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FASHION

A guide to second-hand shopping in Sweden

If you're low on cash but still keen to upgrade your wardrobe, second-hand shopping may be the solution. Contributor Clara Guibourg investigates what Sweden has to offer in the way of vintage.

A guide to second-hand shopping in Sweden

If funds are running low in a post-Christmas economic slump, but you still want to upgrade your wardrobe with some new togs for a new year, there may be a solution. Why not try your hand at shopping for second-hand clothes, and check out what Sweden has to offer in the way of vintage?

While hardly a new concept, the market for used clothing has really exploded in Sweden over the past years, to the point that shopping second-hand has become something of a status marker for the hippest among us, as a quick glance down any street in the trendy SoFo district in Stockholm can confirm.

This is Vintage Central, where twenty-something hipsters bearing scarves and sweaters almost certainly knitted before they were born flock with bohemian girls in worn artsy dresses that proudly show their age.

It’s also the part of Stockholm with the highest density of second-hand stores per block. Small vintage boutiques are constantly popping up from out of nowhere to join established chains such as Beyond Retro, Myrorna and Stadsmissionen as part of the Swedish capital’s ever-expanding possibilities for shopping second-hand.

“I think the attraction lies in the possibility of finding more personal clothes second-hand than you can in regular shops,” explains Josefin Hagström, Beyond Retro’s press assistant, when asked about Swedes’ fascination with used clothing. She notes that if you want to look for your own unique style, second-hand stores have more to offer.

Beyond Retro have established themselves as one of Sweden’s best-known vintage chains since opening their first store in Stockholm in 2005, and now have enormous stores at three Stockholm addresses, and one more in Gothenburg. These stores are filled with colourful and exotic clothes that range from party dresses to outrageous accessories.

The allure of finding a skirt you’ll never risk inadvertently matching with your friend’s at a party, or a jacket unlike any on offer at more mainstream high street shops, is easy to understand. Are there any other advantages to going for second-hand clothes?

“You get a chance to re-use old things that come with a history, if you’re interested in that sort of thing,” says Josefin Hagström, and goes on to point out the eco-friendly Brownie points that accompany any foray into the world of vintage – shopping second-hand is far less damaging to the environment than buying new items.

Beyond Retro’s prices will burn a slightly deeper hole in your pocket than many other second-hand stores. In fact, today it is quite possible to update your wardrobe with brand new items from high street stores for less than it would cost at Beyond Retro, although the result won’t be nearly as retro chic, of course.

The same applies at Stockholm’s more exclusive second-hand boutiques, such as Judits Secondhand (Hornsgatan 75) and Lisa Larsson (Bondegatan 48). These boutiques offer carefully selected vintage clothing from decades past, so if you’re looking for a dress from the 1950’s, you’re likely to find it here.

The fact that the vintage clothes at these stores have already been selected by buyers is a large part of the reason for the higher prices, and as Josefin Hagström points out, many customers appreciate not having to do all the work themselves, by picking through piles of used clothing with little merit.

“People know that there are many different types of clothes, and at the same time know that we’ve selected only the best stuff, so that you can always find something when you come in here.”

Arguably, though, for many one of the main enjoyments of shopping for second-hand clothing is sifting through pounds of unwearable but hilarious rubbish before being rewarded for your hunt with a real gem.

So if you would rather save a few extra bucks, and don’t mind putting in a little extra time and effort, the chains Myrorna and Stadsmissionen, both run by charities and available in several locations throughout Sweden, may be just the thing. You’ve got a chance of making some great finds here, but you’re also likely to have to first search through some fairly interesting-looking togs, to say the least. How about a canary yellow quilted two-piece suit?

Don’t want to put in any time at all, and preferably not leave your house either? Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, there is an option for you too: Blocket and Tradera are two major Swedish websites of the eBay variety, where you can buy everything – and I mean everything – including an astonishing array of cast-off clothing.

