On second-hand fashion

We sat down to chat with Dani Dawkins, a master upcycler, sustainable stylist, and content creator. We spoke with Dani about her journey, sustainable fashion, tips, and lots of denim.

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Episode transcript

BOAS Member: Welcome to the Boas podcast. Boas is an online marketplace that sells sustainable products and preowned fashion items to donate 100% of its profits. Our mission is to save a million children from dying when they don't have to by donating all of our profits to organizations that we believe save lives. Danny here is a master upcycler, sustainable stylist and content creator. She also offers one on one styling and wardrobe audit sessions to help people begin their journey to sustainable fashion. She also hosts a podcast called The Main Squeeze with her friend Asha, where they talk about a variety of topics. Additionally, Danny is also an avid public speaker and hosts workshops and events. So that's the heavy list. Am I missing anything?

Dani Dawkins: No, I was like “I do all of that?” That would be amazing on paper.

BOAS Member: You do! And we're so happy to have you on the podcast! Thank you so much for joining.

Dani Dawkins: Thank you for having me. I really appreciate it. Exciting to be here.

BOAS Member: We're going to cover a load of subjects, so we'll start with getting to know you a little bit better, your background influences, and how you ended up where you ended up. We'll also touch on topics such as upcycling, sustainability, fashion, all the fun stuff, the future of sustainable fashion, and more. All right, so right into it, Dani, can you tell us a bit about your personal background?

Dani Dawkins: Okay, I'm going to start with a weird one. I was born in a toilet nearly 41 years ago. So, yeah, my mum gave birth to me at home. And, yeah, I think it makes a lot of sense sometimes she caught me caught me just before I fell in. Makes me feel a little bit more special. But, yeah, sewing is always something that's been part of my household. I've grown up watching my mom make our clothes and stuff like that. So that's kind of like my background as to how I got there. I guess a little bit more about me. Grew up with my mom and my sister, always lived in London, northwest London. And then we moved to northwest London as I got older. Went to a girls Catholic school, was taught by nuns. That makes me feel like I must sound so old when I say that as well. I studied performing arts when I was about 19, and I think that's when I fell in love with upcycling. Obviously, back then, it wasn't upcycling for me. I was just cutting up my clothes because I was obsessed with the film Fame. Do you know the film Fame?

BOAS Member: Yes.

Dani Dawkins: Love. Fame. So as a student studying performing arts, I'm like I'm like the kids from Fame. Like, I'm singing, dancing, but obviously Fame is set in the 80s. I'm like, well, I need to have the clothes. I would cut my jumpers up so they could be off the shoulder tops, and I would make myself leg warmers out of old jumpers. I'd cut the sleeves off the jumpers and put the wrist bit around the top part of my leg and so they would be leg warmers over my shoes. I was obsessed. And little did I know that that was me starting this whole journey of, well, I want that, so I'm going to make it. Because obviously, I went to college in the 90s. Like late 90s? No, early 2000. And that wasn't the style that was in fashion. So, yeah, I just used to make it. My son, 23, then fell in love with kind of upcycling his clothes. It's different with boys. With my daughter, I would make her clothes. With my son, I would customize his clothes. So be customizing denim jackets with him and put in he liked superheroes, so I put superhero cartoon fabric on his denim jackets and put his name on everything.
And then, obviously, having a child in school, world Book Days and the holidays where they could do fancy dress, I was obsessed. I was like, yeah, Kaden, this is what we're going to do. I just ran everything. He'd be like, But, Mom, I want to be a ninja. I'd be like, no, bossy, mom, we're going to make this because that's going to look good.

BOAS Member: That is super interesting. So you mentioned that you used to make your daughter's clothes, but you would customize your son's. Is there a reason for that? Was there just sort of more creativity?

