Retro styling is usually “in” in one form or another and the current fashion trends are no different. In fact, retro seems to be making a strong showing this winter with old cuts of denim, nostalgic knitwear, big coats, and a wide variety of long dormant materials all making a comeback. Vintage is a great way to take advantage of this trend with unique, authentically retro pieces that will last for years to come.
With a platform that now includes the added moral benefit of recycling and sustainability, vintage clothing has seen a boom in the last few years and seems to only be increasing. And yet you might be asking, why should I buy some smelly stuff that has been worn by someone else when I could buy something new for a cheaper price? Let’s start with the less serious side of vintage and work our way to the more serious. While franchises of vintage stores are beginning to dominate cities like Amsterdam and London, Leiden is proving a safe enclave for the boutique vintage store. So I had a gezellige conversation with the owners of VNTG label in Leiden, Marieta Hoek and Saskia Shchrijnen to better understand:
why buy vintage?
Reason 1: Unique Pieces
Walk into a major fashion store right now and you will surely see satin and velvet dresses, shearling collar coats, wacky sweaters, and denim in all forms. Walk into your local vintage store and you would be hard pressed to not find one of these items as well. The difference is that where major fashion brands may produce hundreds or thousands of each of these items, everything at your local vintage store will be of different sizes and shapes, no two items identical. The wear of time, the ways they have been reshaped, the older often better materials, all make each item different than a new item of similar style.
If you think its all crazy old prints and items or that there is nothing for you, think again. Marieta and Saskia say they see people of all sorts, men, women, young, and old, everybody can find something, “its not all just crazy stuff.” Vintage items offer you truly unique pieces, which also makes it almost impossible to find somebody wearing the same thing as you. An awkward situation at the New Years eve bash can be easily avoided. Whew.
Reason 2: It’s not what you think
Many people think vintage clothes are smelly and cost too much. This is a common misconception and one that is slowly being ditched as vintage moves more into the mainstream. I asked Marieta and Saskia about this issue and they informed me that many of the clothes come from charity shops which often times will wash items. If that is not enough, everything is inspected and then cleaned before hitting the shelves. If something has a rip or is not fit for retail sale (missing buttons and the like), well that’s what their kilo sales are for .
As for the pricing, Marieta and Saskia said “we looked into the prices and actually vintage clothing is most of the time very high end, very expensive…. We knew about the actual cost of buying it… So we thought if we are going to give younger people- the primark generation- the opportunity to come in contact with second hand or vintage clothing, that’s the first thing we need to take into account, that the pricing should be different.”
So they made the pricing different. Denim usually from 15-25 euros, sweaters the same, though they did not boast this fact. They also really want to empower the ‘primark generation’ to make choices for themselves and not be forced into boring old traditions like walking into stores. With the primark generation in mind, a webshop was born last fall. This spring they opened a store and so far it has been a hit.
Reason 3: Sustainability
Hopefully I have gotten you to read this far and see the merits of vintage without the need to bring up the icky side of many major fashion brands. The icky side of major fashion brands is the impact that buying large volumes of new clothing has on both the environment and those that make the clothing.
Saskia:“First of all you had this very big trend of eating healthy when people actually find out whats happening behind the food scene. Now, the clothing scene is getting there as well, so people start to know about the fast fashion scene. They see the pictures in the newspaper of Bangladesh… people dying.” Referring to the 2013 Rana Plaza collapse in Bangladesh that killed 1,129 people.
Its a bit like making sausage, when you see how its made you might never touch the stuff again. Fast fashion is not only detrimental to many factory workers still, but the volume of new materials needed to satisfy demand has already had huge environmental impact, like contributing to the desertification of the Aral sea.
Annually, cotton makes up 2.6% of total water used with one pair of blue jeans taking an average of around 10,000 liters to produce. That is quite a significant impact and this is only the water used for cotton, not factoring in much of the chemical pollution from synthetic materials, dyes, fertilizers, factories, and more that affects the health of millions of people each year.
“The documentary The True Cost is a must watch”
The True Cost is often brought up as one of those watershed documentaries on the subject that really revealed the problems with the fast fashion industry. In their effort to “fix a little bit of that problem” of fast fashion, VNTG has reached out on social media and even held a screening of The True Cost with a speaker who discussed implementation of happy, healthy factories.
Vintage is one solution to the environmental crisis our clothing consumption has prompted. Second hand clothing is also a viable option as are new clothing labels with sustainability and human rights in mind. In Amsterdam alone there is a huge boom in new designers and sustainable retailers offering slow fashion and up to the minute sustainable alternatives to fast fashion.
Saskia says “I think one of the best things I’ve learned from Marieta is ‘Let good not become the enemy of great,’ and we try the best we can.” From the price tags to the benches to the shipping materials, sustainability is factored in. When asked about this, Marieta responded “I think it is a minimum expectation to work ethically.” And she does. Vintage is good because its premise is recycling which can help reduce the impact and speed of climate change if more people adopt these sustainable attitudes.
Just as people have started to fight back against the pollution and waste often seen with food, it is time to fight back against the fast fashion industry and vintage is one way of doing that. You don’t necessarily have to dress like Madonna. But maybe when shopping for a holiday sweater or something flashy for the new year, pop into your local vintage store. You might be pleasantly surprised with what you find.