Arts and Entertainment

The Thrifting Controversy: Four Quick Tips to Thrift Ethically

A look into how the popularity of thrift stores leads to rising prices and how we can achieve a middle ground between sustainable shopping and gentrification.

Reading Time: 3 minutes

In the name of indie clothing and sustainable fashion, teens around the world have flocked to thrift stores and charity shops. With social media influencers showcasing their vintage sweater vests, tennis skirts, and lingerie tops for low prices and environmental activists encouraging secondhand shopping, it’s no wonder why thrifting has become so popular. But long before thrift stores became a teenager’s favorite place to shop, places like Goodwill and The Salvation Army were stigmatized as dirty stores for people who could not afford name brands.

For many middle-class teens, finding a nice pair of vintage jeans may be the highlight of their thrifting experience. For low-income families, finding a presentable piece may make or break their next job interview. With thrift stores growing in popularity, stores have raised their prices to increase profit, and nicer pieces of clothing are becoming scarce. Many people are traveling to low-income neighborhoods to find “better deals.” And with secondhand clothing apps like Depop and Poshmark becoming more widespread, many middle-class teens are buying thrift store pieces in bulk and selling them at high prices for profit. These practices make it more difficult for lower-income families to find decent clothing.

With this in mind, it is important to acknowledge the positive, sustainable impact of thrifting. Most clothing stores in malls and shopping centers, such as H&M or Hollister, are fast fashion brands. To sell their clothing at such cheap prices, these stores often pollute the environment and use cheap labor from third-world countries. On the other hand, sustainable clothing brands that offer reworked clothing made of recycled materials are not perfectly eco-friendly and can be incredibly expensive, so naturally the most sustainable and accessible option would be to buy secondhand clothing.

Taking this into account, how can we find a middle ground between the sustainable efforts of thrifting and gentrification? Here are some tips to help:

Choose Pieces You Know You Will Wear

When thrifting, it’s easy to splurge when finding name brands at cheap prices. Instead of concentrating on how the sweater is only $4, think about if you’ll really wear the sweater. You can consider whether the piece complements the colors in your wardrobe and visualize potential outfits. Fast fashion has paved the way for the obsession with new fashion trends. Rather than trying to keep up with the latest styles, try thinking carefully about what you like to wear and what enhances your appearance. This tip will make your thrifting standards more specific but ensures that you will walk out with a few pieces that you absolutely love.

Find Alternative Methods of Obtaining Second Hand Items

Besides thrifting, there are other ways to get a hold of secondhand items. Instead of venturing into low-income neighborhoods for thrift stores, look around in your own community. You can join buying and selling Facebook groups or explore local garage sales. As an even cheaper option, you can organize clothing swaps with friends and family or ask them for any hand-me-downs.

Learn How to Mend Your Own Clothing

Learning how to sew is an incredibly useful skill. Instead of throwing out clothing because it doesn’t fit or shows signs of wear, try altering or mending it. Often, a quick stitch can make your clothes look brand new. Or if you’re tired of the same clothes in your wardrobe, you can get creative and combine old pieces of fabric to create new clothing items.

Donate Back to Thrift Stores/Charity Shops

If you’re cleaning out your closet and find some old shirts that you haven’t worn in a long time, don’t be so quick to throw them in the trash. Consider donating your old clothes to thrift stores. This helps strengthen the secondhand clothing cycle and reduces clothing waste. As the saying goes, “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”

At the end of the day, we have to realize that there are tons of perfectly wearable clothing in the world, and sometimes even thrift stores may throw away perfectly fine clothes to make room on their racks. By simply reducing our need to consume more, we can all enjoy second hand clothing in mutually beneficial ways.