Emily Useche, who is 27 and lives in Arkansas, had just put her baby down for a nap one afternoon when she decided to post some family photos on Facebook. But she didn’t simply upload them for friends and family to see.
She also posted the photos to a private Facebook group for a whole other community: A fan club for Pyne & Smith Clothiers. Ms. Useche was wearing one of that brand’s dresses in the photos — a style she had posted about once before when she saw it being sold secondhand — and was ready to show it off. Minutes after she posted, other members replied with compliments for her, and praise for the sunflower check dress she was wearing.
The group, Pyne & Smith Clothiers BST and Chat, is one of a number of so-called buy-sell-trade communities. Part social club and part marketplace, the groups have sprung up on Instagram and Facebook and have, for some users, become a daily place to socialize and shop.
While many serve enthusiasts of mass market brands, others are powered by dedicated followers of idiosyncratic indie brands, the sort rarely featured in glossy magazines and often escape the notice of major retailers. But they have devoted followers, many of whom are attracted by the idea of slow, ethical fashion.
Facebook and Instagram communities can be a very real alternative to traditional retailers, providing shoppers with not only products, but also friends.
“A lot of us are millennials who are trying really hard to take steps toward sustainability,” said Lacey Camille Schroeder, 32 and a jewelry designer who lives in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. She created the PSC buy-sell-trade Facebook group. “People buying these dresses tend to be like-minded when it comes to fashion. A lot of them are in the ‘crunchy’ category.”
That line was founded by Joanna McCartney. She stumbled into making clothes in 2014 when she couldn’t find a linen dress she liked during the hot Los Angeles summer.
Made of flax linen and produced in California, the dresses look like the kind you could wear to a dinner party and to collect eggs from your free-range chickens the next day. Their prices range from $146 to $186, though by the time the dresses make it to this group, they’re usually sold for about $120 each.
Ms. Schroeder set up the group, which has 2,888 members, two years ago when a follower of the Pyne & Smith Clothiers Instagram said she was looking to sell a gently used Pyne & Smith dress that was taking up space in her closet.
Ms. Schroeder got on the phone with Ms. McCartney and hammered out the group guidelines.
Civility and a promise to be kind when posting critical feedback are among the few requirements for membership, and Ms. Schroeder said she rarely has to moderate conversations.
In some cases, a single dress may be sold and passed between three or four members, who connect with each other and facilitate their own sales along the way.
Friends Through Fashion
Groups range from small pop-up Instagram hashtags like #JamieandTheJonesForSale, with fewer than 100 posts, to accounts like Noihsaf Bazaar, which was started on Instagram in 2013 and now has more than 30,000 followers.
Noihsaf was founded when Kate Lindello, 36, a stylist, fashion blogger and stay-at-home mother, wanted to sell a pair of Rachel Comey flats that didn’t fit.
Today Noihsaf, which focuses on emerging and independent designers, operates multiple Instagram accounts, including one for vintage and one for beauty products, and posts 1,200 to 1,500 items weekly on its main resale account.
Ms. Lindello employs three freelancers to help her sort through the hundreds of daily submissions and choose items to post. Unlike volunteer-run accounts, Noihsaf charges a $3.80-per-sale fee.
“Tech is a blessing and a curse,” Ms. Lindello said. “We’re behind our phones so much, but you also have the chance to make this human connection.” In 2017, after posting a pair of her own denim jeans on the account, she was surprised to see that the buyer lived only two miles down the road.
“I could have mailed those jeans to Allison in Duluth, but I wanted to know who this person was,” she said. “I emailed her, and she said she’d just drop by my house. She ended up being a New Yorker who had just moved here, and we’re buddies now. She’s my kid’s dentist.”
From Online to In-Person
Around that same time, Nicolle Rountree, an African-American logistics manager who lives in New Orleans and wears plus-size clothing, was fed up with feeling unwelcome in stores and buying new pants every month when fast fashion ones fell apart.
Through online research, Ms. Rountree discovered Elizabeth Suzann, a label that offers classic staples in natural fabrics in sizes XXS through 4XL — and then discovered that used Elizabeth Suzann clothing was being sold on Instagram accounts like Sell/Trade Elizabeth Suzann and Sell/Trade Slow Fashion.
One day, a fellow Instagram shopper tagged her in a post for a used pair of black Clyde pants in size 16 that she had spotted. Ms. Rountree bid by commenting on the post and bought them from the seller for $125 (normally $245), becoming the third owner of the pants and a committed Elizabeth Suzann customer.
This year, Ms. Rountree became a volunteer moderator of the Sell/Trade Slow Fashion Instagram account (more than 18,000 followers), which hosts and curates sale posts for slow fashion items, hosts trade forums and prompts weekly discussions about ethical fashion. Through the group, she has met more and more women who care about slow fashion.
It’s an online community that became even more real in October, when Ms. Rountree met two other moderators of the group and road-tripped to the Elizabeth Suzann sample sale in Nashville.
“I got out of the car, and there’s this line of women, many of whom I knew, mostly by their Instagram handles, and they ran up to me and hugged me. It blew me away,” she said. “We were all there waiting and shopping in terrible 90-degree Southern summer heat, all stripped down to just bras and underwear. And people are handing you stuff to try on, and you’re handing them stuff to try on, and you don’t even know them. They’re strangers who aren’t strangers.
“I’m a black woman who lives in the South,” Ms. Rountree said. “I have never felt that safe around that many people before.”
A New Social Network
Sali Kelley, 50 and an American child care provider and E.S.L. teacher in Italy, has also seen her life changed by online buy-sell-trade communities. Between 2015 and 2016, Ms. Kelley’s best friend left the country, leaving her adrift and depressed, and she and her family moved from Milan to Varese, a smaller city in northern Italy.
Feeling alone and isolated, Ms. Kelley found herself having more interactions online. Eventually, most of them centered around a newly discovered passion: slow fashion, and one brand in particular, Ace & Jig, a female-run American company that uses vivid Indian textiles to create whimsical, colorful clothing.
Though Ms. Kelley was initially turned off by Ace & Jig’s retail prices (new pieces are $200 to $300), she began searching Instagram, where she discovered hundreds of women selling under hashtags like #aceandjigforsale (more than 16,000 posts) and #aceandjigcommunity (more than 5,000). Noihsaf also has a channel dedicated to Ace & Jig.
Before long, Ms. Kelley had started an Instagram account dedicated to celebrating the label, as well as a private message group for plus-size members to trade their Ace & Jig items. She even began organizing an April 2020 meeting for fans in Paris and London, and says it’s not unusual for her to spend hours each week chatting with other Ace & Jig fans and commenting on community posts.
She is also managing the cross-country journey of an Ace & Jig shirt that is being mailed from fan to fan every couple of weeks.
“The rules are basically there’s no rules,” Ms. Kelley said. “You wear it once and post a picture of it and pass it on.” Termed the “traveling Baja,” after the shirt style and “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants,” the shirt is size XS but seems to fit most of the women who want to participate, Ms. Kelley said.
Currently making its way through Tennessee after traveling from Italy through 13 other states, the shirt is a way for people in the community to connect that Ms. Kelley said she dreamed up one night when she couldn’t sleep.
“Most of us are women with the same core values who care about women’s issues,” Ms. Kelley said of the 500 or so online friends in her network. “We talk about kids, life, jobs. We’re constantly messaging each other and commenting on each others posts. If I haven’t seen someone post for a while, I’ll check and ask, ‘Hey, are you O.K.?’”