Thrifting: Sustainable, Eco-Friendly, and Yet Increasingly Inaccessible
Updated: Oct 27, 2020
By Kristin Merrilees
By now, almost all of us know about the devastating environmental and humanitarian consequences of fast fashion. Fast fashion, which is the business model that companies such as Forever 21, Zara, H&M, and Shein use, involves an incredibly fast output of cheaply-produced clothing according to what is currently “trending.” According to Our Changing Climate, it often only takes 14-21 days for these companies to go from inception to sale of the product. Fast fashion also contributes to the growing amount of waste in landfills, pollution, and the extremely poor treatment of garment workers, usually located overseas.
Because of the environmental consequences, many members of Gen Z have turned to thrifting. Thrifting, which involves buying clothes second hand, enables consumers to find unique, even vintage clothing while being environmentally friendly and frugal. Certain stores and websites have risen in popularity such as Goodwill, Value Village, Plato’s Closet, local boutique thrift stores, and even apps like Depop and Poshmark.
The practice of thrifting was popularized in part by younger YouTubers and influencers like Emma Chamberlain, Haley Pham, Alexa Sunshine83, ThreadsObsessed, and bestdressed, who upload videos such as “Thrift With Me” and “Thrift Flip” (DIY-ing and transforming thrift finds) depicting their experience with second-hand shopping.
Certain online platforms have also contributed to the thrifting craze. For example, GoodFair is a website that sells mystery thrift bundles of T-shirts, sweatshirts, polos, windbreakers, and more. It gained popularity after going viral on TikTok this spring. Teens are also increasingly selling their own clothes online, either through Instagram closet accounts, through which people will sell their clothes, or on thrifting apps, the most popular of which is Depop.
However, in recent months issues regarding class and accessibility have become extremely prevalent in regards to thrifting. Before it was considered “cool” and “trendy,” there was a stigma that thrifting was only for people of low economic status. However, now that thrifting has become wildly popular, many who say they rely on it as a necessity are not able to find the clothes they need. According to the Berkeley Economic Review, “many demographics that could afford to splurge on high-quality, low-impact purchases are deciding to thrift instead. This means there are fewer quality items left on the thrift store shelves for those who truly have no other affordable options, say, for buying professional attire that could mean the difference between impressing or crashing at a job interview.”
This is exacerbated by the fact that many teens have started buying clothing from thrift stores just to resell it on Depop to make a profit— sometimes with a drastic price markup. Furthermore, with the recent trend of wearing oversized clothing, many are buying items much larger than their actual sizes, usually just to DIY them to fit better, further increasing the shortage of larger sizes in thrift stores.
There has also been an increase in online criticism directed at people who buy fast fashion. While on one hand this criticism is warranted because it is harmful to the environment and workers, it doesn’t take into account the fact that many can’t afford to buy from more sustainable brands that tend to be expensive like Patagonia and Reformation.
In addition, there’s the notion that individuals can only do so much in regards to both climate change and humanitarian causes—and this involves many more industries than just fashion. The phrase “there’s no ethical consumption under capitalism” encapsulates this—the system of capitalism is inherently problematic, and needs to be dismantled in order for change to occur. Journalist Nafeez Ahmed recently wrote about this for VICE in his article “‘Green Economic Growth’ is a Myth” which demonstrates just how intertwined environmental and social justice issues are.
There’s now a call for “intersectional environmentalism,” which “is an inclusive version of environmentalism that advocates for both the people and the planet.” The fact of the matter is, both social justice and environmentalism are incredibly complex and intertwined and will no doubt be challenging to tackle. But if there’s anyone who can do it, it’s Gen Z. We are already leading the way.
Written by writer Kristin Merrilees