How to buy second-hand clothes when the charity shops are closed

I’ve been doing a fair bit of comfort shopping recently. It’s hard not to feel a little locked in, and online shops are just so shiiiny and although I’m well aware of the science behind the (unsustainable) endorphin kick we get when we buy new things, it hasn’t stopped me from indulging in it.

One of the things I’ve been sad about during lockdown is the closure of charity shops. Usually they are my outlet for any retail cravings: if I want something new (to me), I can walk out of a charity shop with a bit of treasure which I know has contributed to charity, detracted from landfill and not exacerbated the fashion industry’s footprint. Not so in lockdown 3.

Buying second-hand online

My latest batch of goodies came from Vinted, an online ebay-style store which specialises in clothing – quite possibly because they have been mercilessly advertising at me wherever I go on the web. It’s peer-to-peer (you have to avoid thinking too hard about how you are effectively looking through the wardrobe of other women who wear your size) and the pictures and information available can be a bit dubious, but the classification of the clothes (by category, size, brand and price) is fantastic and it’s very easy to find something that suits. Much easier, in fact, that trawling through 18 charity shops, which is how I usually find clothes. Like on ebay you get a sense of the quality of the item (brand new/very good/good condition), but the price is set by the seller so there’s no faffing with auctions and such.

How was it? Well, my first purchase was cancelled: the seller decided, a few days after I had bought, that she was “away”. A bit annoying, but the refund did come through immediately and automatically. If you want to buy more than one item from a seller, which they promote by suggesting ‘bundles’, you do need to wait for the seller to confirm postage cost and such, and some of the journeys around that are clunky (why can’t you apply any filters on the bundle view? why?). But once my second purchase was made, and the bundle of four tops confirmed (for £8!), I quite happily awaited my bundle of joy to land on my doorstep. When it did arrive – with its accompanying endorphin hit – the tops were all as described, clean, bright, and fitted fine.

I miss charity shops a little less now.

Have you bought any second-hand clothes online? Where from? How was it?

The nothing-new shorts

Meet my new shorts. The only thing – and I really mean the only thing – that is new about them is the thread. And their, well, existence as an entity.

woman wearing yellow shorts walking in the sea
Escaping lockdown on the Normandy beachesft. Wyatt & Jack recycled inflatable bag

I’ve not always done a lot of sewing, but with more time at home recently it’s become an important part of how I try to maintain a sustainable approach to dressing myself. Here’s what these shorts are made from:


yellow shorts with arrow pointing to them saying second-hand curtain off ebay

I always keep an eye out in charity shops for high-quality fabric items (bed sheets & curtains), but with that options closed to me during lockdown I discovered the joys of ebay’s ‘used’ tickbox. Instant second-hand gratification! These were once curtains used on an exhibition stand at a business fair.

I actually bought this fabric to make some cushion covers for our sofa, but as I had a fair bit left I thought they could be fun for shorts too. That’s where this project started.


yellow shorts with arrows pointing out the trimmings: buttons hoarded over the years, zip salvages from a cardigan pocket, pocket lining from a worn out bed sheet

My family have always hoarded small things “that may come in useful one day”. This absolutely includes buttons. Three of the ones on my shorts are from my own collection (you can never start hoarding too young), and as I was short one my mum chipped in (with some help from my nieces).

two little girls sort through a tin full of assorted buttons

I was given a cardigan by a friend (always ask a friend if they want your clothes before you give them to a charity shop!) which is now one of my solid favourites, but it had these weird zips on the pockets. A few unpicked stitches later, and the zip made its way into my sewing box – and then onto these shorts. If you look closely, it’s navy blue and doesn’t match anything else on the shorts…

And finally, as no item of clothing is complete without pockets, I cut up an old bed sheet (one that had worn out and torn in the middle – when the middle is worn there’s usually a lot of wear left in the edges) to make the pockets.

messy floor with yellow and purple pattern pieces and newspaper pattern pieces


I’ve recently made a few items by copying items I already own that I like. There are some great posts out there that tell you how to do it – I tend to use pins to mark the edges of fabric pieces that make up an item, pushing them through the fabric to newspaper underneath, and then cutting the marked newspaper into pattern pieces. These were based on some utilitarian shorts I inherited from my sister in law. I played around a bit to add the buttons and belt to get a more fitted look.

