Is the Gentrification of Thrifting Bad?
There’s a big debate these days about whether or not the popularity or “gentrification” of thrifting is bad. Many people on social media and even in the media have three basic criticisms for influencers who are thrifting:
- Influencers are thrifting for big scores and then flipping those finds for big profits on Depop.
- Thrift stores are raising prices because of the increased demand.
- The popularity of thrifting is negatively impacting low-income folks who depend on thrifting to put clothes on their backs.
- Great deals and being sustainable by thrifting can lead to overconsumption.
- Buying from secondhand stores causes the need to wash more clothes.
Thrifters Can Be Shamed If They Are Not Low-Income
“With an increase of thrifting trends on TikTok and other social media platforms, necessary resources are being taken away from people who can not afford other clothing stores. Thrifting as a trend, rather than a means to survive, is inherently classist and should not exist. The gentrification of thrift shops has only further harmed low income families.”The Echo
Full transparency, I too was recent shamed for thrifting. I won’t out my critic, but this is a comment on my Instagram account.
So Let’s Explore: Are Concerns About the Gentrification of Thrifting Valid?
Why Are Influencers Making So Much Money Off Thrifting?
Yes, clothing flips are happening – it’s big. Many influencers now make a living by spending hours at second hand stores, finding big scores and then reselling them online for decent to very good profits.
But let’s look at those facts — the professional clothing flippers do spend “hours” shopping to find these scores. Then they have to clean, potentially mend, style, photograph and then advertise the item. And it doesn’t end there, since they have to provide great customer service to make sure they ship it out on time and potentially provide marketing material so their customers come back. It takes a lot of time to do all that, so should their labor be ignored?
Is the Popularity of Thrifting Negatively Impacting Low-income Shoppers?
I get the criticism – privileged thrifters who have enough time and money to spend hours in thrift stores might get access to the greatest finds, leaving picked over goods for others who need to shop at thrift stores because they can’t afford more expensive retail stores.
One headline in Berkeley Economic Review seemingly degrades privileged people thrifting with their headline “Rise of Thrifting: Solution to Fast Fashion or Stealing from the Poor?”.
While I get the concerns, I just don’t agree with it. Here’s why! If there was a shortage of clothing, I think this might be a very valid argument. For example, when there was a baby formula shortage or a toilet paper shortage and if wealthier people bought those items in bulk and then charged more money to make a profit, that would be wrong. I think it’s also wrong when there are concerns about war or there’s been a natural disaster that impacts oil-producing countries and then the oil companies raise their prices immediately. Allegedly they are “anticipating low supply and high demand” and that’s the cause of the price increase but it seems every time this happens, like recently with the Russian/Ukraine war — the oil companies enjoy history making profits.
I hear you, but I do not know if there is actual evidence that can equate Gen Z’s obsession with thrifting equates to unfair pricing gouging. Are some thrift stores increasing their prices? Maybe… actually probably. I have read news stories about people complaining about higher prices. Personally I haven’t noticed a huge increase. But let’s say there are increases, how do we know it’s directly related to the popularity of thrifting? Maybe increased pricing is due to increases in every part of a store’s supply chain, including labor. What company hasn’t increased their prices in the last three years?
Since the pandemic, there was a massive surge in donations because people were stuck at home, finally having time to clean out their closets. So donation centers were inundated! How do we know that stores didn’t have to hire more people to deal with the massive increase in volume?
I don’t know the answer and I’m open to criticizing any company for taking unfair advantage just because they can… but I don’t think that we can assume stores are increasing prices due to the popularity of second-hand shopping.
One last point on this. There’s SO much supply for second-hand clothing, even though the demand has increased greatly, I don’t know of one company that appears able to sell all their inventory to the US market. In fact, according to the Council of Recycled Textiles, thrift stores only end up selling 10-20% of the donated clothing to Americans and a WHOPPING 80% – 90% is being sold to other recyclers globally.
Does Thrifting Lead to Overconsumption?
That is a possibility. A $4 dollar t-shirt, $2 dollar bracelet, $6 dollar skirt, and $4 dollar jeans – it’s so cheap you might be tempted to buy things you don’t really need. So yes, great deals could lead to hoarding and over-consuming. But that could also happen at Forever 21 and other fast fashion stores. So thrift stores alone can’t be blamed for this. That’s human behavior.