Dani Dawkins: With, well, one, girl's clothes are so much more fun. So I was so excited when I found out I was having a girl. So seven years in between them. And I just remember when I used to shop for boys clothes, everything looked exactly the same. It was jeans and T shirts, jumpers. But girls like the dresses and the skirts. It's just so much different. And making a skirt is so easy. I didn't learn to make trousers until during lockdown. And so that's a lot of years later. My son's first costume that I made him for school when he was maybe five, it was a dinosaur costume. And I didn't know the whole concept of making trousers. So I laid him down on the floor on a piece of fabric and drew around his legs. Anyone who's listening to this that knows how to sew probably will gasp right now. Like, what? And then I brought it to my NAN because I didn't have a sewing machine then. And I showed her my pattern. I was like, NAN, can you help me sew these? And she thought, what is that? I was like, It's the child's for Cadence.
And at that point, she could have said, no, it's all wrong. She said, oh, well, it might work. And she allowed me to sew up these trousers that she knew would just rip from the seams. And the next day, he wore them to school. And by the time he got to school because there was no give on the in seam. They ripped. But he was happy. He's like, It's okay, because now I can run around mum. And I was just like, okay.

BOAS Member: Going to a second hand store is already just a challenge because there's just so much there. I usually personally end up gravitating towards more simple designs so that I could make layer, because once there's just too much pattern or some custom thing going on, I sort of deteriorate from it upcycling. Do you usually lean towards more simplistic items?

Dani Dawkins: Not necessarily. I think for me is I see something and there's something in it that I like. I do have a style, so I love denim. I could pick up anything denim. It could be like just denim jeans, plain denim jeans. And for me, it might be that I'm going to upcycle it into a skirt or into a dress or just I just like them as they are. But I really love 50s style and love patterns. I love prints. I love colorful stuff. So it's for me. People always say, what's your style? I've been through the 80s, I've been through the 50s, give me a seat, 20 sequin dress anytime. I love unique pieces, and I think that's where my love for unique colors come from. So I'll go into a shop and see a bedsheet, and I'm like, wow, bed sheet is ugly, but it would make a beautiful outfit. A beautiful dress, which is just unique. And that's what I think I fall in love with the beauty in something that is actually quite ugly when you first look at it. And that kind of challenge of being able to make it beautiful.
And I don't care whether it's for everyone, I don't care if a bunch of people say, that is absolutely disgusting. Because there are people that are going to be like, wow, that is awesome. So I feel like it's that challenge of making it beautiful and seeing if you can make it pretty okay.

BOAS Member: So that's also super interesting because on your social media, you talk often about how the reception has been since you started sharing the items that you've made. So I want to talk about that a bit because you began sharing your creations on social media. And I remember this one viral tweet from you where you turned an Ikea bag into a dress. So how was that whole process? How's the reception been?

Dani Dawkins: Although I'd been upcycling and so in years before, it was just like, I'm at home. I have this massive pile of clothes in the corner that I need to either return to the charity shop and bring back or sell or do something with or really just start going through it and making it making it into something. So I thought, I'm going to make it into something and start doing videos around it. And it was really fun, and it's great how it's been able to let people see that process of taking something and making it into something new and looking at their own stuff. The amount of people that have said they actually look at their own stuff now, like, wow, this could be something else. Everything doesn't have to be thrown away because sometimes it is the case that they do like it, they just don't know how to wear it or what to do with it. So I love that. Yeah.

BOAS Member: Now I'm looking at my bed sheets, like, maybe they're going to be a nice dress. You said that you like shopping on a budget, not because you necessarily need to be on one, but because you don't like fast fashion. Now, there is a big stigma around secondhand shopping. How do those things fall into your line of necessity? So what is wrong with fast fashion and what is good about secondhand shopping?

