Come November, the Swedish retail organization Svensk Handel chooses “Christmas Present of the Year”. In its inaugural year, 1988, the breadmaking machine received the honour. Since then, other incredibly useful items such as the Tamagochi electronic pet, the Fitbit and the Robo vacuum cleaner have scored the title. To be nominated for the prestigious festive role, the pressie must fulfil three criteria; represent the current times, be a novelty, and be of high retail value or be sold in large quantities.
This year’s Christmas present winner surprised many. It’s second-hand clothing.
Second-hand, also called recycled or pre-loved clothing is nothing new, of course. In fact, not long ago it was the default clothing. The other week at the Swedish Consulate in Sydney, while consular staff member Lynn Forrester unpacked the Christmas decorations, a Swedish traditional costume emerged from the depths of the cardboard box. The folkdräkt from Värend in the southern part of Småland around Växjö dates to 1967. No doubt, this costume has had more than one owner since it was made more than half a century ago, as these treasures are often handed down through generations.
This beautiful costume consists of a blue woollen skirt and a red bodice. It is traditionally laced with a silver chain through lacing rings and it sports a blue woollen apron with a richly embellished border of embroidery and silver braid. A red sash with a “field-insignia” includes, according to custom, the owner’s initials, the year it was made and the monogram of the reigning monarch. Traditionally, the girls’ hair would be bound with a red band, but married women wore a white coverchief.
To this day, we signal status and class, age, provenance, personal likes and aspirations through what we wear. Most of us want to stand out enough to show our individuality, while subconsciously adhering to a range of unwritten rules and societal codes. With the environment increasingly being top of mind for consumers, wearing pre-loved apparel is partly a political statement.
Emily Farra, Editor of Vogue, states “…fashion is the second-most polluting industry in the world, surpassed only by petroleum. [..] When you buy something old and previously-loved, you’re extending its lifespan and reducing its carbon footprint.”
There is no doubt that thrift is as important as our dislike of waste. According to thredUP, an independent reseller of recycled clothing and accessories, we would reduce waste and emissions by 73 percent if every garment was given a second life.
“The truth is more people are shopping second-hand than ever before. In fact, one in three women shopped second-hand last year”, says its Co-founder and CEO James Reinhart.
Intelligent fashion brands understand the importance of responding to this trend. H&M claims to have been the first brand to launch a garment collecting program in 2013, with garment-collecting boxes in all stores around the world. They accept clothes and textiles from any brand, in any condition. The H&M Group website states that in 2017, they collected more than 17,771 tonnes of textiles – the equivalent of 89 million T-shirts. Collected items can look forward to a new life as insulation material, carpet underlay, stuffed toys or shoe insoles, among many things.
The Swedish folkdräkt lovingly made by hand using wool and sewing skills has retained its relevance through durability, cultural value and beauty. It will endure, endear, inspire for a long while yet. Who did it belong to, and how did it end up in the Consulate Christmas decorations cardboard box? The Swedish Consulate in Sydney would love to hear from anyone who can shed some light on this mystery from the past.
Svensk Handel, the Swedish retail organization, sensibly chose pre-loved clothing as Christmas Present of the Year 2018. This Christmas, let’s choose gifts wisely – skip the cheap trinkets, the plastics, the gimmicks, the meaningless baubles. Feel good and save the planet while you gift an item of long lasting quality, an experience or something homemade.