Now… if you’ve ever up-cycled thread, or you’ve successfully used recycled thread in any sewing projects, let me know!

Upcycling your recycling

birds feed from a recycled plastic bottle feeder

Where my sister lives, the council has just announced that they won’t be collecting recycling rubbish for the foreseeable – I suspect they are struggling with staff illness and just trying to continue minimum service where possible.

If you’re in a similar position and you’re keen to stop your recycling going to landfill, have a look through some of the ideas below of how you can use different recyclable materials to entertain your kids, your pets, or beautify your home and garden.

Entertain the kids

Embellish your home

Love your pets

  • Build a cat-scraper by cutting up any cardboard (we have one, Marmite loves it) and stacking it
  • Turn a plastic bottle and an old tshirt into a dog toy for endless crinkly fun

Grow your garden

3 soap brands that change lives – and would love your business

This morning one of my colleagues told me he had visited three supermarkets and failed to find any handsoap in any of them. Let’s be honest, this is an awkward time to run out of soap. Here are three kind, social brands that are doing a lot of good in the world, largely by making soap. Time to stock up and support them!

NB. I of course can’t guarantee the stock levels of these brands – however isn’t this a wonderful excuse to be kind as you get clean? None of the online stores were showing ‘Out of stock’ messages at time of writing.

1. The Soap Co

“Crafted in the UK by people who are blind, disabled or otherwise disadvantaged”, not to say plastic-free.

I’ve bought The Soap Co’s items as gifts for others before – their wool exfoliating soap pebbles are beautiful and genius – and I was really taken with the braille on their (plastic-free) packaging. It’s so easy to forget how much of our visual world is made inaccessible to those who are blind or otherwise disabled

£7 + £3.50 delivery, 125g, 3 flavours

2. Beco

These guys have an amazing campaign to try and get other businesses to hire their staff – 80% of their staff are disabled, and face many barriers in entering the workplace. Beco like to train them, talk about how great they are at their jobs, and then encourage other companies to see them for the talent they are. They do all this by making soap. They also happen to make a cracking solid shampoo – which I’ve been using for the last few months – so do grab one of those while you’re there and try your hand at a plastic free shower!

£3 + £3.95 delivery (if bought through Ethical Superstore), 100g, 2 flavours in stock

A selection of plastic-free shower items
My plastic-free shower stash, featuring Beco honey blossom shampoo bar

3. Aerende

“Hand-poured, cut and stamped in Hertfordshire on a programme supporting young people with disabilities”

At £11+ delivery this one isn’t cheap, but it does come with some very honest soul searching on palm oil (read their blog post and feel more informed on this very big issue). If you are tempted by it, I would highly recommend a look around the rest of Aerende’s online shop – a very calming place, it’s a wonderful place to find thoughtful gifts for those people in your life who appreciate a gift with a story behind it.

£11 + £4.50 delivery, 125g, three flavours

Why bamboo toothbrushes make me angry

I try and make small swaps to produce a little less waste. In a former job, I actually managed an online community known as the “Waste Hub”. I know a bit too much about waste.

…and bamboo toothbrushes make me angry. Why?

I bought a bamboo toothbrush from a lovely independent store a while ago, thinking, “Brilliant, one less bit of plastic to throw into landfill.” But then I got home and tried it and thought, “Gosh, I didn’t know you could make bristles out of bamboo, I wonder if it’s a bit like the bamboo fabric you get?” So I looked it up.

Problem one: the plastic

The bristles are not bamboo. They are, almost always, nylon, or some other plastic. Which means that as soon as they get mixed up with food waste (well, that is what is between your teeth, after all), they can’t be recycled. And they most certainly can’t be composted.

