Green is the new black for spring

Charity-shop chic, vintage, upcycled, pre-loved – whatever you want to call it, second-hand clothing can not only save the wearer money but can also help the planet, as sustainability correspondent Tara Greaves has been discovering.

A 'dedicated follower of fashion' I am not – trends come and go and some pass me by entirely (harem pants, for example) – but I do love clothes.

The problem with buying them is that it does not always fit with my desire to live a more sustainable lifestyle, which not only includes concerns about the products and processes which go into my new pair of jeans but also the people making them who, as we are all aware, are not always treated fairly.

And that is why, for the last year or so, I have been attempting to only buy second-hand clothes or new ones that come with the Fairtrade mark.

This has not always been an easy option – especially when the perfect top calls to me from a shop window.

But now a good 90pc of my clothes are second-hand – from winter coats to bikini cover-ups – mostly bought from charity shops and online auction sites at a fraction of the price.

And I am not alone in my attempt; buying second hand is not a recent trend.

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During the Second World War when textiles were rare, there was a thriving market in pre-loved and recycled clothes but following a dip, charity shop chic seems to back in vogue.

People are much more aware and concerned about where their clothing comes from these days, together with how much money is left in their bank accounts at the end of the month, and shops are beginning to respond.

Several high street stores have eco brands which use Fairtrade and organic materials and are also looking at the waste element.

In January, after an outcry about unsold clothes being sent to landfill, H&M launched a new line called Waste made from leftovers.

The clothing maker is also set to debut an environmentally-friendly line in April, according to sources, which will consist of organic cotton and recycled fibres.

The issue is also being helped by some high profile supporters including Harry Potter star Emma Watson who has launched ethical fair-trade collections with People Tree, which she designs as well as models. She also visited Bangladesh to see the collection being made by locals who benefit from a fairer living wage and better working conditions.

'Eco chic' also caused a stir during New York and London fashion weeks this year with green becoming the new black.

And Colin Firth's wife Livia, a film producer who is also involved in an eco store in London, is causing a buzz as she glides down red carpets on his arm wearing ethical fashions as part of a Green Carpet Challenge.

So the next time you are thinking of buying a new outfit, why not set your own green challenge and buy it second-hand?

They might not be the latest style (and some of the items on the rails have clearly been at the back of someone's wardrobe for some time before being donated to charity) but you can usually find what you need – or at least a variation of it.

Need a little black dress for a party? No problem. What about a suit for a job interview? Take your pick. And stocking up for holiday clothes, particularly just after the summer holidays, is easy and fun (as long as you have somewhere to keep them until the following year).

It is all the joy of buying clothes but knowing that you are also doing your bit for the planet (because you are not using extra resources or energy) and your bank balance while often helping a worthwhile cause at the same time.