Dani Dawkins: The issue with fast fashion is obviously the issues of it being made the way it's made. It's cheaply made. That was my biggest thing before I kind of really dug deep into more of the core problems with it. It was that it was cheaply made. Like, I remember when I, when Asos came about and I would be like, wow, this stuff isn't too expensive. This is great. And I would order something. He looked amazing on a model, and I'd get it and it was safer. And I never understood this whole thing of it being the workers not being paid and the slave labor that goes behind it, the workers in the factories having to make 500 pieces in a week. I could just about get through free pieces in a week sometimes. So I'm like, wow, but they're not getting paid for the work that they're doing. So the problems with landfill, like just knowing that because everything is cheaply made and it's sold for so cheap as well, people are buying like free sizes because the sizes are just all over the place. I might be a size ten usually, and then I'll order something and it comes up way too big or way too small because you never know.
You're like, right, I'll get my size, the size before and the size after. Then once it's returned, it's not even going back to most of the time they can't resell it for whatever reason, it ends up in landfill. And it's amazing how many fast fashion pieces with tags on are in charity shops. There are some charity shops where I go to now, and I probably don't go to them as much because it's full of fast fashion. I don't like fast fashion. I find it on trend and I'm just not one for trends in general. If I like something, then I like it. But most of the time the stuff I like is your nan's dress from the 50s. So I'm not interested. I'm like, yeah, I'm going to go because there's just nothing in here for me and what I love about fashion and second hand shopping is just being able to find unique pieces like one you're giving back to, you're helping a charity. I know that there can be like things about how much money actually goes to the charity, but you are helping charities, you're bringing awareness to charities, you're finding unique pieces, you're really tapping into your own unique style as well.

Dani Dawkins: Because I find that with fast fashion it's easy just to buy what's current right now, like you see on the model, you're like, right, I'll get the top, the skirt, the shoes, even the hair accessories. Whereas when you go to a second hand shop, everything's just all separate. So like 1 minute you're at the skirts and then you're like, oh, let me go and have a look at a top. And then you're piecing things together or you're piecing something with stuff that you already own. So you have to really think and be more creative of how you put your outfits together when you're shopping secondhand.

BOAS Member: Right. There's a lot of interesting things you said over there. Also I'm tempted to think that if you can order just a bunch of different sizes maybe or a bunch of different colors of the same item, maybe it doesn't have the same value on your end. So you can just wear something once and sort of get sick of it faster as opposed to right, yeah. That makes a lot of intuitive sense. For second hand shopping now: a lot of people are intimidated. We sell our products both online and sometimes in markets in person. Those are two very different experiences, I think, of both shopping and selling. Do you have a preference for one or the other?

Dani Dawkins: Do you know what? It really is fun. So I don't necessarily do many markets but I used to do them before and I actually really enjoyed them because I'm a people person. I used to work in retail, I worked in Gap, I worked in Nighttown as actual retail clothing stores. And I enjoy being around people and communicating with people. So whereas I'm just in my little studio most of the time, I don't have that interaction with people on the outside and just being like whether they're interested in my stuff or not, just having conversations. Because for me, even the last pop up shop that I'd done, it was last year like maybe around summertime and it was having the conversation, the pieces, some people weren't interested. I had a lot of the shirts that I'd made into crop tops and skirts, and so some of the people like it's not really my style, but I love the concept that you're taking stuff and reusing it, and it's a men's shirt, and now it's a woman's two piece outfit. And then I'd have probably more younger people. So it shows where my styles are, who I like.

Dani Dawkins: They were coming in and they were really probably more appreciating it. And yeah, for me, it was being able to have the conversations of recycling and upcycling that were more important to me than actually selling the product. It was about bringing awareness to what I was doing. And I find that a lot of more of my business comes from one on one clients. So, like, someone coming in and actually asking me to tailor make an outfit for them, whether it's from something old or fabric that they bought me, because I don't go out and buy a fabric for them. I try not to most of the time and alterations, amending and stuff as well. That's what most of my business is. But this year, I actually do want to do a lot more work, pop up shops, because I do enjoy them.

BOAS Member: And as a shopper when you go into a second hand store, because you mentioned earlier that you avoid certain charity shops if they have a bunch of fast fashion items. We're very tempted about denim just because how durable it is and how long term it is and how even when they're used, they have something about them that's interesting. Is there something that makes your experience, like shopping in person and online easier that a charity shop does?

