Second-hand kids’ clothes

secondhand childrens clothes

I’m often writing about my own second-hand finds, but I rarely talk about my childrens’ clothing, and where I source it from.

Having three girls means we have relied a lot on donations from other families, hand-me-downs and second-hand sources. I have scoured NCT sales, charity shops and specialist second-hand stores, as well as online sites, to pick up clothing for my girls. As a result we have rather a large collection of outfits and, living in a tiny cottage, very little room.

My middle and younger daughter share a room and one chest of drawers (plus some hanging space). So I have to be very ruthless when clothing comes into our house. To be honest, when they’re not in school uniform they tend to stick to the same few outfits anyway. My eldest is now at the age where a shopping trip to Primark with her pocket money is a monthly treat. We have talked a little about the shoddy manufacture of their clothes (and who makes them). However I’m not going to ban her from going there. As a result, though, her chest of drawers is crammed with cheap throwaway items.minimal clothing for children

I do rotate clothing and pack it up for the next child in line. This is where our loft comes in very handy and bags are stored there, divided into age and season.

I have also been trying for the past couple of years to really cut down on what the girls wear and am forever donating piles to charity shops. I’m not very good, though, at saying no to friends who pass on armloads of good quality clothing for the children to wear. Through these donations I have noticed that some labels last longer and it’s not unusual to find Boden items that have been worn by at least three other children by the time they reach us.

I have also been rather cheeky and some of the outfits donated by older children have ended up in my wardrobe. At present I am wearing this boxy burgundy jumper that was donated by a 14 year old!

kids' jumperIf you read this blog regularly, though, you will also know that occasionally I buy first hand clothing for the kids. My last few experiences with cheap Primark outfits, though, has resulted in mending them (here). The lesson I’m learning is second-hand can be better quality that first-hand.

Mending children’s jeans: £4.66 v £5 Primark jeans

Mending children's jeans

I wrote this post here about my belief that if we buy cheap clothes we have to learn to mend them. Well now it looks like I have to eat my words as the £5 jeans I bought for my 9 year old from Primark have massive tears (hangs head: buying cheap clothing means low quality and low wages).

So, determined not to throw them away, or turn them into embellished cut offs (as shown here) I set to work fixing them.

I am no stranger to mending jeans as I patched my own pair a few times (see here), but I knew my daughter would need a) slightly less visible mending and b) harder wearing.

I found this tutorial on wonderful Youtube.

As a result I paid a visit to the local haberdashers and bought lightweight fusible interfacing. I know it sounds silly but I’ve never used this material before – but now I am completely hooked on it as it’s so easy to use! Cut to size, iron on and hey presto it sticks!

While the tutorial only uses the interfacing to mend the tears I also cut off some denim from an old pair of jeans to act as a harder wearing patch underneath. (The denim came from my old much patched jeans that had been mended using fabric from an older pair of my daughter’s jeans – which were turned into the cutoffs mentioned above – so now the fabric was being used to mend another pair of jeans. I also have plans for the remnants of these old pair of jeans: post to follow).

Phwew, so now that the never-ending cycle of old jeans had produced denim material patches all I needed to buy was fusible interfacing and special denim needles for the sewing machine: a grand total of £4.66.

mending children's jeans

So the process of mending the tears on the jeans went something like this:

  1. Iron jeans (I also cut off some of the hanging threads from the tear). Turn inside out and cut a large piece of interfacing and denim to generously cover the tear.

mendig jeans

2) Iron on interfacing so that it sticks. (I also stuffed the denim patch up the leg so that the interfacing wouldn’t stick to the other side of the leg)

mending jeans

3) Pin the denim patch over it (making sure not to pin all the way through the leg as you need to turn the leg back to the right side in a minute).

mending jeans

4) Select a wider zig zag stitch on your machine.

mending jeans

5) With the jeans now the right side, slide the leg onto the sewing machine. Sew over the tear a couple of times using the zig zag stitch. This will secure the patch underneath in place and (hopefully) prevent any more fraying. You can then turn the jeans inside out once again and cut the denim patch to a smaller size. I used pinking shears for a zig zag edge, which should prevent it from fraying.


mending jeans

With hindsight I should have chosen a thread that better matched the colour of the lighter jeans. The stitching is more visible than I would have liked. However, for playing outside these jeans will be far more hard wearing for my daughter.