Problem two: the lie

I felt really betrayed by my toothbrush. I understand that some things are hard – like making bristles out of biodegradable things – but then I would expect brands that are selling products which are supposed to be “better” for the environment, such as bamboo toothbrushes, to be transparent and honest about the challenges they are still facing. They could say: “the bristles aren’t there yet, but we swapped the handle!” If they were smart designers, they could even design a toothbrush where the plastic head is really easy to remove (maybe it unclips? I’m no designer… if you are and you’re reading this, please do something about this). Or they could do a marketing campaign which shows lots of people pulling hilarious faces as they pulled out their toothbrush bristles before chucking the handle in the food waste bin.

But no. They just market a “bamboo” toothbrush in eco-looking packaging to dupe us all.

Problem three: too tough to handle

So I, slightly reluctantly, used my bamboo toothbrush until it really did become too manky to keep using. And yesterday, I decided to throw it away.

As a conscientious waste-warrior, I tried to pull out the plastic bristles so I could throw the handle. Could I? No! They were really well stuck in. I normally praise an item when it doesn’t fall apart, but this is getting ridiculous. I had to use our breadknife to cut the tip off.

The messy beheading of an ex-toothbrush

Problem four: why metal? why?

Here came the real shock. I turned the tip over to find two small metal rods inside the handle.

You can just about see the two metal rods in the right-hand piece

I suspect these are in here to make the whole item more solid. Because, guess what, plastic endures better than bamboo does (so maybe bamboo isn’t optimised for this sort of product after all. I hope someone is taking notes). But what these metal rods actually do is make my waste problem worse: there are now three materials for me to separate before I can compost or recycle them, and they’re basically impossible to divide from each other.

The result? Landfill.

I threw the whole lot in our black bin. Anything else would have been wishcycling.

I’m not going to name and shame the toothbrush brand, because I did try and look up a few alternatives and had no luck: at best, some of the alternative brands were more honest and gave instructions on pulling out the bristles. Perhaps some of them don’t have metal in them either. I’ve heard you can get hog hair toothbrushes, but that sounds a bit gross even to me… maybe I’ll give that a go next.

(I bought myself a new plastic toothbrush. Let me know when someone has designed an actual solution to the plastic toothbrush problem.)

Do shampoo bars actually work?

If you’ve been looking at ways to cut out waste, you may well have come across the shampoo bar. It’s the miraculous solution to all of those plastic containers in your bathroom that doesn’t involve washing your hair with soap. These bars – also called solid shampoo – come wrapped in paper and are just like hard soap, but designed with intelligent ingredients so they’re good for your hair too.

…although I’ve now heard from three people that they tried shampoo bars and they were absolutely awful. The comments ranged from ‘making me look like I lived on the streets’ to ‘there were bits in my hair, and it smelled awful’. They may, in fact, have been better off washing their hair with soap.

So do shampoo bars actually work?

The answer is yes.

Well, sometimes.

One issue is that there’s a lot of posts out there telling you that your hair needs to ‘get used’ to a new type of shampoo. I’m not saying that wouldn’t help, but who here realistically will go two weeks with hair that doesn’t look, feel, or smell clean? And to add to that, one of these horror stories came from someone who gave it a go for a good five weeks. That is far too long without clean hair. But because we’re being told our hair needs time to get used to it, we start wondering if actually we’re not doing it right, or if we’re just not brave enough to see it through. Cue eco-guilt.

When was the last time you bought a new brand of shampoo? Did you have to wait a few weeks before the new shampoo kicked in? I don’t think so. At most I’ve had one dud wash with a new bottle (although I always have the sneaking suspicion that’s because I’m not doing it properly) and then we’re back on track. And so it should be with solid shampoo.

And it can be: you just need to pick the right one. These are the only two brands I’ve personally tried (or have had a friend try) with success:

Don’t touch any of the other ones. Seriously. (Although if you do use another brand and it works, let me know and I’ll add it to the list – after I’ve tried it.)

Great! Let’s buy a shampoo bar

I do love Lush. It’s pretty much the only high street store I shop in: they have a great ethos running right through their ingredients sourcing, workers’ rights policies and corporate activism, and they were doing plastic-free far before it was trendy. The bars are a bit pricey, at £7.50 each, but they win hands down on effectiveness, smell and convenience.

If you shop through Farmdrop, you trying a shampoo bar is as simple as adding the Coconutty Soapnut bar to your next order. Go on.

