A fashion hub goes mad for second-hand

Amsterdam has transformed into a full-blown fashion hub. Aspiring designers are studying at the Amsterdam Fashion Institute, sustainable denim labels are turning blue jeans green and big brands like Patagonia have chosen the city as the location of their European headquarters. 

Second-hand clothing has also been popular in Amsterdam for a long time. But for years, vintage was the domain of chaotic street markets and shops packed with wild finds from years past. However, the scene is quickly evolving, and new second-hand shops are offering more than dusty old jackets and polyester dresses. Catering to all budgets and desires, they’re spurred on by consumer demand for sustainable clothes at reasonable prices. And though these shops differ from each other, their owners are connected by a belief that shopping second hand is simply the responsible thing to do.

I amsterdam spoke with a few of the stores embracing this approach to eco-friendly fashion and learned how they’re doing in a city hungry for a new way to dress well. 

A little luxury in the Jordaan

Tucked away on a quiet side street in the Jordaan, The Real Deal opened in December 2018. The bright and airy shop is filled with beautiful pieces from Chanel, Prada, Kenzo and other high-end brands. It’s owned by former nurse Jeannette Zeevat, who decided to pursue her dream of running a boutique that invites people to sell their old clothes and discover something new at the same time. 

“I really love second-hand, I think it’s better for the environment, and I’ve liked fashion my whole life,” she explains from behind a white desk in the back of her store. “And slow fashion is so much better. Fast fashion is one of the worst things for our environment. These kinds of items aren’t used only once – they can be used for generations. It’s such good quality, and timeless.”

Real Deal Amsterdam

Zeevat also believes being in Amsterdam is vital to her store’s success. “If this kind of shop works somewhere, then it’s here. The kind of people here are so different, they want to look different and find unique pieces. [Used clothing] is getting more accepted, too. A few years ago, it was cheap things in second-hand shops, but that’s changing. People have started to mix and match high-street and luxury brands…there’s more and more designer vintage. And now it’s more fun and more playful.” She’s also noticed that there are no limits when it comes to the customers she attracts. Young and old alike file through the door after seeing the enviable handbags and shoes in the window, and they’re a mix of locals, internationals and visitors. 

Pre-loved finds in Oost

Oost was long a shopping desert, but Garment, a cosy shop filled with items from accessible luxury brands like Isabel Marant, APC and Acne, is changing things for the better. And much like Zeevat, owner Natasja Keller opened her store to feed a passion for beautiful clothing that’s made to last. “I’m from the generation before fast fashion,” she says, “and when I was little and would go shopping with my mom, there was never a T-shirt for five guilders. But in the ’90s, H&M came along, though I never went along with it. I went and bought some stuff, but I never liked it. The idea of taking care of your clothes, really loving the fabric, the quality, the way it’s made, never left me.” 

Garment - Natasja Keller

Photo by Paulina Fotografie

Unsurprisingly, Keller also believes more than enough clothing already exists and there’s no reason to purchase everything new. Instead, she encourages customers to find gently used items they’ll treasure for years. “It’s so much better to buy second-hand and really think about what you’re getting,” she says. “I would like to bring slow fashion back, which means taking good care of your clothing and keeping it for a long time, and not buying fashionable items all the time, but things that really suit you and make you more beautiful.”

The future for second-hand fashion looks bright to Keller as well. She thinks her store is just the start of a trend that will sweep the city and change the local retail scene. “I think Amsterdam is always a little bit ahead and I feel that pre-loved clothing is really going to take off. In five years, there will be many more stores selling second-hand clothing in all different categories – high end, middle and low end.”

Instant gratification in De Pijp

For a long time, unloading old clothes was surprisingly difficult in Amsterdam. Charities don’t always have much need for sequined tops and selling unwanted items often required setting up a market stall; quick and easy options didn’t really exist. American Heidi Koss, owner of the ReLove Exchange, noticed this after studying in the Netherlands. “It was really hard to find a place to sell your clothes. There was no place for fast cash other than flea markets, so I wanted to develop something where people could just get money for clothes in good condition,” she explains from her bustling store in the De Pijp. Every day, customers can walk in with old pieces and leave minutes later with money or store credit. This approach also means there’s always something new on the racks, creating an incentive for people to visit again and again. The prices are affordable too, and brands range from Zara to coveted French label The Kooples. 

In addition to providing a simple way to make money on old clothes, ReLove Exchange also offers Amsterdammers a chance to avoid the wasteful cycle that has made fashion one of the world’s top polluters. “When you put your clothes into a [donation] bin,” Koss says, “you don’t know where they go. Here, when you bring in your clothes, they go on the racks. You get to see your own stuff get bought by other people in the community – it’s not going to landfill.” And the concept is clearly catching on, as the store is moving to a larger location at Ferdinand Bolstraat 110 in September.

A fun, exciting and vibrant city

Though each store is different and caters to a unique slice of the local market, their owners all believe used clothing is not just a good deal, but a way for shoppers to live responsibly. And they all see something special in Amsterdam, which Koss describes as “multicultural, fun, exciting and vibrant”: to them, the city is an incubator for a second-hand fashion scene that’s changing the way people shop, dress and live.