Dani Dawkins: When I go charity shop shopping, I'm in a good mood. That's the main thing I was going to say, even if I'm not, but I'm like, when am I not? But it does bring me joy. Like, it's that whole, you just make it fun. It's that treasure hunt. So sometimes it might be like, oh, when I go out today, I'm looking for so then you're kind of like it's like that excitement of, I'm going to find this today, or am I going to find this? And you know, when you find that piece that is just like, unique, it gets exciting. I can't say that shopping online, I actually get excited because I'm very much a reviews type person. I love being out anyways and if I'm buying, I don't tend to buy clothes online just because of fit and stuff. I've got a very small waist and I want to say a big booty, but some people would disagree. But jeans and stuff, I love denim, but it has to fit right and mum jeans just don't fit me. They don't look good on me. For some reason. I'm trying every time I'm trying to get a good pair of mum jeans, but it doesn't work.

Dani Dawkins: So I love being out there and being able to fill the fabrics and look at them and really, how lightweight is it? How heavyweight is it? How heavyweight are the jeans? I love a nice, thick denim. So I do definitely prefer going out to the charity shops as opposed to doing them online, because I know some you can shop. Even when you can shop secondhand online, whether it's vintage or ebay, it's still a bit more like that whole thing. When it comes, what is it going to be like? 

BOAS Member: I live two hours outside of a city so sometimes it's very efficient when I can order online if I have to, let's say buy a pair of jeans today. Do you recommend I size up or size down?

Dani Dawkins: It does depend on the jeans. I feel like if they're a thicker denim and you know they're a thicker denim like there's no stretch in it. Definitely size up because things will look at least you can get in them. And you can use accessories to strap the waist in at the back or belts if they're big enough to wear them. A little bit high waisted so the belt crunches in like that. I would always size up if I'm not sure. But if it was a stretch denim, the worst is baggy stretch denim. I think you can then get away with buying your size at least instead of having to size up. If it's a stretch denim and if it's new, then you're fine. If it has been worn with a stretch denim, I would usually stay away from stretch denim that's been worn. And you can see in pictures, really pay attention to the pictures. That's the good thing with buying online is that buying secondhand online they have to put any faults in the picture and if they don't, then you can return it, which is great. But there are sometimes, especially buying denim, you will see that it's worn slightly around the front, the front part. And if you see that it looks like it's got the pullls, then I would avoid it because it's been worn too many times and it's going to be baggy.

BOAS Member: And also about buying used jeans, there is a bit of a stigma around it. So if I am looking online at pictures and I see a stain or a tear, I would personally shy away from buying it. Just because in my head that would be sort of unwearable. But actually you don't see it that way, I'm assuming, and I don't think a lot of people should, maybe if they didn't see it that way, those jeans would get a lot of love. But what would you do to a pair of jeans that are just worn out? Let’s say they have some holes.

Dani Dawkins: For me because I do use a lot as I look around, there's denim in every corner of this room. But if it was that, it was really stained. I love patches. I think patches are so cool. Whether it's something if they fit well and you're like they look like they fit well, but they got a couple of stains on it. You could paint them like do really cool art on them or put studs on them, you could bleach them, fray them. I think I said patches before. I don't know if I elaborated properly, but putting patches of them on them, getting other fabrics that you might have and laying patches over them, which is great because it's like that kind of visible mending, which I think is awesome. But also you could use them to work on another project and depending on where the stain is, cutting them into shorts. Summers come in. I cut a pair of trousers up recently and I just didn't like the length of it. But I love the way they fit because they were proper 80 style, high waisted fit really nice. So I cut them into short shorts and there might going to be money, some short. I can't wait to wear them. I'm like, come on, weather.

BOAS Member: Yes. That is exciting. You're making me kind of want to do that also. It just sounds like a fun activity. It would also make me look forward to sort of like the changing of the seasons a bit more.

Dani Dawkins: Definitely.

BOAS Member: That's very nice. I want to talk a bit before we end about what you are doing currently. What are some projects you're working on? How is your business going? You're an entrepreneur. About what that's like?

