Where To Find Milan's Best Sustainable and Second-Hand Fashion

BIVIO is one of Milans best-loved second-hand and vintage shops
BIVIO is one of Milan's best-loved second-hand and vintage shops | Courtesy of BIVIO
Linda Massi

A spending spree in Italian fashion capital doesn’t have to hurt the environment or your budget – these are the best second-hand and sustainable fashion shops in Milan to buy clothing to suit every wallet and wardrobe, from vintage high-end fashion to thrift store gems.

Reborn Ideas specialises in upcycled goods

“According to experts, the fashion industry is the second most polluting in the world,” says Maurizio Mazzanti. “We need to practise conscious buying if we want to be sustainable.” With this aim, he founded Reborn Ideas, a marketplace focussed on shining a light on upcycled and sustainable fashion brands. Along with European Design Institute lecturer Lucrezia Grassi, and Milan’s best sustainable and vintage store owners, he recommends the best independent, ethical and second-hand stores in Milan. Here’s where to go if you want to leave the city with wearable souvenirs that are as good for the planet as they look on you.

1. Napoleone

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“I moved to Milan for school in 1992, and I promptly found what was going to become one of my favourite stores, the Napoleone,” Mazzanti says. “Established in 1995, it’s the first vintage store in the city – even though back then it was just described as used clothing.” Napoleone is filled with unique items at affordable prices and, being only a four-minute walk from the Duomo, there’s no excuse for missing out. This is one of those vintage stores that requires patience, as it’s large and a bit messy, but if you stick with it you’ll be rewarded.

2. Nicoletta Fasani

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Nicoletta Fasani sustainable fashion brand
© Alfredo Bernasconi

“When I started my career, I wasn’t into sustainability; I just wanted to create clothes that would reflect my identity, based on geometric shapes,” fashion designer Nicoletta Fasani says. “But as soon as I dipped my toes into production, I realised the usual way of doing things wasn’t right, so I changed that as well as the materials I use.” Fasani’s creations are now only made with organic cotton and hemp and follow a Just-in-Time production method (only keeping limited numbers of items in stock) to reduce waste. Her atelier is the go-to place for streamlined and minimalist clothing with a colourful touch – all high-quality and made in Italy.

3. SNAP

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Tucked away in the south of Milan, SNAP differentiates itself as a cross between a classic vintage boutique and a thrift store, both in terms of style and price. SNAP’s Vittoria Boattini admits she looks for a certain vibe when choosing items to buy for their racks or who to collaborate with – what exactly that is, it’s hard to describe but easy to grasp once you step into the concept store. Specialising in pieces from the ’70s and ’80s, it looks like your groovy best friend’s closet, sparkly curtains included. In addition to vintage clothing, you’ll find Milan’s true underground fashion scene in SNAP, as they often collaborate with emerging designers or local artisans to create unique, limited-edition pieces. Stop by here to browse the rails, chat to the staff and snap a picture of the shop’s most distinctive feature – the Instagram-famous dried-flower wall.

4. Ambroeus

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Family run vintage boutique Ambroeus
Courtesy of Ambroeus

Ambroeus is a quirky little vintage boutique that can be found in one of Milan’s up-and-coming neighbourhoods, Isola. If you find a spare moment between skipping from one trendy aperitivo and the next, check out this family-owned number. New stock comes in everyday, and it’s easy to monitor their ever-changing styles thanks to their constantly updated website. Mazzanti defines it as one of the best examples of circular economy in Milan: “If you bring your clothes they give you a voucher you can use in the shop itself. You can switch your old stuff with something new and different every time you want.”

5. Piazzale Cuoco

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SNAP’s Boattini says that most city flea markets in Milan can be disappointing because they’re too popular. “You find people fighting for those Levi’s like their life depended on it, as everyone has a vintage store or a Depop page now. That’s how the prices go up.” The solution can be found off the beaten track; even though the Piazzale Cuoco market may not look like much, Boattini assures that it’s where you’ll end up finding the best pieces. “I love Piazzale Cuoco market. I know it’s shoddy, but it reminds me of the markets from the villages around Bologna, where I grew up.” Don’t hesitate to step into this sprawling market if you happen to stumble by it, but keep an eye on your bag in case of pickpockets, and remember to haggle in Italian for the best prices.

6. Humana Vintage

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The window of Humana Vintage
Courtesy of Humana Vintage

“Milan is avant-garde when it comes to fashion and trends, and that’s where the love for thrifting started, in Italy, because it’s cool and sustainable,” says Luca Gilardi, Unit Shops Manager for Humana. Humana feels like a classic thrift store, but its two locations (one next to the Duomo and the other south of Milan) are often filled with incredible gems like Sisley’s pink leather skirts and chic corduroy pants. Most of their items are priced at around €5-10 (£4-8), with sales going on all the time, which makes Humana a favourite place for second-hand shopping in Milan for both SNAP’s Boattini and IED lecturer Lucrezia Grassi. The best thing about Humana, though, is that every purchase funds charity projects. From aiding in HIV prevention to supporting education in poorer parts of the world, Humana is the easiest way to do some good while visiting Milan.

7. Cangiari

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Hand-woven fabrics have been a southern Italian tradition for many years. That’s the idea behind Cangiari, which claims to be the first high-end ethical fashion brand in Italy. They use exclusively organic materials, and production happens solely in Italy, involving social cooperative GOEL as well as aiming to give work opportunities to disadvantaged people. Their atelier is in one of the chicest parts of Milan, a stone’s throw from the Bosco Verticale and the legendary 10 Corso Como, and comes highly recommended by Grassi. “What’s impressive with Cangiari is that they took the tradition from the south of Italy and turned it into Milan-worthy high fashion.”

8. BIVIO

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An interior shot of Bivio
Courtesy of BIVIO

If you’ve ever dreamed of finding a pair of forest-green vintage Versace corduroy pants or a mint condition Supreme sweatshirt, BIVIO is the place to go. In the Sant’Agostino neighbourhood, you can find two of BIVIO’s shops: one focussing on men’s fashion, the other on women’s, but both specialising high-end vintage from recent eras. It may leave some pin-up fans disappointed by the lack of petticoats and swing skirts, but it has a tight following thanks to the second-hand Supreme and Gucci gracing its shelves. BIVIO is one of the few vintage stores buying for private sellers that pays in advance; because of that, they make sure what they purchase is on-trend and in great condition, making for one of the most curated second-hand stores in town.

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