written by: Haarika Karlapati @haarika.k
photo by: Naja Stilling Fiegé @najastillingfiege
In the past few years, we have seen millennials and Gen Zs make the switch to thrifting. Younger consumers are often blamed for their shopping and hyperconsumption habits when it comes to fashion, but these impulse buyers are now finding a way to give their unwanted clothing a second life through thrifting.
If you are not familiar with thrift shopping, it is essentially buying something pre-owned. You can look for a local thrift store, but if you can’t find one near you, you can go to websites such as ThredUp, Mercarci, Poshmark, and DePop. Not only is secondhand shopping more affordable, it is extremely environmentally friendly. The fashion industry is considered by the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) to be the second most polluting industry. For carbon emissions, the industry is responsible for more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined. Fast fashion especially comes at a huge environmental cost due to water pollution, toxic chemical use, and textile waste. By thrifting, you’re keeping all of the resources invested in all of these clothing items from going to waste. You will also be keeping plastic out of landfills and contributing to the decrease in worldwide textile waste.
Here’s the issue with the thrifting culture: gentrification. The whole concept of thrifting has been somewhat fetishized by middle to upper class white women. It’s one thing to thrift in the name of sustainability but it’s another thing to treat it like a fad or a fashion trend when secondhand clothes are important to lower income families.The obvious benefits to thrifting is that it's financially responsible, environmentally friendly, and enjoyable. However, for many people, thrifting is not an option, it’s a necessity. Before thrifting culture gained popularity, it used to be seen as a symbol of poverty; low-income families and households would and still rely on second hand stores. Due to an increase in demand by economically-advantaged people, thrift stores began increasing their prices, ultimately marginalizing the group that needs them the most. Gentrification has also had an impact on the local charities. Value Villages, Goodwills, and other consignment stores have been closing some of their locations because of cash flow crises.
A question we should be asking ourselves is: should people who can afford to shop elsewhere be thrifting? Since we know that fast fashion damages the environment, there are many sustainable clothing brands such as Patagonia and Reformation, but at a much higher price point. If people can spend their disposable income on high quality sustainable clothing, they should do that instead of treating thrifting as a fad and inadvertently making the thrift stores rake up the prices. Sustainable clothing companies have specific business models that help reduce waste and water pollution, unlike fast fashion companies, which explains the high price points. The issue in recent thrifting culture is the fact that middle to upper class consumers are buying secondhand clothing and then reselling them at much higher prices, making the clothes inaccessible to lower income communities. As long as your intention to buy second hand is pure and not a result of fetishization, then there is no harm in thrifting.