More of us are becoming conscious of the impact some practices in the modern fashion industry may be having on the environment.   The good news is, we all have the power to make a difference. One of the easiest ways to influence change is through sustainable fashion.  Whether you’re a fashion industry professional or simply someone who loves clothes, you’ve come to the right place. In this week’s podcast, we’ll be diving into the fascinating world of sustainable fashion marketing. It’s an exciting topic that explores how we can promote and embrace sustainable fashion choices.

What is sustainable fashion marketing?

Sustainable marketing showcases the steps a fashion brand takes to reduce any negative impact on the environment and to demonstrate a commitment to benefiting society above the bottom line.

This shift is driven by a growing demand for options that reduce harm to the environment. The 5 R’s of sustainable fashion are gaining popularity and they are now being used in ways that were unthinkable even a decade ago.

What are the 5 R’s of sustainable fashion?

The 5 R’s of sustainable fashion are reduce, re-wear, recycle, repair and resell.

This month’s guest on the Social Creatures Podcast, Oxfam has been at the heart of eco-friendly clothing for many years, although we may not have realized it. We discover how they leverage social media to market sustainable fashion and homewares all over the UK and Ireland.

When many of us think of Oxfam, we think of the hundreds of second-hand shops up and down the country. Part of the excitement of these shops is there’s literally not one that’s the same as the other – so you never know what treasure you might find within. But when it comes to promoting these shops, how does Oxfam do it?

There are plenty of things social media makes lots of sense for – but using it to advertise hundreds of totally offline second-hand shops with all sorts of different things for sale doesn’t sound easy.

That’s where Second Hand September comes in. In this episode, we talk to Emma Fabian, PR Lead at Oxfam who made sustainable fashion mainstream news with this campaign. Blending on and offline campaigns with high fashion and just a sprinkle of celebrity magic, find out how Oxfam turned Second Hand September from campaign into a movement.

Speakers: Cat Anderson & Emma Fabian

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Cat: Welcome to season two of Social Creatures, a podcast from Sprout Social. I’m Cat, and I’m here to explore some of my favourite success stories from the world of social media.

This is a space for anyone and really, nearly, anything goes, but what makes an account successful or popular? Honestly, it is hard to know, but that’s exactly what we’re here to find out.

Throughout the series, we’ll be talking to the brains behind some of the best accounts that you know, and some that you don’t know yet, to explore the way that these businesses, organisations, and individuals have achieved their success on social media. And crucially, how you can do it too.

Second-hand fashion has become one of the fastest growing online trends of the past few years, with users on the hunt to find the next hidden gem for their wardrobe and to shop in a more sustainable way.

With this in mind, Oxfam’s Second Hand September is the perfect campaign to boost the visibility of the importance of shopping sustainably, and how that hunt for the precious rare find can actually help a good cause.

Joining us today is Oxfam GB’s PR lead, Emma Fabian, to tell us more.

So, Emma, I’m so thrilled to have you join us here today. And so, thank you very much for taking the time to talk with us.

So, the environmental impact of fashion is a problem that we are all becoming increasingly aware of. And Second Hand September is a great campaign that is trying to turn people into conscious shoppers. Could you tell us a little bit about how that idea came about?

Emma: Oxfam has existed for 80 years, so it was set up in the Second World War, in response to the Second World War, the Greek famine.

And then in 1947, the first Oxfam shop opened in Oxford, and it happened to be the first permanent charity shop ever in the UK, arguably the world.

So, we’ve been selling second-hand sustainable fashion for more than seven and a half decades and we are a very authentic voice in the field of second-hand fashion.

And the first Second Hand September campaign came about in 2019. It was part of a strategic stream of content that we’d been working on for a number of years about our sustainable fashion, and sort of on the back of a London Fashion Week show that we did in February 2019 that went really well.

At that stage, it was sort of like a nascent idea. We sort of knew that it would work within Oxfam’s overarching narrative of climate. We knew that the nation was becoming more aware of climate emergency and the emissions produced by fast fashion.

There was a select committee, a government select committee into fast fashion at the time. So, there was a zeitgeist around this issue in 2019. It felt like a campaign that would resonate at the time. So, we went ahead and did it.

And at that time, it was quite a small campaign but we were able to do it because of the work that we’d been doing before, and the relationships we’d made within the fashion industry, and the people who would support us.

For example, at that time, Stella Tennant who’d walked in the show said she would front the campaign with her teenage daughter, Iris. So, that gave us megawatt celebrity power that we knew would get cut through in the media.

