Image for The style guru taking charity shop fashion to the next level

The style guru taking charity shop fashion to the next level

Amid a secondhand clothes boom, designer Wayne Hemingway talks David Bowie, ‘pension chic’ and his latest venture to scale up preloved fashion

Amid a secondhand clothes boom, designer Wayne Hemingway talks David Bowie, ‘pension chic’ and his latest venture to scale up preloved fashion

Preloved fashion is booming amid a cost of living squeeze and a rise in eco thinking. Once niche, the secondhand market is now on course to take 10% of global sales, while eBay has just axed fees for sellers of preloved garms.

In our Second Nature series, we unzip this growing trend and meet the preloved pioneers who are helping to send it mainstream. A million miles from its moth-eaten, austere reputation of yesteryear, they see preloved as stylish, expressive and fun. First up, designer Wayne Hemingway, who has a plan to take charity fashion to the next level.

Wayne Hemingway

“I was running through Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco, and these trousers were on a dummy in the window. They fitted me a treat, so I put them in a bag and carried on running with them under my arm,” says Wayne Hemingway.

Running is a surprisingly prominent theme in the designer’s secondhand stories. He wears (pictured below) his grey 1940s sanforised cotton trousers with a pair of commando-soled Grenson brogues, chosen not just because they are similar to the style in which he used to go dancing at Wigan Casino, but because they’re comfortable enough to run (literally – he’s a marathon runner) to meetings in.

Hemingway wearing the kind of outfit he dubbed ‘pension chic’. Image: Will Sanders

Hemingway started shopping secondhand in the 70s, when the priority was style rather than sustainability. “The coolest kids were doing secondhand,” he recalls. “When David Bowie came to King George’s Hall in Blackburn and wanted to look like him … you did it yourself, and that normally meant adapting secondhand clothes – usually army surplus – and messing around on sewing machines, getting your mum to show you how to do this and that,” he says.

An ability to see potential in the unexpected defines his secondhand style. He used to call his short-sleeved, collared 60s shirts, teamed here with a now 60-year-old Harrods cardigan, ‘pension chic’ during his time as a fashion expert on the Big Breakfast because they were a staple of older men on bowling greens.

It’s all a lot of fun but, Hemingway says, it’s not frivolous. “[Style] is a really positive form of self-expression, of wellbeing, of opening conversations. All the things that are important to being a human being.”

It was the power of style and expression – and the informal yet comprehensive fashion education secondhand clothing provided – that motivated him and his business partner and wife, Gerardine, to sell vintage on Camden market and go on to launch the iconic British brand Red or Dead.

You wanted to look like David Bowie? You did it yourself. That meant adapting secondhand clothes, messing around on sewing machines

And it’s the power of style and expression that he knows are helping to bring people through the door of Charity Super.Mkt, a newer venture launched with Traid CEO Maria Chenoweth. It brings multiple charity retailers together, department-store style, in locations including Brent Cross and Bond Street in London, and also in the likes of Reading, Salford and Edinburgh, to expand the appeal of secondhand shopping and put money in the pockets of charities.

“There’s a beautiful history in [secondhand clothes] but the bonus on top of that is that nowadays you get the cachet of being sustainable as well,” he says. “It’s a consumption statement.”

Main image: Will Sanders

The facts:
  • £ 1.6

    Charity Super.Mkt has so far raised almost £1.6m for charities through the sale of more than 180,000 items, diverting 53 tonnes of clothing from landfill
  • 228 m

    Fashion charity Traid, which has partnered with Hemingway on Charity Super.Mkt has – to date – put 228m garments back into use, saving 622,059 tonnes of CO2 and 105.3 million m3 of water

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This is part of our ‘Second Nature’ series: