lot of people thrift so that they can have access to cheap and affordable clothing. Popular non-profit clothing stores such as Goodwill, The Salvation Army, and the St. Vincent De Paul Society, have raised their prices.
Since I got my first part time job at 16, it was clear that I was now responsible for purchasing my own clothes with my own money. During high school and parts of college, I would go to the thrift store often with friends or alone to buy myself affordable clothing. Buying things second hand wasn’t new to me, and I was thrifting long before it was considered “trendy.”
Trends & influencers make it difficult to find affordable clothing
The secondhand clothing market is projected to double in the next five years, and as it becomes easier to sell clothes online, more people have access to secondhand products. A lot of the critiques surrounding thrift store consumption has to do with excessive shoppers. People who tend to shop in excess (I’m talking bags upon bags of clothes) so they can resell products later.
Some will buy oversized items so they can make them into smaller-fitted clothes. Sellers do this through their own personal social media platforms, pricing items at sometimes double or triple the cost that they initially spent. This has led to the prices at thrift stores to increase from cheap, dollar store like prices, leaving low-income shoppers behind. A lot of people will still argue that the pros of thrifting still out-weigh the cons. Here are some issues to touch base on first.
It Leaves Out Low-Income and Plus Sized Shoppers
On blue tag day at Goodwill in 2016, I went to look at the mens section for oversized t-shirts. As someone who is plus sized, it's difficult to find clothes that fit and look nice on my body. Going to the thrift store was always great for me because sizes really don’t matter as much, it’s more so what you can find that fits you. Some clothes no longer have their original tags, therefore mitigating the stress related to finding your size. What fits, generally, will do.
At the time, one of those t-shirts was 99 cents. Now on average, they can range from $5 to $10 a piece. That’s simply just in the t-shirt section. Some people now might have to spend $40 for one garment. How many other things can $40 buy? A full tank of gas, or groceries for a few days. Goodwill gets their items via donation, and although they pay their workers, the prices have gone up significantly.
Some second hand stores aren’t looking to be cheap anymore
The problem isn’t only the consumer, but the stores themselves raising prices. As the demand for secondhand clothes escalates, prices are going to inflate. However, despite being a non-profit organization, Goodwill said in a statement that “While our stores serve to fund our programs and provide jobs for those otherwise facing barriers to the economic mainstream … we provide like-new clothes at affordable prices at our Goodwill stores.” Today, thrift stores are part of a $14.4 billion industry.
The environmental impact of secondhand clothing resale is headed in a positive direction. With the increasing supply of clothing that can be resold and the massive amounts of waste that the fast-fashion industry has created, it’s simply better to shop secondhand. The estimated number of clothing thrown away in the US each year is around 36 billion pounds. Of those thrown away, around 95% could have been either recycled or reused. In 2020, Goodwills across the nation harvested 4.6 billion pounds of goods from landfills.
Still, some people care about having brand new clothes, or a certain brand of clothing. This can be good and bad in relation to thrift stores -- simply because of accessibility. Don’t people who can’t afford to buy new things deserve to have some nice items in their price range?
There’s also the in-person aspect of thrifting, where people go through the hassle of searching through mounds of clothes at the bins, or warehouses. But the gentrification of thrift stores has happened mostly due to people shopping for other thrifted or vintage items online. It can be time consuming for people to search for hours, and online shopping has made everything more accessible. Some of this has to do with the covid pandemic -- around 33 million consumers bought secondhand apparel for the first time in 2020 alone.
Although thrifting began long before the pandemic, more people than ever have begun to shop online. This leaves for fewer cheap and accessible options to buy clothing in person. Thrift stores weren’t considered sanitary and a lot of people were straying away from shopping malls. Another part of the pandemic that isn’t talked about is how since there have been so many deaths due to covid, thrift and second hand stores are flooded with those who are dearly departed clothes. This meant that now, more than ever, was a time for influencers to profit off thrifting. The best way to do it? Through social media. Here are some things that I think have led for some thrift store prices to skyrocket:
Depop & Instagram
If you take a casual scroll on your Instagram feed, most likely, you’ll see an ad from an influencer or company. A lot of influencers on Instagram show their thrift store hauls by modeling or selling them directly through the app's added shop feature. Or, they might link to their personal Depop account. The Instagram-equivalent app for buying secondhand clothes, Depop is a place where influencers and regular people alike sell their own stuff. It can be a place to find some really unique artists, creators, and items. I’ve personally used the platform and sold some of my secondhand items that I no longer used. However, some people argue that the rise of Depop is making thrift store prices skyrocket.
Some sellers on the app will scourge their local thrift stores looking for vintage items at cheap prices to “flip” later. Sellers load up their carts with more than is needed for themselves personally and sell the items for sometimes outrageous prices online. Although I can appreciate the hustle, this is one of the many reasons why thrift stores are seeing climbing prices.
TikTok, YouTube, & Vlogging
The best thing about TikTok is how the algorithm can direct you toward like-minded people and interests. Most people’s interactions on the platform are with people they don’t personally know, other than Instagram, which only shows you people who you follow on your feed. Basically, anyone can become TikTok famous if they try hard enough. Some people gain a following based on how they thrift and style their clothes.
Most vloggers will show their finds while at their local Goodwill store. They will film the clothes when they’re still on the rack, showcasing the “thrift aesthetic.” Then they’ll take mountains of items home to model in videos, and sometimes, will sell them on the platform or through Depop. Some thrift vlogs have thousands of followers, and some are part of the creator fund. Essentially at that point, thrifting has become monetized and therefore, can become your full-time job if you try hard enough.
The Future of Thrift Stores and Secondhand Apparel
After this boom in secondhand shopping, a lot of retailers are considering expanding their stores to include more resale items. Around 60% of retailers think that partnering with an existing resale business will be their best course of action. Some brands like Urban Outfitters, Levi’s, and Patagonia sell secondhand items marketed as vintage on their website at nearly the same price it would be if new. Still, secondhand apparel still makes up less than 1% of the total apparel volume sold by retailers who have launched resale shops.
Due to some of these factors, thrifting has become a complex issue. I wouldn’t tell people not to thrift entirely, but just to think about their levels of over-consumption in general. America is a very individualistic, capitalistic, and consumerist country. People tend to put their personal self-interests before the needs of the collective. A recent study suggests that Americans are more egotistical than ever. The United States is the richest country in the world, holding 664 of the world's billionaires, worth a total of $4.2 trillion. However, it also simultaneously holds a substantial amount of poverty, with 8.4 million people on unemployment benefits as of the end of August 2021.
Navigating thrifting’s moral dilemma is also an invitation to reflect on how we live as a society. There’s no doubt that thrifting and secondhand stores are more environmentally friendly than buying new. However, a lot of fast fashion clothes might end up in thrift stores anyway, and the mass market of thrifting is causing the gentrification of those previously accessible spaces for low-income people. Overconsumption in any way can lead to exploitation and inaccessibility. A rule of thumb that I have when thrifting is to ask myself: Do I really need that? If the answer is no, put it back.