And then we worked up the other content. We launched the campaign at Glastonbury, which gave us that celebrity fairy dust sprinkle at the beginning. And then we produced stories throughout the summer in 2019, and then the photo shoot launched, and the response was just very good. So, that was the first ever one back in 2019.

Cat: Wow, I mean it sounds just so cool. Some of those collabs and like the launch at Glastonbury and everything, like it’s just so cool.

But maybe for people who don’t know what Second Hand September is, what is it that you’re asking people to do in Second Hand September? I feel like it might be a little self-explanatory, but just in case people don’t know.

Emma: Well, I mean it is self-explanatory to an extent, but it has evolved in 2019. It was always a sort of mass engagement activity. We really wanted to get lots of people interested in taking the Second Hand September pledge, so pledging to only buy second-hand for the month of September.

As the campaign has evolved, we are embracing second-hand shopping in a slightly different way. We’re sort of promoting and asking people to consider buying second-hand as part of what they buy. And the reason why Oxfam does Second Hand September is because the money that they generate all go towards Oxfam’s work.

So, we don’t sell fashion simply for the fun of it. We sell fashion because it is a fundraising activity for Oxfam’s work around the world, working with partners to fight the injustice of poverty. So, we’re fashion-driven by activism.

So, this is a fashion campaign to promote sustainable fashion which is much better for the planet. And when you buy a second-hand, it’s not necessary to buy stuff that has generated emissions in its manufacturer.

So, the fashion industry is a massive emitter of emissions. Emissions cause climate change, it’s the world’s poorest communities who are being hit hardest by climate change right now.

For example, in East Africa, many millions of people are on the brink of famine and Oxfam’s recently done research that shows one person is dying every 36 seconds from hunger in East Africa. So, that’s in Somalia, South Sudan, and Kenya and Ethiopia, and it’s hunger fueled by climate change.

So, it all links up. We sell this sustainable fashion, it’s sustainable because it’s second-hand. Second-hand means less emissions. Less emissions means you’re doing something positive to reduce the climate emergency.

The climate emergency is affecting the world’s poorest communities right now, and Oxfam raises money to work with partners to enable the world’s poorest communities to deal with this terrible thing that’s happening.

Cat: One of the biggest issues obviously, when it comes to communicating messages around social campaigns is consumer apathy. And that’s for any campaign online.

And I think especially, when we’re talking about things like world hunger and climate change, it can feel really overwhelming for an individual to know how they can contribute meaningfully in a way that can actually help.

And another thing that you mentioned as well was that fast passion and having at best a few question marks and at worst, like genuinely really starting to look into the damage that it was doing was part of the zeitgeist.

But also, I love this idea of putting a cause within the confines of a month. So, we have like Dry January or the Ganuary where it seems to be a really comfortable amount of time for people to try and incorporate new habits into their life.

So, I love that you use that for Second Hand September. And as we know, it’s been extremely popular.

I wonder if you could share with us how did you create messaging that sort of captured consumer interest around Second Hand September, and how did you make it so engaging?

Emma: You know, when you talk about Dry January and the different campaigns that sort of last for a month, those campaigns are sort of meeting a need in the public.

So, Dry January taps into the fact that people have over indulged in December and Christmas, so they’re sort of ready for it. Second Hand September is sort of similarly meeting people where they are and offering them a solution to something that they are interested in and potentially, looking for already.

So, you would have to be living in a cave to not be aware of the climate emergency, but like what do you do about it? When we create campaigns, we always think what’s the objective? We always put the audience first. How can they feel that this is for them?

So, the what’s in it for them is that they’re doing something positive, but also, the fact it’s a fashion campaign, right?

So, Oxfam is fashion-driven by activism, but people don’t buy clothes because they feel sorry for something. They buy clothes because actually, they like the look of them, they can afford them hopefully, and they feel that they suit them.

Oxfam has this extra feel-good factor because actually, you probably think you might well be doing the right thing for a good cause. So, I think that our messages were sort of really riffing on those issues.

And also, we had the advantage of the relationships we already have and the reputation we already had in the field of sustainable fashion to be able to get those messages out and amplify them.

So, we were talking about the problem of the climate emergency and the place that fast fashion particularly at that time, has in that, and what you as an individual can do about that by deciding to shop second-hand.

And at the same time, we were making this a fashion campaign with a celebrity shoot showing if it looks cool like this, you can afford it, and these people are wearing it and supporting it, then why wouldn’t you?

So, we tried to do all these things and we worked with another second-hand retailer called Vestiaire. We worked with Emily Sheffield who was setting up an Instagram news channel, and we did a social campaign on Instagram, a wardrobe clear out, so people donated to Oxfam, they donated to Vestiaire, and the money went to Oxfam’s work, all part of Second Hand September.