September 2020 update: I’ve now tried a few more bars, and BECO’s Honey & Argan oil, at £3.99, is both my favourite and the best value. Have a read of their workplace ethic for some inspiration

My one tip if you’re heading out to buy your first shampoo bar is this: get one without any chunks. Some of the Lush ones (like the Montalbano lemony one) smell amazing but are made up of rather large bits, which mean the shampoo breaks down from bar to unusable crumbs faster.

Once your shampoo bar is in the bathroom, keep it as dry as possible (think: tin with drainage holes, or covered soap dish) to ensure it lasts as long as possible: that thing costs 14p per gram.

If you’re interested in the science behind shampoo (ie. why you possibly shouldn’t just use soap), I found this article fascinating. Who knew there was so much science in this stuff?

Cover image courtesy of jussiak on Pixabay

What you can buy me for Christmas

Over the last few years I’ve become known among my friends and colleagues as a bit of an eco-warrior. It’s been gradual, and largely due to this blog, but it’s definitely sticking – I was dubbed ‘eco-queen’ by a colleague last week, and that’s in a company whose sole purpose is to help people buy better.

This all sounds great (if a bit embarrassing at times), but it probably means I’m a nightmare to get gifts for. So here’s my challenge:

How do you convince your friends to buy you ethical gifts?

Fortunately, I get to run workshops sometimes and I set this as a challenge to 30-odd people this summer. At least two of the groups suggested some kind of wish list which you could give to your friends, to help point them in the direction of what you need but also of ethical brands you like. It was such a great idea, I’m stealing it (and suggest you do the same… or if you’re lazy, and like the sound of what’s here, you can just refer your friends to mine).

Disclaimer: if you are getting a gift from me this Christmas, it will probably be listed here somewhere. I apologise for the spoilers, but it would be crazy not to take my own advice.


My ethical (eco, conscious…) gift wish list

1. Anything from Aerende

Everything in this store is made in a way that supports a social cause. Read the story behind each on their makers page, admire those beautiful wooden spatulas (note: I already own a chopping board, thankyouverymuch, but oo look at that clothes horse).

2. Luxury pants

I’ve talked about these guys before, but honestly, no special occasion is too special for these beautiful pants from oncemore. Handmade in a workshop in Paris from silk fabric off-cuts. Hello.

3. The kitchen sink (courtesy of ethicalsuperstore)

My husband and I have been battling over the washing up recently. He does most of it, but I refuse to let him buy normal sponges (they’re headed straight for landfill). After a few failed attempts (cloths: washable but too soft, fabric pads: fell apart and landfill anyway…) we settled on this loofah sponge. Works wonders and can be composted at the end of its life. And this coconut scrubber is amazing! Who knew coconut could do so much. Pair with some ecover washing up liquid and you’ve made yourself a lovely little bundle for your food-loving friends.

4. A little piggy

Perfect for your animal-loving friend who lives in rented accommodation, this little piggy really takes up no space. An old friend bought this for me last year – you’re effectively donating the cost of a gift to Oxfam to support someone out there who needs a real, live pig a lot more than you need a cute pig ornament. And who wouldn’t cheer up at the sight of this poverty-busting pig? (NB. You do get a card, so there is something to hand over on the day. I recommend perfecting your pig-drawing skills to personalise it a little.)

5. Anything edible from Cafe Direct or Divine

These two brands go above and beyond Fairtrade: both are part-owned by the cocoa or coffee growers. And you wouldn’t underpay yourself now, would you. If you’re not one to shop online, you can find these in any Oxfam or Waitrose, and some of the larger Sainsbury’s too. (My fav coffee is the Machu Picchu, ground or bean.)

6. Something sparkly from Anuka

This jeweller makes her lovely pieces in Chester, UK, and sources her gold and silver through Fairmined-certified mines, ensuring everyone is treated fairly throughout. I happen to work with her, but honestly, go see how pretty her pieces are.

