Sharron Davis Credit: Sharron Davis

“I was a fast fashion addict – but I haven’t bought new clothes for six years”

To mark Secondhand September, Sharron Davis, an IT consultant from Brighton, explains the lightbulb moment that made her quit her old shopping habits and find a new passion for fashion.

Every new year, I had the same resolution: stop buying new clothes. But it never worked. I was a fast-fashion addict and loved nothing more than touring the high street and department stores for hours, trawling the sales sections for bargains. Spending a whole day shopping and then coming home to do more shopping online was my idea of leisure.

I knew the damage this kind of consumption does to the environment, to the people who make clothes in poor conditions. I’ve watched the documentary The True Cost, about the human and environmental costs created by the fashion industry – but with clothes so affordable and accessible, it felt impossible to resist. Later, the dopamine hit would wear off, and I’d be surrounded by stuff that I never wore and didn’t make me feel good – but still I just kept on shopping. 


Breaking the cycle

Then one day – Black Friday, coincidentally – I decided, last minute, to tag along with a friend to a sustainable fashion conference. I spent the morning upcycling clothes and sewing sequins on denim skirts (something I used to enjoy doing in the 1990s), and had a lovely time.

In the afternoon, there was a Greenpeace talk called After the Binge the Hangover, and at the end of the session they took questions. I put my hand up and confessed to being a fast fashion addict, then somebody else said “me too”, and it felt like a relief. I’d known it was addictive behaviour (I had recovered from bulimia in the 1990s and could spot the signs), but I hadn’t appreciated the negative impact it was having on me. That’s when I decided: I’m not doing this anymore. 

What I didn’t expect was for this shift to renew my passion for shopping, but in a much healthier and fulfilling way. The first thing I did was clear out the things I never wore. I took lots of photos of myself in outfits to better understand what works for me, my ideal colours, and why I bought things in the first place. I used a trick I read about where an editor chose one word to describe her style – hers was “interesting”. I chose “fun” – and now everything I wear must have that theme for it to feel truly “me”. Anything I didn’t want, I posted on Facebook and wrote: “I’ve freed my wardrobe, these clothes deserve to be loved and worn.” I ended up re-homing 80 items for free.  

When people started asking me to rehome their unwanted clothes, I decided to start an online community called Free Your Wardrobe (you can find us on Facebook), and the group now has 2,000 members in my hometown, Brighton. People share pictures of themselves wearing an item they want to donate and others get in touch asking for specific pieces. I run free, pop-up events and there are no rules about what you can bring and what you take home with you. All I ask is: do you love it, will you wear it and does it fit you? If you answer yes to all three, you can take it away. I have now rehomed 3,000 pieces of clothing. 

Pride in preloved

Apart from underwear or if I need a waterproof coat, I now don’t buy anything new and I haven’t for six years. I’m fortunate to live in Brighton, which is full of brilliant charity shops, but I know a lot of people have success with eBay or platforms like Vinted. I prefer the sensory experience of shopping – touching the fabric and checking the quality. I recently went to Pride and wore a pink dress with a pink and red striped hat, which I found in the Scope charity shop in Brighton the day before, for £1.  

My other treasured item is a checked dress that somebody brought to a Free Your Wardrobe event that their mum had brought back from Mexico in the 1960s. I have also found a charity shop Sonia Rykiel dress and a pair of M&S trousers inspired by Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction, both for £1.  

Shopping secondhand takes a little longer than buying new, but if you love fashion, it’s fun to rummage and it helps me to be intentional with what I buy. It feels like a rewarding voyage of discovery and there’s nothing like the buzz of finding some treasure that fits as though it was made for you. 

For anything that doesn’t fit, I do what I call sustainable tailoring, which is much easier than you’d think. I avoid cutting anything so that it can be returned to its original state, but taking things in at the waist with darts, or a seam down the sides is simple and makes an item of clothing feel bespoke. When people compliment me on an outfit, which is often, they’re always shocked and surprised to find it’s all secondhand.


Signature style

I’ll never forget the social worker who popped in to a Free Your Wardrobe event and I found her some flattering clothes that she’d never have chosen herself. She was quite emotional when she left and said: “As a single parent of teenage girls, I can’t remember the last time somebody told me I looked lovely.” It’s about so much more than clothes swapping. It’s about women empowering one another, and having freedom away from marketing to work out what suits you, and being able to let go of the stuff that you don’t need. 

I describe myself as “in recovery” but I’m proud to say that I haven’t had a wobble in six years. I was recently in Bali and passed a beautiful red lace top in a shop window and thought: “That’s lovely, what a shame I can’t buy it.” But on the way back I realised it was a secondhand shop, so I snapped it up!  

Shopping used to be a numbing activity for me and after the initial high, it would leave me feeling rubbish. But the way I shop now has brought me so much joy, as well as the ripple effect of passing that joy on to others. I can’t ever imagine going back now.

5 top tips for  secondhand  shopping

  1. Learn basic sewing and tailoring. You can tailor most items of clothing to fit you better or upcycle existing pieces to give them a new lease of life. 
  2. Take a tape measure and ignore sizing labels, which vary wildly. Instead, measure your waist and leg in centimetres, then measure the garment. 
  3. Work out the colours that suit you and avoid hiding in black. Often clothes in secondhand shops are sorted by colour, so find yours and head there. 
  4. Find your style word, whether it’s “print”, “smart” or “joyful”, and stick to it to ensure you shop more intentionally.
  5. Put on your favourite outfit and note the sleeve length, leg fit, everything you love about it. That’s your benchmark when you go shopping, so avoid everything else. 

Written by Tracy Ramsden