So, we were looking for ways that people could participate in the campaign. That’s how I think we tried to sort of get our message out.

But we were lucky because the time was right, we were tapping into a very live conversation already, and I think that that’s partly why the response was welcoming because people were ready for this information, ready to feel less paralyzed by the climate crisis, and ready for action to do something that they already wanted to do.

Cat: I love that this campaign is about, as you said, people don’t buy clothes because they feel sorry or sad, people are buying clothes because it sparked some joy and love and excitement in them. So, people are buying something that they feel great in, and then they also know that they’re doing the right thing and helping Oxfam.

It’s a perfect campaign. I just love it so much. I think it’s such a lovely uplifting story. I wonder because obviously, you’ve got an inside scoop that we don’t know about, you’ve got the inside track. What was one thing that you maybe find surprising when you were developing the concept?

Emma: I think one of the surprising thing was how successful it was because we really weren’t expecting it at the first year. I mean, that genuinely was the really surprising thing. The response was just much better than we thought, and was sort of a trial the first year, and the springboard to what happened later.

But we had lots and lots of positive press and lots of interest from fashion journalists and celebrities who were well-known for being very stylish in brand-new clothes. And there they were saying how brilliant second-hand clothes were and second-hand fashion was and is, and how it made sense.

So, we were following our instinct, but it was a surprise and a very nice surprise.

Cat: Oh, you absolutely don’t get any guarantees with a campaign. And even if you think you’ve cracked it, sometimes they just don’t work out that way. But that’s why I think this is such a nice one because it’s for good, it makes people feel good, it’s fun as you said. Yeah, I just think it’s fabulous.

How do you think that the growing trend — I mentioned it there about the sort of the holy grail of going vintage shopping is that you might find, I don’t know, like some incredible like design or garment or something, and I do think there probably are second-hand stores around different parts of the country where you can do that.

But how do you think the growing trend of thrifting and bargain hunting for hidden fashion gems, how did this help Second Hand September? Because as you say, this sort of came at the right time, there was an appetite for this.

Emma: So, it has definitely helped Second Hand September and that’s very clear on the social engagement. So, Second Hand September was conceived always as a mass engagement activity, but I think it has grown particularly because Gen Z is very engaged in climate issues, and genuinely, they’re quite enthusiastic about charity shopping.

They probably don’t have a large disposable income because of the demographic they are at, and there’s lots of activity, lots of discussion, conversation across all platforms on charity shopping and thrifting, and the thrill of the hunt. And I think that that has helped us, but we’ve genuinely managed to be a really authentic voice in that conversation.

I mean, the thing about Second Hand September is it’s taken a life of its own. At the beginning, we were keen to try and think we would have a grip on it, have it called Oxfam’s Second Hand September.

And then we quickly realised that actually people were talking about Second Hand September without mentioning Oxfam, and we thought well, the people are sort of embracing it, they’re taking it and making it their own. And actually, that’s a good thing because they’re connecting with it.

And I think that that was partly because of the enthusiasm for second-hand shopping, the concern for the climate, and the knowledge that this was something that individuals could do to make a difference and feel good about their shopping habits but also enjoying it.

The conversation is very much about sharing tips how to do it. I think that people really enjoy that. And so, the ownership of the campaign, it is Oxfam’s campaign but we sort of relinquished a little bit of it, but are happy to do so because we are a campaigning organisation fundamentally, we want to do the right thing.

And the right thing is to try and do what is necessary to fight the climate crisis. And this is something that people can do and we are just delighted that they are.

Cat: I mean, I think that’s so fabulous that it has actually outgrown Oxfam and I say that only is a positive thing in that its people are embracing the concept. And the more people who embrace the concept, it is ultimately having a positive impact.

As you have mentioned, it very quickly grew into a phenomenon and as we’ve already heard, there have been multiple brands and countless social media stars all now promote Second Hand September.

How have you find that growth? How did it go from a small grassroots campaign into a yearly social media event?

Emma: So, we always wanted it to be a mass engagement activity. We worked with Glastonbury the first year, we worked with Vestiaire, and we’d already been working with organisations such as Burberry and Marks & Spencer. We had big partners to start off with.

And then the second year, we had a partnership with Selfridges. So, I think that these heavy lifters have helped grow the campaign and this is exactly what we wanted to do. We want to get as many people as possible buying Oxfam’s fashion because it generates funds for Oxfam’s work.

And fundamentally, that is the reason why we do it. We are feel good fashion but we are driven with a serious message at our heart. So, we want as many people as possible to engage with that.

And I think success sort of breeds success really. And more people have become involved, and in recent years, that has been very much with influencers as well as celebrities.

