latest trends available – but in reality it’s still on display at charity stores. So not only did you get these items, but they often keep the tags from people who bought out of impulse and changed their minds.

All fashion repeats itself. So people are enjoying the ’70s now revival, square necklines, and logo t-shirts, all in charity stores as well as on Main Street right now. I’ve seen a real shift in shopping since I went back to charity stores. Could be a real cave for Aladdin.

Do you have a story you’d like to share? Contact us at Claie.Wilson@metro.co.uk

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