Pay attention to the harmful effects of thrifting

Pay attention to the harmful effects of thrifting

Celine Kiriscioglu, Contributing Writer

In case you haven’t noticed via the recent wave of Instagram posts and TikTok trends, thrifting is now cool. 

A method of buying clothing once considered “cheap” and “dirty” has now transformed into a hobby, or even a business, seen as “trendy” and “affordable.” The increased popularity regarding thrifting — the collection and sale of reasonably-priced second-hand clothing — has garnered generally positive reactions as a sustainable way of recycling clothes. The process of frequently restocking one’s closet with new clothes has been worsened by fast fashion: the rapid production of clothes by mass-market retailers in response to the latest trends. Because of its production and disposal of waste, fast fashion also has an enormous environmental impact. The manufacturing of clothing requires significant amounts of energy and resources such as toxic fabric dyes and other chemicals that contaminate bodies of water. Because thrifting allows clothes to be worn by many people before being thrown out, the impact of recycling clothes ultimately reduces the production processes of fast fashion that output massive amounts of greenhouse gas emissions and use significant amounts of resources. When initially considering second-hand shopping, it therefore appears to be a helpful way of reducing the number of new clothes bought while providing an inexpensive way for people to shop on a tight budget. 

Sounds good, right? Unfortunately, thrifting is more complicated than that. Although it might seem like a great alternative to the cycle of fast fashion, thrifting’s increased popularity has fostered a new set of problems in the fashion industry. As thrifting has gotten more popular amongst the middle class, “there are less quality items left on the thrift store shelves for those who truly have no other affordable options,” a Berkeley based study states. Additionally, the rise of consumers also resulted in the rise in prices of the items sold at thrift stores. In recent years, Goodwill, one of the biggest chain thrift stores, has altered its pricing system. This rise in prices might seem insignificant to the wave of teenagers searching thrift stores for unique, vintage finds, but to the people who thrift out of necessity to save money, it may cause them to struggle finding sources for affordable clothing. 

Along with the rise in thrifting, Depop and other websites on which people resell clothing have recently experienced exponential growth. Now, online resellers scavenge thrift stores for trendy finds and buy products in bulk to sell at marked up prices online, ultimately taking away products purchased by struggling communities. The action of thrifting itself is not wrong; however, reselling thrifted items for higher prices and taking resources away from those who need them is unethical. 

I strongly believe that second-hand shopping is one of the most significant ways to minimize our contribution to unethical fast fashion brands which contain exploitative labor practices and environmental pollution. However, those who thrift should be aware of the clothing they are potentially taking away from those who need them most. 

The negative impacts of the popularization of thrifting should not go unnoticed. Recognize where your clothes come from, and acknowledge that intending to thrift and resell thrifted pieces for outrageously high prices takes away from the underprivileged. In addition to fast fashion and its bad reputation, naive thrifting practices can be unethical as well. Avoid reselling thrifted items at marked up prices. If you are a buyer in a thrift store, try limiting the items in your shopping cart and be aware of the amount of clothes you might be taking away from those who need them. If you are considering ethical and sustainable shopping, try buying items from friends or shopping from eco-friendly companies. However, not all “eco-friendly” brands are entirely free of environmentally harmful practices, so if you can avoid replenishing your closet with new clothes each season, the reduction of your consumption can also reduce clothing companies’ consumption of Earth’s resources.