It’s nearly 10am on a Sunday morning in the Radisson Blu hotel in Dublin. Just off the lobby, an orderly queue of well-dressed twenty-somethings snakes its way along a corridor and down a stairwell. Given the demographic, you’d be forgiven for thinking this was a line of trendy young things waiting for a table at the city’s newest brunch joint, hidden inside a chain hotel. But they’re not looking for breakfast. They’re ready to go clothes shopping – by the kilo.
The rise of kilo sales, whereby second-hand clothing is sold by weight, rather than per item, can be traced back to the financial crash of 2008, when cash was tight, but we still wanted something ‘new’ to wear. The economy may have recovered, but our penchant for bargain shopping at kilo sales hasn’t waned. In fact, the used-clothing industry is set to outpace apparel giants like the H&M group and Inditex, the parent company of high street brands like Zara, according to a report released in March. Using data gathered by second-hand fashion start-up thredUp and retail analytics firm GlobalData, the report claims that the used-clothing industry is currently worth $24b in the US, while fast fashion is valued at $35b. Within the next 10 years however, the used-clothing industry is forecast to grow by a staggering $40b to $64b, while the apparel industry will be worth $44b.
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The shoppers waiting patiently in the hotel lobby for this morning’s kilo sale have paid a fee of €3 in order to gain early-bird access to the sale, which gives them an hour to peruse the overstuffed rails before the general public descends. The sale is being held by the niftily-named Kilogarm, a kilo sale company founded by Ademola Adeyemo that is headquartered in Navan, but regularly holds pop-up sales around the country.
In stark contrast to the orderly queue waiting outside for the doors to open, the large conference room that is the site of the day’s sale is a hum of frantic activity. Rails have been placed end to end so they run the length of the long room, hung so tightly with clothing it’s almost difficult to prise the hangers apart.
The clothing is grouped by item – denim jeans are preceded by a selection of jaunty Hawaiian shirts, then long dresses followed by tracksuit pants, then business shirts, then jackets, and on it goes. It’s a staggering array, but it only represents a fraction of what will be sold today, with the team expected to shift up to 5,000kg of stock – at €25 per kilo.
The logistics of such a venture are somewhat complex compared to what’s involved in wholesaling new clothing.
“The clothes come from large suppliers in the US and UK who ship containers of clothes worldwide every day,” says Ademola. “When we receive our goods to our warehouse in Navan, we sort them and recycle items that have any defects, like rips and stains. There is a recycling centre in the business park where we send clothes that don’t make the grade.”
Clothing is then bagged up and prepared for sale to the public.
This morning, Kilogarm workers are wearing branded T-shirts and work feverishly to unbag, sort and hang. They set up the sales area, complete with weighing scales, place full-length mirrors around the room, rig up a sound system and, most importantly, get the air conditioning working. The windowless room is already getting warm, and it isn’t yet full of dozens of shoppers.
It’s a scene of organised chaos but Ademola is a hands-on boss, helping staff hang clothing and tidy rails, haul open bags of yet more stock and assemble till areas, all while cheerily answering my many questions.
How did he get into the kilo sale business?
“I was selling second-hand apparel and we decided to open our warehouse to the public for the first time because we were expecting a huge delivery. We needed to make some space, and the event was overwhelmingly successful. We decided to explore the concept and we have been doing it since.”
As customers begin to trickle in, I note that they are mostly young, in their early 20s, and all very well dressed for so early on a Sunday morning. They wander around with handfuls of clothing, while others pull on neon-bright shell jackets and slouchy denim jeans over their own clothing, assessing their new haul in the mirrors.
Ademola muses that for these young customers, buying clothing is no longer just for one’s own pleasure – or wardrobe.
“All of these guys probably have a few thousand followers on social media,” he says. “They want something new to wear all the time, because everything goes online and they don’t want to be seen wearing the same thing over and over. Our audience are 18-24 years old and predominantly college students. Their wardrobe is completely unconventional and they are fashion conscious.”
It is also likely that many of these young shoppers are active on resale sites such as Depop, and Ademola agrees that many people buy clothing at kilo sales simply to sell on via these platforms.
More than just fashion conscious, Gen Z and Millennial shoppers are keenly aware of their environmental footprint. Buying second-hand clothing is arguably the most ethical way to shop, and it’s what underpins the business model of Weigh N Pay, a kilo sale company founded by Sam O’gunshe.
“For us, there is victory in sustainability that goes beyond reduce, reuse and recycle. We are defined by our values: our mission is to inspire people who care about the environment to choose the best clothes that don’t impact the environment,” says Sam. “We are working in a more sustainable way. Any stock that didn’t make it to our kilo sale is donated to a charity or upcycled and made into new material, saving dead stock from landfills; we are doing our bit in big and small ways.”
Sam is also behind Cliché Vintage, a vintage clothing company based in Drogheda that holds regular kilo sales. Weigh N Pay is a new offering to the kilo sale market, with its first sale due to be held in Dublin in November, with all clothing selling for €15 a kilo. Before setting up these ventures, Sam was a keen vintage shopper himself who often scoured charity shops before realising the potential of the second-hand clothing industry.
While Ademola of Kilogarm is aware that his second-hand offering doesn’t appeal to everybody, he and the team have noticed a shift in the demographic that attends their sales. He notes that parents often accompany their teenage children and despite not intending on purchasing anything, they quite often end up leaving with a kilo or two of clothing themselves.
“At first, they are sceptical about going to a kilo sale, but when they come to the event, they can shop more than our regular customers,” he says. “There is a massive shift in attitude and more people are starting to understand that we are depleting the planet at the expense of our consumption.”
Anybody harbouring doubts about wearing second-hand clothing – mostly due to the ‘ick’ factor – could well be convinced by the slick aesthetic of these companies’ online presence. Instagram feeds are filled with technicolour-bright vintage T-shirts, faded denim, 80s streetwear and plenty of branded gear from the likes of Nike and Adidas.
Social media is key to generating interest, but the events themselves are an antidote to the lonesome, late-night rabbit hole that is online shopping.
“The kilo sale is only just getting started,” says Ademole. “Apart from the shopping element of it, it’s now becoming a way for people to unplug from their smartphone and connect in real life.”
Indeed, as I survey the room one last time I have to agree – it seems just as much a social event as it does a retail one. Friends riffle through rails of clothing, laughing and admiring each other’s new haul.
It’s become impossible to ignore how damaging the apparel industry is to our world. More and more of us have pledged to buy less, but perhaps buying second-hand by the kilo is just as viable.
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