If you got a well-meant but unfortunate-looking sweater from Grandma last Christmas, the Internet is also the right place to get rid of it. Simply sign up for an account of your own, and within minutes all your discarded clothes can be on the market!

For a more complete listing of Sweden’s second-hand stores, look here.

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SHOPPING

The unmanned supermarkets rescuing Sweden’s rural areas

One after another, grocery stores are shutting down in rural Sweden, leaving villagers to travel miles to buy food. But a new type of shop has sprung up in their wake: unmanned supermarkets in mobile containers.

The unmanned supermarkets rescuing Sweden's rural areas
Store manager Domenica Gerlach enters the Lifvs unmanned supermarket store in Veckholm, 80km outside Stockholm. Photo: Jonathan Nackstrand /AFP

In Veckholm, a village of a few hundred people 80 kilometres (50 miles) from Stockholm, the last grocery store closed more than a decade ago. Then, a year-and-a-half ago, even the little convenience store at the only petrol station locked its doors.

Villagers were left with no choice but to travel a half-hour by car to the closest supermarket.

But in July 2020, an automated, unmanned grocery store came to town. In a container dropped in the middle of a field, open 24 hours a day, the 20-square-metre (215-square-foot) supermarket sells hundreds of items — and there’s no cashier in sight.

“Since a while back, there has been nothing in this area and I think most of us living here have really missed that,” said Giulia Ray, a beekeeper in
Veckholm. 

“It’s so convenient to have this in the area,” she told AFP, doing her own shopping and restocking the shop’s shelves with her honey at the same time.

Shoppers unlock the supermarket’s door with an app on their smartphone. “We come here three times a week and buy stuff we need,” Lucas Edman, a technician working in the region for a few weeks, told AFP. “It’s a little bit more expensive but it’s fine. It’s a price I can pay to not go to another store.”

He scanned his pizzas and soda on the app on his phone, which is linked to his bank account and a national identification system — an added anti-theft security, according to the store. And it’s all done under the watchful eye of a single security camera.

Keeping costs down

In Sweden, the number of grocery stores — everything from superstores to small convenience stores — has dropped from 7,169 in 1996 to 5,180 in 2020, according to official statistics.

While the number of superstores has almost tripled in 24 years, many rural shops have closed down, often due, like elsewhere in Europe, to a lack of
profitability.

Daniel Lundh, who co-founded the Lifvs, has opened almost 30 unmanned stores in rural Sweden and in urban areas with no shops in the past two years.

“To be able to keep low prices for the customer, we have to be able to control our operation costs. So that means controlling the rent — that’s why
the stores are quite small — but also controlling the staffing cost,” Lundh said.

He plans to open his first unstaffed supermarkets outside Sweden early next year.

Domenica Gerlach, who manages the Veckholm store, only comes by once a week to receive deliveries. She also manages three other shops, all of them mobile containers.

Peter Book, the mayor of Enkoping, the municipality to which Veckholm belongs, has only good things to say about the three container stores that
have opened in his patch. And he’d like to see more.

“It makes it easier to take a step to move there if you know you have this facility,” he said.

Meeting place and ‘salvation’

In Sweden, one of the most digitalised countries in the world, Lifvs, like its Swedish rivals AutoMat and 24Food which have also popped up in rural
areas, benefits from a very wired population.

In 2019, 92 percent of Swedes had a smartphone. Ironically, the unmanned shops — plopped down in the middle of nowhere — also play a role as a “meeting place” for locals.

“You come here, you get some gas and you go inside and get something, and maybe someone else is here and you can have a chat,” Ray said.
Mayor Book echoed the notion, saying the stores make it possible to connect society”.

The pandemic has also proven the stores’ usefulness, since no contact with other people inside the shop is necessary.

Because of Covid-19, only one person at a time is allowed inside the Veckholm store.

“My mother lives nearby as well and … this has been a shop she could actually enter during all this time. She hasn’t been (able to go) anywhere,”
Ray said of her 75-year-old mother. “This has been a salvation for her.”

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