Recycling is the new black

Scouring flea markets for a bargain has never been more en vogue

Sunday on Sønder Boulevard in Copenhagen’s Vesterbro: the grass verge is packed with colourful racks of designer outfits, rows of almost-new shoes and baby clothes in messy piles.

Flea markets are no longer about unearthing kitschy ashtrays or antique wine glasses, and the correct term for the goods on sale is vintage, not second-hand.

“The vintage look is an integrated part of the fashion world. There’s prestige in really great vintage bargains and in having a nack for finding used treasures. It’s a bit like the vinyl scene, where people collect music on LP’s. Savvy consumers think it is okay to say that they’ve bought used clothes.”

The statement comes from 32-year old Rita Christina Biza, a self-employed organiser of flea markets, event planner, and DJ. She is the force behind Rita Blå’s Lopper, a firm that organises flea markets at various spots in and around Copenhagen. She uses outdoor locations such as Sønder Boulevard and Papirøen near Christianshavn, and in the winter she organises events in Nørrebrohallen and AFUK, The Academy for Untamed Creativity.

Rita has been organising flea markets for the last four or five years, and has noticed their growing popularity amongst both buyers and sellers.

“Flea markets have always been popular, but in the last year or so the stalls have been nearly fully booked before I’ve even posted the event online. Stall holders are mainly women. My flea markets have a profile: good quality stuff at reasonable prices. And it’s the same people who come and buy stuff one day and sell at the next event.”

 Ritas Blå Lopper (Photo: Abdellah Ihadian)

Ritas Blå Lopper (Photo: Abdellah Ihadian)

Trendy markets
One of the oldest and most popular flea markets in Copenhagen takes place behind Frederiksberg Rådhus every Saturday during the summer. The event’s growth mirrors the growing trend: in 1980, the Frederiksberg flea market had 50 stalls. Today there are 87 stalls. Louise Møller, an administrator in Frederiksberg Kommune’s Department of Roads and Parks, explains: “It’s fully booked for the season, but every week we have 15 or 20 cancellations, and they get snapped up straight away.”

A stall holder can book three stalls each season, and stall holders have to be amateurs, says Møller. “The flea market is not for tradesmen. Our guidelines stipulate that stall holders may sell ‘used goods and handicrafts’, though people can sell a small amount of new stuff they have bought by mistake.”

Figures from a 2012 Gallup poll confirm that Denmark has caught the recycling bug. In 2012, 41 percent of all Danes had bought second-hand goods within the last year. The most popular items were furniture, books, games and clothes. And the online site for used goods, Den Blå Avis, saw a 43 percent increase in activity between 2010-12.

Ritas Blå Lopper (Photo: Abdellah Ihadian)

Ritas Blå Lopper (Photo: Abdellah Ihadian)

Recycled brand names
Biza believes that the growing popularity of flea markets is rooted in two seemingly contradictory trends: an awareness of the scarcity of resources, and an enormous enjoyment of clothes.

“It strikes me that modern young women are seriously addicted to clothes. Women my age buy an awful lot of clothes, and we feel slightly guilty both about the amount of money we spend and about buying so much. Flea markets are a way to give the clothes a new lease on life and recoup some of the money.”

Brand names are the first items to change hands at flea markets, Biza says.

“Designer fashion, especially by Danish designers like Stina Goya and Henrik Vibskov, go first. And big brand names like Gucci sell well if the things are in good condition.”

This makes perfect sense to Kirsten Poulsen, futurologist and owner of the Firstmove trend agency in Copenhagen.

“Designer brands are often good quality. The motivation is that we have to wear clothes, so we might as well buy clothes that someone has put some thought into. And we want clothes that are made to last – in terms of design and quality.”

But Poulsen isn’t surprised that recyclers prefer their designers to be Danish.

“There’s not as much prestige in the big brand names as there used to be. They have lost a lot of their appeal. But when you buy Danish design, you are supporting the new and up-and-coming designers, and you are cultivating locally-grown design – just like you do when you enjoy New Nordic cooking.”

But flea markets also sell a lot of high-street fashion. “We consumers tend to buy far too many cheap clothes,” says Biza. “And flea markets are a good place to buy cheap stuff even cheaper.”

Biza doesn’t feel there is a contradiction in wanting to get rid of stuff while also buying a lot of new things.

“It’s all part of the simple living trend. It feels really good to clear out and get rid of stuff. So there isn’t a contradiction between being a shopaholic and wanting to get rid of stuff; we want to be conscious consumers, and at the same time we want to shop. But in a sustainable way.”

Biza also feels that vintage items have a history that gives them added value.

“We like storytelling. And fashion is a way to tell stories. At the flea market on Papirøen, I bought some beautiful old silk kimonos from Japan. They have a personality because they come from the other side of the world.”

Personally, Biza keeps an eye open for used baby clothes for her infant son.

“Children’s wear isn’t an industry I want to support. New clothes are full of chemicals, so I would much rather clothe my kid in something that’s been washed at least 20 times. Anyway, children grow out of clothes so fast.”

Biza makes sure her flea markets have a variety of goods, but the clothes take centre stage.

“There are ornaments and old toys. And I invite stall holders who I know have vintage toys, so I know there are a few options. But the main item is the clothes, and I think this is because it’s clothes we consume most.”

Biza can see that the clientele at her flea markets is changing.

“Slowly but surely, men are starting to turn up. And they sell the same stuff: a lot of clothes, but generally they bring more hardware and furniture. And they have also got better at finding great buys at flea markets.” M


By Anna Bridgwater

Freelance journalist and writer of non-fiction books and articles for magazines and trade journals. Anna also edits the Danish Authors’ Associations magazine. She wrote the feature on flea market culture on page 14. (Photo: Thomas Tolstrup)

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