The Nifty Thrifter talks upcycling and sustainable shopping
Big sales, glam models and glossy ads draw lots of us into fast-fashion shops before we can say "pay your workers fairly". But, one savvy Instagrammer is celebrating a kinder way to shop.
Think cheap high-street fashion stores are your only options on a student budget? Think again.
Becky Hughes, the student behind The Nifty Thrifter Instagram account, is highlighting the financial, ethical and style benefits of staying loyal to the humble charity shop.
In 2019, it was her mission to only buy second-hand clothes for the year and, after seeing her Insta, you might be tempted to do the same...
Benefits of buying second-hand clothes
During her undergrad degree at Queen's University Belfast, Becky found that the uni lifestyle led to a fast-fashion habit – something a lot of students can relate to. She told us:
I’ve always been interested in fashion and I’ve always read about fashion.
Throughout university especially, I’ve always been looking for ways to find cheap clothes.
I used to be going out all the time and I would be looking online for things that I could buy that would be cheap.
Wanting low-cost, accessible clothes for nights out at uni, she found herself drawn to fast-fashion websites.
But, when doing more research into fast fashion, Becky was shocked to learn how much harm the industry is causing.
I was finding out so many awful facts about fast-fashion brands: that the workers weren't necessarily getting paid the living wage, and that the impact on the environment is ridiculous.
In fact, she highlighted the fact that 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions come from the fashion industry, using more energy than the aviation and shipping industries.
Becky thinks we're currently caught in a worrying cycle as a society where "we buy, we wear and we waste". As a result, she decided to make a change.
Over the last year or two, I’ve been thinking to myself: there are other ways that I can still buy cheap clothes that I’m able to afford as a student, but still be fashionable too.
I’m still able to create outfits that I think reflect my personality, and I found that through charity shops.
So, about last year, I started to make the big shift over to not buying any more fast-fashion brands.
Finding second-hand clothes in your style
If you're concerned you won't be able to find clothes which suit you and your style in charity shops, worry no more. Becky said:
I think I've actually become more me from buying second-hand clothes.
She adds that when shopping second-hand, you can find clothes that you'll never see anywhere else, allowing you to be so much more creative and individual with your style.
Before, it was very easy for me to go on fast-fashion websites [...] and pick out a dress for a night out.
They make it too easy for you.
I think from charity shopping and vintage shopping, I've been able to take time in finding what I actually like, and creating my style.
I'm thinking about things that I will wear again, things that will have a lifespan in my wardrobe, rather than a dress that I'm going to wear for that night, and then get rid of.
It might take longer in charity shops to find the right clothes, but when you do, it's worth it.
I do think it's about taking time with second-hand shopping – you do have to put time and effort into it, but I think the rewards are so much greater than the temporary satisfaction that you get from buying a little dress from [a fast-fashion brand] that you wear once.
How to buy cheap sustainable fashion
At first, it can feel like an impossible task finding a gem among the rails in charity shops. So, what is Becky's secret to finding the best second-hand clothes on a budget?
She's got some handy tips for finding the best looks. The first: don't feel pressured to find the perfect item right away.
The number one thing I would say is to take your time.
A lot of people would get frustrated because obviously in a fast-fashion shop, you know what you want, you know where you’re going, you can buy it and you can be out of there in 10 minutes.
However, if there’s something specific you want to buy from charity shops and vintage shops, it is much more difficult – so I would recommend taking an afternoon out.
As well as taking your time to find the right things in charity shops, Becky also emphasises that you need to be happy to put in the effort.
You kind of have to be in the mood to charity shop, in that you have to have the motivation to be able to look through every single item on the rail that’s in your size.
Check the brand, I’d say, straight away.
Check [...] not necessarily what brand it is, but more of the quality. Is that something that’s going to last in your wardrobe?
But, even if you can't find any clothes you like in your size, don't lose faith – with a few small adjustments, you can upcycle charity shop items to make them your perfect fit.
A simple yet effective way to dress more sustainably is to upcycle your clothes. It's particularly handy for charity shoppers as it means you're able to buy a much bigger range of items, including ones outside of your size.
Becky's a big advocate for upcycling. When looking in charity shops, she suggests:
Don’t restrict yourself to just whatever’s in your size.
If there’s something [that is] a little bit too big, or a little bit too small, get creative.
It’s very easy to make small adjustments to clothes to allow them to fit better – I’ve changed belt holes on jeans before, I’ve sewn up hems for things to fit me, so just be open to making a few little changes to clothes.
Not only does upcycling allow you to buy things in different sizes, but it also helps you show some love to the items already in your wardrobe.
Whether you're wanting to fix some damaged clothes or individualise items which have lost their appeal, it's a great (and cheap!) way of making them last as long as possible.
Sustainable costume design
Alongside her Master's degree in Belfast, Becky works at the Lyric Theatre, where she's bringing her love of second-hand fashion to the stage.
For a recent play, Becky designed the cast's costumes by only using second-hand clothes.
The play, called Assembly Required, looked at the relationship between humans and robots, exploring what made a robot and what made a human. For the costumes, Becky scouted charity shops for clothes with a metallic tinge.
One of the guys was over 6’7" – he was a tall boy – and I had to find navy trousers that would fit him, his waist and his height, from a charity shop.
That was a challenge in itself but I managed it, and that was simply from persisting and hard work.
And the hard work paid off. Becky said:
I would say the reward from the end of it, to look at all of the costumes and be like, "I didn’t buy a single new thing for any of those", was worth it.
What's next for The Nifty Thrifter?
When we spoke to Becky back in 2019, she had plans to develop The Nifty Thrifter Instagram account. She was hoping to start doing more videos on IGTV and sharing vlogs of her thrift trips so you can see her best tips and finds.
Since then, she's grown her Instagram following to over 18,000, and perhaps her most significant achievement has been as one of the leading voices advocating for a boycott of Boohoo.
Following the revelations that Boohoo was paying some staff less than minimum wage, she posted on Instagram and called for her followers to take their business elsewhere. The post was liked over 100,000 times, and her other posts targeting fast-fashion brands have since attracted thousands of likes too.
In September 2019, Becky also told us that she had big plans for her life after finishing her master's in Broadcast Production at Queen's University Belfast.
As well as considering costume design as a possibility – something which "would be amazing" – she said her dream graduate job would be broadcast journalism.
I absolutely love television, so if there was a way of incorporating my love of television and broadcasting and telling stories [...] with fashion, that would be unreal.
Well, it seems as though Becky's well on her way to achieving her dream, as she's now become a presenter for the environmental communication service, Earth Minutes, as well as an ambassador for Wild Éire, a vintage and reworked clothing store.
You can follow The Nifty Thrifter on Instagram for more updates on her journey, as well as tips on how to shop sustainably.
There's no need to chuck old clothes away when you no longer wear them – check out our guide to selling clothes online to help the planet and your bank balance.