7. Second-hand treasures

For some reason, it’s not really socially acceptable to gift second-hand goods. Please consider this my permission (and encouragement) to get me something second hand, for this Christmas and forever. Charity shops are amazing treasure troves, or you could head to a vintage store if that’s more your thing. Or even find something wonderful in your house which you know I would love. Tip: find a charity shop in a posh area for fancier goods…

8. A poem or a picture

Growing up, when asked what he wanted for Christmas, Dad would often reply “just write me a poem, or draw me a picture”. I’m not sure we really understood why, but we did often do just that: and now Dad has some lovely (and some slightly less-well executed) cards which span the years, showing my tentative poetry skills and my sister’s growing artistic talent. The results might not have always been incredible, but we put time and effort into his cards: and that’s part of the beauty. So if there’s enough love in it, a card is plenty.

What are you asking for for Christmas? Can you give your friends a bit of help in sourcing those gifts for you?

❤ brand: Oncemore

September 2020 update: sadly Oncemore are not currently trading as the founders have paused the brand to focus on other things

Mum used to let me help out in the kitchen when I was little. When we made anything out of pastry, I would have the honour of making the marmite rolls – small swirls of pastry and marmite that we put together from the edges and off-cuts of the pastry. Anything we didn’t use went into a marmite roll. Nothing wasted, and all very tasty.

If you’ve ever made clothes, you’ll know we have the same issue with fabric as we do with pastry: small bits left over. Here’s one brand that has taken the offcuts of some of the nicest fabrics they can find, and made something truly wonderful: knickers.

Silk. Lace. Made in Paris.


Oncemore‘s knickers are made on a tiny scale – think 150 made so far to date – in a seamstress’ studio in Paris. Their creators, Emilie and Lisa, are two London-based French girls who decided that, actually, underwear could be beautiful and sustainable at the same time. And comfortable. They have a transparent supply chain – you can find details of all of their components on their website, from the elastic to the tiny bow on the front – and source their fabrics from off-cuts and end-of-rolls. (The lace on the back of their blue set is from a roll used by Zara.) When I met Emilie, we joked their their supply chain is as transparent as the back of their knickers…

They’re the marmite rolls of the lingerie world.

A love affair with lingerie

Great underwear makes you feel great. No one sees it (and let’s be honest, those who do really don’t care), but you know you’re wearing it. And that’s enough. Rare are the knickers that both feel great and look great and look great underneath clothes: we’re all familiar with Bridget Jones’ dilemma.

These knickers fit all of those things. They look wonderful on and feel wonderful. They’re probably the best made underwear I’ve ever worn, and if you’ve never worn silk there before, do it. I hadn’t. I’m a cotton lover through and through, but these are marvellous.

I love that every element has been thought through to the max: from their recycled and re-usable packaging and the unbleached cotton gusset (that’s the bit that goes closest to you!) to the four shapes that fit different tastes and body types.

The price of transparency


Oncemore’s knickers don’t come cheap, at £32 each. They have just four patterns (although you can get each in four different shapes, which is fab), and although bras are in the pipeline, they’re not there yet. Their delicate nature means they’re handwash only (insider’s tip – they’ll survive fine in the machine if they’re in a protective underwear bag), which makes them more of a faff on a daily basis.

I wouldn’t buy these often (I couldn’t) – but having that one pair? Completely worth it. Try them on.

Photos courtesy of Oncemore.

The handkerchief

They’re quite old-fashioned: more something you would read about in a novel than something you would find about your person. But the humble handkerchief has been a bit of a revelation to me – and I want it to stage a comeback.

I live in a small flat with only one other occupant. In the six months we’ve been here, I’ve been hyper-aware of how much we throw away (we have quite teeny bins that need to be emptied two floors down). We do pretty well, with a lot going into our food waste bin and recycling, but there are some unavoidables for landfill: and this is what this is all about. Avoiding the unavoidables.

Hands up if you have a handkerchief in your pocket. (Hands up if you have a pocket? Although that’s for another post…) If you’re currently sat there with your hand up, please get in touch: I don’t think I know anyone apart from my dad – and one guy I went to uni with – who actually uses them.

Avoiding 22kg of tissue waste a year

And yet, we use an average 22 kg of tissue a year. That’s a whole small person’s worth! Admittedly that includes loo roll (and I’m not advocating you swap that out…), but I would make a fair guess that a third of that is facial tissues or kitchen roll. Wouldn’t it be amazing if someone could invent a sustainable alternative to all of those tissues going into landfill? Oh wait. My dad uses them.

