As awareness of the importance of sustainable fashion and the perils of fast fashion increase, more and more people are choosing to shop second hand. However, the rapid influx of middle and upper class people choosing to shop second-hand for environmental reasons is correlated with spikes in prices of thrift stores. This has ignited a heated discussion about the possible ways to help both the environment and people with low incomes.
While today, thrifting may seem like a cool hobby (as seen by thousands of “Come Thrift with Me” vlogs on YouTube), it did not start that way. Traditionally, buying second hand clothes came out of necessity because poor families could not afford to buy new clothes. There was a stigma surrounding wearing used clothes that only began to change in the early 2010s. Therefore, this huge influx of well-off people buying trendy pieces from thrift stores started to rub people the wrong way. Even though today’s notion of thrifting seems to be epitomized by trendy fashion influencers looking for the most unique vintage piece, many people are upset that the one reliable place for affordable clothes has been “gentrified.” It is common to see young teenagers buy workwear in thrift stores for an edgy outfit, when many adults rely on those pieces to afford the required uniforms for their jobs. Similarly, it was trendy for skinny girls to buy oversized pieces and convert them into 2 piece sets, but overweight poor people need those clothes because so many plus-size stores are extremely expensive.
The landscape of thrifting was also completely changed by the creation of the app Depop. Depop started off as a place to sell and buy old clothes. However, running “businesses” off of Depop soon became popular. Many people would go to thrift store, buy trendy pieces, then resell them on Depop. This trend has driven many people away from the app, because resellers are able to buy $3 skirts and sell them for $60. Furthermore, the several viral stories of poor customer service and obvious scams have damaged Depop’s reputations as well.
So, are fashion influencers and Depop boss babes to blame? While the perception of thrifting as a hobby and the general shenanigans rampant on Depop are important discussions, the reasons why a thrift store raises its prices are much more complex.
Thrift stores are a part of a $14.4 billion industry. So many of the clothes donated to thrift stores get thrown away, and a lot of them are in good condition. Also, well-known chains, such as GoodWill, do not just serve as affordable stores. They themselves have stated that “While our stores serve to fund our programs and provide jobs for those otherwise facing barriers to the economic mainstream (including visible and non-visible disabilities), we also aim to provide an interesting array of like-new clothes at affordable prices at our Goodwill stores.” Resellers and influencers are actually good for business because they are funding these programs. Also, as rent prices in large cities go up, there will be a need for thrift stores to increase prices in order to pay.
The discussion around increasing thrift store prices is important because it illustrates a larger issue; instead of blaming larger systems and structures, individuals face the brunt of the backlash. While social media’s role in the evolution of thrifting is worth discussing, the real problem is that we live in a hyper-consumerist and hyper-capitalistic society. People constantly feel like they need to buy more and more.
This is exemplified on Tik Tok. Whether it be cottage core or Y2K, people are obsessed with perfectly assimilating into an aesthetic, so instead of trends being one item, it is complete ensembles of outfits. This produces more waste and causes more over consumption. However, as more teenagers start using the app, the more they will feel the need to perfectly embody these aesthetics to fit in.
While it is fun to make fun of tone-deaf influencers every once and while, dumbing down the consequences consumerist culture into the mischief of Insta and Depop girls does a disservice to the issue at hand. A lot of the problems caused by unsustainable fashion – the damage to the environment, exploitation of workers, scamming low income people- would be improved by simply taking a step back from the constant bombardment of clothing advertisements. Furthermore, people always seem more than content to point fingers at other people rather than examining the culture we live. Navigating how to shop ethically in a society that all too keen to exploit every resources in its grasp is a topic that should be treated with nuance, and not just some other blame game.