Dani Dawkins: It's fun. Okay. Being an entrepreneur, it doesn't come easy to me in the sense of it's all the admin stuff, I'm really crap at that stuff. I'm just a creative, so I am working on getting a team on board that can do the for me, the boring stuff because I love being creative. But I love at the moment, I'm doing a lot more with workshops. I love doing workshops and I love that whole process of people being able to come and learn a new skill and work with other I say women because it is mostly women that do my workshops. So work with other women. It's fun and exciting. Or whether it's children and they're learning a new skill so that they can know that we don't have to go out and buy new stuff. My children love secondhand stuff. Callie loves customizing our clothes. Kaden, if I bring in a jacket home, he's like, yeah, Mom, I'm having this. So I love that. So workshops is something that I'm working on a lot, and I'm also doing a lot more speaking engagements as well. So I've literally just finished three days at the Ideal Home Show where I was on stage speaking about sustainability and upcycling and bringing more awareness around all of that. So it's awesome. I love that. I love it.

BOAS Member: That's amazing. And also, before we go, I want to ask you, since you are an inspiration to many people, what is one piece of advice that you give to people who are starting to think about being more sustainable?

Dani Dawkins: Okay, great question. I've always for a long time, I've been into this whole concept of being more sustainable, like making an effort. So I remember watching a documentary years ago. My daughter was a small baby then, and they're talking about the world was going to end in 2060. And however they verbalized it, in my eyes, the world was going to just combust into tiny little pieces and we were just going to disappear. Where were we going to go? And it really scared me because I was like, what's going to happen to my children? What's going to happen to my grandchildren? We need to do something about it. And I think that's when I really started being more conscious about not shopping fast fashion and shopping secondhand instead, which now I'm aware that hang on. But there's still a problem there because there's so many people that every week they're doing halls, like charity shop halls, but where the clothes are still just getting sitting in a corner in your house and then you're taking it back to the charity shop. I really am here for being more sustainable and for bringing awareness to it. However, if I need a bottle of water and I go to the shop, I might buy a plastic bottle of water.
And I don't want people to see me out on the street and be like, I thought she was sustainable. And I don't want people to have that pressure of I can't buy this and I have to buy this because I'm now sustainable. It's about being conscious, making an effort to make a change, maybe speaking to your friends and family about what we can all do together. Because there's no point in saying, well, I can't be fully sustainable, so I'm not going to do it. But I can try and be sustainable and I can be more sustainable here and I can do more of this, but less of this. I don't necessarily like the washing up bars. I like Fairy Liquid, but I'm trying and I'm going to keep going until I find the one I like. And I bought a bar recently and my son washes up as well and he's like, mom, this is not working for me. And I'm like, yeah, I know, right? So we bought a bottle of Fairy Liquid, but does that mean I'm going to give up? No. I've got some new tabs now that dissolve in the water and they start up. We're going to try those ones again. So it's about trying, but it's also about making it work for you and your family. And no pressure, but let's try. Let's just try and do the best we can be.

BOAS Member: That is wonderful advice. I also completely agree with you. I think a lot of people in the sustainability space tend to be very hard on themselves, but it shouldn't deter people from trying. I agree. Danny, thank you so much. I think we are suggesting your main platform to be Instagram. Is there something else you'd like to shout out?

Dani Dawkins: Instagram is my main platform. That is where I'm hanging out, legs up, arms behind my back, doing the most I do. Give TikTok a good try. We're trying there. And it's the same handle as my Instagram anyway. So you can find me over there on Instagram. I'm a lot more behind the scenes that you'll see the rawness out with my daughter, skating, doing dances with my son, but still doing a lot of the same videos and talking about sustainability as well and upcycling. But it might be like in the studio doing stuff as well, more than on Instagram. Instagram, my stories see that side of it and then it disappears after a while.

BOAS Member: For our listeners, we did send Danny a pair of jeans from BOAS and she is going to upcycle them and do something magical with them. And that will be on your Instagram. So do look out for them. There's the package.

Dani Dawkins: And I love that it's very air packed. I need this for when I'm sending off stuff, but, yeah, I'm literally about to open this as soon as I jump offline.

BOAS Member: All right. Thank you so much, Dan. Thank you so much for joining us and for all of your answers. They were wonderful.

Dani Dawkins: Thank you for having me.

BOAS Member: We'll be seeing you on your Instagram then. Goodbye.

Dani Dawkins: Thank you very much. Bye bye.

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