But the lesson learnt is Don’t Buy Cheap Clothes! Something I tell myself time and again but when you’re on a budget and the charity shops don’t have the right size it’s a very easy thing to do.

At least I now have my Denim Mending Kit in my sewing box for the next repair. It may have cost only 34p less than the £5 jeans but I now have plenty of needles and interfacing to patch time and time again – plus the satisfaction of knowing I will NOT be going to Primark again to buy cheap jeans.

If we buy cheap clothes we should learn to mend…


This phrase came to mind last week when I returned a £3 dress my youngest daughter had bought at Primark. Admittedly she had bought it in the sale but after only wearing it twice the fabric tore at the back. I had considered mending it myself but as the material was a type of netting I knew the sewing would look clumsy. At first I hadn’t even thought about returning it for a refund as it’s a hassle to go back to the store. However I realised it was her Christmas money and, in the end, the store assistant was very helpful.

I began to wonder how many times people return cheap clothing to High Street stores because it’s damaged. I’m not just singling out Primark as there are plenty other shops that sell cheap (and not so cheap) clothing that falls apart. (Last summer I posted here about my personal experiences with buying school uniform).

In the early ’90s I studied in the US and bought the dress below from Nordstrom, a well known department store:


I can’t imagine the dress was very expensive as I was living on a small budget. However after wearing it a couple of times the hem came undone. I really liked the dress and was gutted to have to return it. But much to my surprise the store had its own in-house seamstress. She mended the dress and I picked it up as good as new. Twenty years later I still own it and the hem has is still good! (I just had a quick look online and it still seems that Nordstrom has its own onsite tailoring and alterations service).

Wouldn’t it make sense if UK stores offered the same service? Instead of having to return an item because of a fault wouldn’t it be better to have someone on-site mend it? I imagine shops would argue that it isn’t cost effective but I do wonder what happens to all those tonnes of imperfect clothing that customers return?

In the meantime if we want to keep on buying cheap and badly-made clothing perhaps we should reduce our environmental fashion footprint by learning to mend them when they (inevitably) fall apart.

Christmas Markets and Black Friday: the Christmas shopping frenzy has begun

Yesterday saw the start of our annual Christmas Market in Bath. The market has been running for well over ten years and now has 180 stalls comprised of local businesses and craftspeople.

The market has grown incredibly over the past few years and now German-style chalets seem to take over most of the side streets around Bath’s Abbey and central squares.


I like the fact that it is a showcase for local businesses and charities (including the local hospital appeal, homeless charities and hospice charities). I also started working yesterday at my friend’s shop which is located in the heart of the market and which will benefit greatly from the shopping event.

However as I wondered around yesterday I couldn’t help thinking how,  before the market, is over on 14th December it will become an overcrowded, fraught place. While it is a showcase for local artisans and small businesses I did ask myself how many Christmas baubles a person really needs to buy.

But the busy-ness of Bath Christmas Market is nothing in comparison to the madness of Black Friday which is happening today. Imported from the US this takes place on the day after Thanksgiving when retailers reduce their prices to kick start Christmas shopping. In the States most people take Friday off as Thursday is a public holiday and I guess there is more of a ‘tradition’ to the event. Over the last couple of years Black Friday has become more of an event in the UK with large retailers reducing items and people marking this by having punch ups on the shop floor.

I guess because I’m still in a de-cluttering, minimalist phase I feel rather ambivalent towards Christmas shopping this year. I have a sneaky feeling that if I’m not careful all the clutter I am clearing from our house will reappear next month. So far I have stuck to my small budget and am buying a combination of new, and second-hand, presents. I would also like to try my hand at some handmade gifts as well.

However I have to confess that some of my purchases have taken place in larger stores (including Primark – my first trip into Bath’s latest shop) and online through Amazon. I know not all of these are ethical so feel slightly hypocritical. But, no matter what, I’m determined to stay away from all shops and online retailers today.