So, we’ve had people fronting the campaign. So, the first year it was Stella Tennant and her daughter Iris, and then we had Michaela Coel who was just incredible, and Sienna Miller and laterally Felicity Jones and Miquita Oliver and her mom, Andy and grandmother.

But you’ve also got loads of people participating online and in the fashion shows that we’ve done, which sort of all link up with Oxfam’s work on sustainable fashion. We have incredible names who’ve walked on the runway, and of course, they’re all volunteers who do it for free.

So, this has helped amplify the message across loads and loads of channels. So, I think that’s how it’s grown to the extent it has grown.

Cat: Can I just ask, you mentioned some of the celebrities, we’ve talked about them a few times now. How did you come to work with them? How did you get them looped into the campaign, and how big a role do you think they played?

Emma: I think that they play a massive role. I mean good communication only happens with other people. So, you’re speaking with them and you’re speaking with your audience, and I think that having these amazing women mainly who’ve fronted the campaign each year has really given the campaign extra oomph because if these amazing women, who probably can have whatever they want to wear are wearing are Oxfam’s second-hand clothes, it elevates the brand, I think.

And also, just demonstrates that this fashion is for everybody and it’s really nice. Whatever your taste or style you will find it. So, it’s worked in different ways. So, we’ve been approached by celebs to participate in the campaign, and we also go out to celebrities, and we have a celebrity and ambassador team that is heavily involved in that.

And we’ve also worked with a stylist called Bay Garnett, and she has also helped with that, but it’s a sort of team thing. And these celebrities, they’re brilliant because they’ve enabled us to do a fashion shoot with the difference because it’s all second-hand fashion.

And then we produce content for different channels, including everything from paid social activity to posters and shops, interviews in the press. And the content from those interviews is repurposed into lots of different types of posts.

So, they have been very important in the campaign. We do need influential third-party voices to work with to get our message out and we’re just very grateful for their support.

Cat: Yeah, we are also very grateful for all the work that Oxfam has done because I think this is such a fantastic campaign and I thank you so much for your work in that as well. I think it’s amazing the impact is probably immeasurable from this campaign.

I think one tiny quick question to finish, Emma, do you have a favourite piece of second-hand fashion that you own yourself and what is it?

Emma: Well, actually I have got a few wonderful things. So, for Christmas, I managed to find myself a really cool grey sparkle shirt that was quite fitted and it had a tie that I could make at the front. So, I thought that was very nice. It cost me £17, and I wore it on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. So, I was very pleased with that.

And I went shopping with a colleague of mine and she took me to an Oxfam boutique and she found me amazing, Armani net top. It was just incredible, and it wasn’t very much money at all. So, you can get your favourite things second-hand.

And we did a really interesting piece of research for Second Hand September last year. And we worked with a psychologist, a professor of fashion psychology, who set up the first ever VA in fashion psychology. And we did some research and it found out that the thrill of buying something new wears off after four wears.

And actually, that something can feel new to you even if it’s not brand new. Second-hand is definitely not second-best anymore and we are very lucky because it is genuinely becoming more and more fashionable to wear second-hand.

And I think that is something that has evolved not just because of Oxfam at all, and not just because of Second Hand September, but it has been a movement in the past four or five years that second-hand fashion is becoming future-focused and very fashionable.

Cat: I mean, it definitely has, and I love that point that something doesn’t have to be new. It can feel new to you, and I bet you still pull out that Armani top and feel fabulous about that.

Emma: I do.

Cat: Because there’s always going to be the excitement of like, yes, I find this. Like I can’t believe that you’ve had one of those experiences that I dream about, so I’m exceptionally jealous.

But Emma, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us today. It’s been such an interesting conversation, and I really hope it will inspire some of our listeners to take part in Second Hand September this year.

Just to finish up, where can people find out more about the campaign?

Emma: Well, if they go to Oxfam GB, they’ll be able to find more about the campaign. But if you go to the Oxfam GB press account, there’s all the information about what we’re up to and what we’re saying at the time.

So, Oxfam GB on Twitter or on Instagram is where you can find out everything about Second Hand September and what Oxfam is up to generally.

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Cat: You’ve been listening to Social Creatures with me, Cat Anderson. Many thanks to Emma for joining me today.

If you’d like to learn more about what Oxfam is getting up to, you can find all the links to their socials in the description of this episode. And of course, a huge thank you Sprout Social for making this podcast possible.

If you enjoyed this episode, make sure to let us know on social media at Sprout Social, on the web at, or subscribe to hear other episodes like this wherever you get your podcasts.

Thanks very much for listening, and we’ll see you in two weeks.