Daniele Constance on how to give your old clothes a good afterlife


Image: Dani Cabs

We chat to Daniele Constance, co-founder of Suitcase Rummage, about how to responsibly extend the life of your things even when you don't want them anymore. 

Suitcase Rummage is a roaming, used-clothing-and-other-stuff market where everything is traded out of suitcases. It has chapters in Brisbane, Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne.

Karina Seljak: What are your tips for finding – and responsibly buying – treasures at Suitcase Rummage?

Daniele Constance: I think the best tip for Rummaging is that you have to do just that - rummage! Don't be afraid to put your hands in the suitcases, pull things out, inspect them, chat to the sellers, ask if they have brands you like. It's amazing the amount of the good quality second hand clothing you can find. Some of my favourite items have been Gorman organic cotton tee shirts, old french linen shirts, vintage cotton dresses. And don't be afraid to go slow. There is often a pressure and sense of overwhelm that can come with second hand shopping and markets, but if you can slow down, take your time, it's more likely you won't impulse buy and you have a better chance of finding some hidden gems.

To buy responsibly at any second hand markets can be challenging, especially when there is so much fast fashion waste. I always look at the care label and fabric description – if it's synthetic, it's likely not to come home with me! I do strongly believe that any reuse of clothing, giving it a second (or third) life, is far better than seeing it in landfill.

Suitcase Rummage in its hometown, Brisbane

KS: How do you see textile waste in action at your events – in both positive and negative ways?

DC: There is so much textile waste, it's incredible (and I mean that in an jaw dropping kind of way). We have over 150 sellers come to our markets in Brisbane every fortnight. The majority of our sellers bring used clothing and textiles for sale. When we first started the market 7 years ago, we did not have the same amount of second hand clothing available, so we have definitely witnessed an increase in textile consumption (hello, fast fashion!). It is really disheartening to see so much unwanted clothing, and sometimes I wonder if our markets perpetuate fast fashion and impulse buying, because it's cheap, affordable and convenient.

However, the flip side of that is, our market does offer a platform for the reuse of it – it extends the life of these items before they end up in landfill and it asks our buyers to consider their impact. Of course, that is the bigger component of our work – to change our communities consumer habits and attitudes towards buying secondhand, ethical and eco products.

It is a challenge, but the more awareness we can generate and the more we can promote positive consumer patterns, the closer we will get to building strong communities who care, respect and protect their landscapes.

KS: What do you think is the most responsible way(s) to dispose of items you don’t need in your life anymore?

DC: This is such a good question and also a tough one. Recycling in general has been getting a lot more coverage lately with things like War on Waste taking it to the masses (yes!). Unfortunately though, for some of the big companies it is still unclear where these products go at the end of the line or inconsistent at best. In Australia, we have a lot of work to do to get our recycling policies and procedures up to standard. Don't lose hope though! Each local council should have a public policy and guide to recycling in their city or town, so I recommend looking that up as a starting point for recycling general items from home. Such simple things like emptying water bottles or taking lids off (which can't be put in the current recycling) really help the process. There are also some really fantastic initiatives like The Bower in Sydney and Reverse Garbage in Brisbane and Sydney that accept donations of all kinds of products. Fabric scraps, tiles, plastics, broken mechanics all get reused and repurposed in these places. There is no need for them to end up in your garbage bin.

I know that throwing something in the bin is most convenient thing to do – but we need to take more responsibility personally for how we dispose of our waste. If you don't want to feel guilty about throwing something out, consider where it will end up before you buy it.

Start a compost! Take your soft plastics to a designated drop off point, take your old clothes to a charity store or sell them at a market; there are no good excuses anymore for not being more active in recycling.

KS: What do you think is the future of the used clothing, and used things, market?

DC: I think this space is always changing and adapting, particularly with the addition of online platforms like Ebay, Gumtree and Facebook buy and swap pages. Of course, it will continue to adapt and grow if there is a market and demand for it. I think these kinds of platforms and markets like Suitcase Rummage work well in creating ownership and responsibility for the individual – they feel like they are making a better choice in recycling their unwanted items (and they are) and they get a little bit of money in their pockets for it. So, there is a financial incentive and we start to work towards a more conscious one as well. My only fear is that it becomes too focused on the financial benefits, and that these platforms only work well while there is financial gain to their sellers (and like-wise, that buyers are getting a good deal).

I love initiatives like Freecycle, where it takes the dollars out of the equation entirely and puts the focus back on swapping and giving within a community. Similarly, places like SWOP in Brisbane and Sydney and Recycle Boutique in Melbourne where their items are all reused.

I think that local and state governments could play a bigger role in supporting the research and implementation of larger initiatives that look towards longer term goals and much larger scale recycling schemes (like repurposing soft and single use plastics to make roads) and I know there are really great ethical fashion brands out there doing great things, like ALAS who recently made a range of athletic wear from recycled PET Bottles. This is where I would love to see this market grow, and I would love for Suitcase Rummage to be an active supporter and conduit of recycling used clothing.

Imagine if we saw the resale of second hand clothing that are by ethical and sustainable brands (like NICO, Vegethreads, ALAS), and more sustainable fabrics (like organic cottons and natural fibres), and see bigger companies (like Cotton On, Target, H&M) using more ethical and sustainable practices in their production. That would be my dream, that the items we are recycling and for re-sale are actually more ethical and sustainable to begin with!