Instead I will save my pennies for some local Christmas Fairs and Small Business Saturday on 6 December. I’ll also be following the Money Advice Service’s Have a Savvy Christmas programme with advice on budgeting for the festive season. And with that in mind I will also be following Buy Nothing Day tomorrow (29th) which is easy as I’ll be at work (although I will be encouraging people to buy coffee and cake at our Arts Centre cafe).



Mending jeans

I blogged here about my recent visit to Primark to buy (very) cheap jeans for my girls. Since then I have been thinking about how I can avoid ‘fast fashion’, ie buying things that are quickly thrown away because of quality or trend. Okay, so the latter probably applies less to me at the age of 42 but I know there’s something I can do about not throwing things away because they are broken or torn. As you may know I help to run a bi-monthly Repair Cafe but I also have a sewing machine and access to the internet so I should learn to mend more myself.

The £5 jeans got me thinking that I could really learn to mend these myself. I originally bought the jeans for my 7 and 5 year olds because the older one was already wearing a second-hand pair that had gone in the knees, and the younger one had grown out of her M&S pair. Despite replacing them with inferior (and thinner) trousers from Primark I have kept onto the old jeans and plan to make shorts out of them for the summer. I have also used fabric from them to MEND my tattered jeans which have long needed either repairing or replacing.

After the obligatory search on pinterest I came across this really useful youtube tutorial from tlc inspirations:

I basically cut material from one of the girls’ pair of jeans and pinned it onto the inside out leg of one of my jeans. I then turned the trouser leg the right way and, with some effort, slid it onto my sewing machine. I then used a simple zigzag stich to secure the fabric in place and hey presto:


from this….



….to this

okay so it may not be the best fix but I did it and I can’t tell you how empowered I feel about it. I love these jeans and couldn’t bear the thought of parting from them, or having to scour the shops to find a new (or new to me) pair. I’m also now armed with the ‘skills’ to mend another pair, or repair the Primark jeans when they inevitably go, as well as some fun ideas to turn old pairs into fun shorts for the summer.

Fast fashion and £5 jeans from Primark


The other day we went to Bristol and, despite a good scour around the charity shops, we did end up at the HUGE Primark store in the city centre. If anything epitomises fast and cheap fashion it is this store. I remember the chain in my student days being known for its naffness yet it has become a great success story. Today it has announced it is going to be opening stores in the US.

Visiting Primark is like being a kid in a sweet shop. Multicoloured, fun designs grab your attention as soon as you walk in and with dresses costing as little as £5 these are very affordable sweeties. It is true that you get what you pay for but as ‘fast fashion’ pervades the High Street what does it matter if these are throw away garments?

I confess to having bought a few cheap items from here, particularly when it comes to clothing my girls. The quality has varied (shorts worn every day last summer are still wearing well, but a onesie bought at Christmas has already had to be resewn on the seam). I also struggle with the cheapness and fastness of it all. How can children’s jeans cost £5 a pair? Does it really take just six weeks to design and produce a new line of clothing, and how long does this last for?

Yet Primark has shown there is a huge demand for its cheap clothing and, as cash-strapped consumers, it’s hard not to feel pleased with the change left in our pockets after a visit to the store. I did buy two pairs of children’s jeans in the store last week (costing a grand total of £10, cheaper than our family lunch at Subway).

Tomorrow (24th April) sees the anniversary of the collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Dhaka, Bangladesh. 1,133 garment workers died in the complex where businesses produced clothing for western companies. Lucy Siegle from the Guardian has written some interesting articles on Rana Plaza and fast fashion here. While Primark has already paid compensation to victims and families other brands have not. The Bristol-based organisation, Labour Behind the Label, has an online petition asking other companies to follow suit.  Tomorrow also sees the launch of Fashion Revolution Day encouraging us as consumers to find out who made our clothes, who is involved in the supply chain and what their working conditions are like. Jen from mymakedoandmendyear will be wearing her clothes inside out for the whole day.

I will also be looking at how I can remove myself from the ‘fast fashion’ consumer chain which means I am sucked into buying £5 trousers for my children because I believe it is a bargain. I believe this sort of fashion is unsustainable and a false economy  – both for our planet and its resources, certainly for the workers and in the long run for the consumer who has to buy many pairs of £5 jeans to make them last.