We should all think about quality over quantity. Just because you are buying inexpensive clothing at a thrift store, doesn’t mean you should lower your standards about the quality. If you are purchasing quality garments – you should be able to keep it nearly forever and when you are done with it, give it to someone or donate it back to another second hand store so someone else can enjoy it.
So I guess hoarding or over-consumption is a possible con, but I’m not sure we have any studies or numbers to back up that claim. Something we do know: around 85% of all textiles thrown away in the US are either dumped in landfills or burned, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Does Buying Second-hand Clothing Increase Your Need to Wash More Clothing?
Clothes are not washed at second-hand stores. Personally, if I donate clothing, I make sure I wash them before donating. Most thrift stores don’t take items and sell them if they look and smell terrible. But I can’t assume that others have washed their items when I buy thrifted clothing, so 95% of the time I do wash my thrifted clothing.
So yes, but let me tell you a dirty little secret that you may not know about. I used to work retail and you wouldn’t believe what happens in the dressing rooms. People will come in from working out or sweaty from the summer heat and try on clothing and then throw it on the ground when they are done with it. You have no idea how many times the clothing that you buy in stores has been on someone else’s body. So technically you should wash your retail-purchased clothing before wearing it too.
If You Have More Clothes, Do You Wash Them More Often?
That was a criticism I heard recently. That just doesn’t make any sense to me. If you buy new clothing or secondhand clothing, yes you’re likely to wash them before you wear them. But regular washing of your clothes doesn’t have anything to do with the size of your closet. Washing your clothing depends on if you get them dirty or not. So if you own 3 t-shirts or 20 t-shirts you will still only wash them when you wear them and get them dirty.
How to Take Care of Your Clothes Sustainably?
But there are ways to be more sustainable and expand the lifespan of your clothing. Let’s start with the obvious, just take care of your clothing. Try to wash them less often and when you do wash them, turn them inside out to protect them. Spot treat the second you get a stain on your clothing. Hang clothes dry because dryer heat is tougher on clothing and uses electricity. Learn to sew and fix clothing, instead of throwing pieces out if there is a hole or a snag. Also use organic laundry detergent so you aren’t polluting your local water supply. I typically use Beekman’s Happy Place laundry detergent.
Why the Gentrification of Thrifting is a Good Thing
The most obvious reason is that it keeps textiles from ending up in the landfill. It’s the most sustainable way.
Until we make clothing completely biodegradable, which many companies are trying to do, purchasing clothing that has already been made is one of the most sustainable ways to buy clothing.
How the Popularity of Thrifting Helps People Psychologically
Another reason why the popularity of thrifting is good is because it might make people who have no other choice, but to shop second-hand, feel better about their financial status. I have flashbacks to the mean girls in middle and high school shaming other girls because of the way they dressed. And I wasn’t even the one being shamed — not for that anyway. Trust me, I received my share of backstabbing and exclusion.
The fact is not everyone can afford to go to Urban Outfitters or Nordstrom. Now that thrifting is “cool”, I would think people who can only afford to shop there would feel better about it. When you thrift you can find designer brands that you might not be able to afford if you shop retail. Not that I think people should shop designer or shop for the latest trends, or wear what everyone else is wearing. I know that happens a LOT in middle, high school and even college. Personally. I really think we wear what looks good on us and what represents our personal brand, regardless of whether it’s “in” or not.
How to be Sustainable and Fashionable?
There are no perfect solutions for sustainability in fashion right now. But here are some of my best tips:
- Thrifting is better than buying new.
- Buying quality clothes from brands who are transparent about their sustainability practices, supply chains and wage and labor practices.
- Invest in capsule wardrobes so you are buying less.
- Borrow and rent clothing, especially when it’s for special occasions and you’re likely to wear it only once.
- Take care of your clothing.
- Never support fast fashion.
- Buying clothing that can be styled multiple ways so it.
- Donate your clothing when you no longer want it. Never throw it in the trash.
Lexy Silverstein is a Sustainable Fashion Consultant
If you’d like to email me, you can reach me at LexySilverstein@gmail.com