When digging through some of my husband’s boxes I found some old handkerchiefs. I got them out, gave them a wash, and I’ve been using them on a more or less daily basis for the last few weeks. They’re great. I haven’t completely given up on disposable tissues (they’re helpful on washing day!) but I’ve drastically cut my use of them. And these new handkerchiefs are so BIG, and soft (who knew), and don’t disintegrate when you’ve got a face full of cold while cycling.

Simply pop them in the wash every few days and you’re sorted. And a few more trees can live to see another day.

Intrigued? Find yourself a handkerchief or two, and join me: let’s stage this sustainable comeback.

PS. I’m very proud of the fact that we’ve coped on one roll of kitchen roll (that’s paper towels to those of you who don’t speak Laura) in over 6 months. The key? Cloths. Lots of surface cloths. Our washing machine does wonders. I always loved the idea of this tutorial for home-made reusable kitchen roll too…

Three ways to give more sustainably

1. Renew something old

We have many beautiful things around our homes which we don’t use, but we’re reluctant to throw away because of their beauty or emotional attachment. Find something like this and give it a new life before gifting it back to its owner (or a new one!), either by being a bit crafty yourself or by enlisting the help of a professional.

A few examples:

  • Find an old teaset and turn a couple of the cups into candles
  • Bring an old handbag/briefcase back to life with some leather conditioner or a full-on professional refurbishment
  • Have a pair of shoes reheeled, cleaned and polished. You could even go a step further and dye them or replace the laces.
  • Buy your recipient’s favourite houseplant and turn an old jug, vase or bowl (perhaps with a chip in it) into a plant pot
  • Buy some cushion stuffing and transform an unworn top, shirt or jumper into a cushion

2. Agree a presents amnesty

Ever had to buy a gift for someone and really had no idea where to start? Have you thought whether maybe they thought the same thing about you? If there’s a friend or family member who you regularly exchange presents with, suggest a presents amnesty this year, where neither of you buys a gift for the other.

This is particularly good if your budgets are tight this year, but you can also turn it into an excuse to celebrate: instead of exchanging average gifts, head out together and have a drink, meal or day out, where you can spend the money you would have otherwise spent on gifts and enjoy each other’s company as a bonus (and both get what you want!). When not buying a gift for someone – I’m lucky in that my family have always preferred the thought to the act in itself – I usually try to make them a card, or print off a photo, or similar: to offer a inexpensive (for me and the planet) symbol that I thought of them.

3. Buy better

If you’re not inspired by any of the above, or you know the person you’re gifting to will be horrified by the idea of not having gifts, then there are still plenty of ways to spend money in a slightly more sustainable way.

  • Go second-hand
    Over the years I’ve bought my sisters some beautiful dresses & other gifts I found in charity shops. As they’re cheaper than new, it’s meant that my budget has stretched to nicer things than I would otherwise have been able to afford.
    Charity shops are also excellent for stocking fillers (for you parent readers!) – one friend goes hunting for second-hand toy cars to fill her son’s advent calendar: I can assure you that he loves them just as much as if they were new.
  • Find a social enterprise
    This wonderful gift guide features only gifts sold by social enterprises (companies that give back to the community). I can also highly recommend Traidcraft (ahem family and friends, you may recognise some of these under the tree…) and another friend has recommended Global Seesaw as well.

You can also check out the gift guide I put together last year, or look through any of the brands I’ve featured on this blog – they’re all doing their own bit for the community or the planet.

  • Support local & independent
    You probably have an amateur woodworker who goes to your church and a brilliant painter down the road. Find out if they can make something for you – and commission it!
    Go and explore any of the independent shops near you (start by walking into any of the shops whose names you don’t recognise…), or find a maker’s or Christmas market.
    By buying local/independent, you’re minimising carbon miles, supporting the businesses and individuals around you and helping to make sure that in ten years’ time, not every shopping street in Britain has just 10 names on it.

Do you have any more sustainable giving ideas? Let me know!