The consequences of thrifting



Buffalo Exchange is a thrift store in Coolidge Corner whose racks are full of items from fast fashion brands.

To thrift or not to thrift, that is the question.

You may be familiar with my Guide to Thrifting, an article I wrote rating thrift stores around Boston and Brookline. The truth is, as much as I love thrifting, it can be somewhat controversial.

With the assistance of social media platforms such as TikTok, Pinterest and Instagram, overconsumption has become very common. Fast fashion brands use the trends displayed on these platforms to manipulate younger generations into purchasing products from their brands; as trends change, so do people’s wardrobes.

It can be argued that the increased flow of younger generations into thrift stores has resulted in a “gentrification” of thrift stores. For years, thrift stores have been a place for low-income families to purchase high-quality clothing at a lower price than what can be found in mainstream retail stores. According to Reuse, thrift stores used to be highly stigmatized and the clothes they sold were seen as “dirty,” simply because they were secondhand.

But to truly understand the importance of examining your shopping habits, it’s important to take a look at the effects of the fashion industry on the world. According to Zeitgeist, the fashion industry is responsible for about ten percent of our greenhouse gas emissions, and three out of five fast fashion garments end up in a landfill within a year of being purchased.

According to Zeitgeist, fast fashion items are often produced in factories in developing countries such as India, Bangladesh and Vietnam that exploit local cheap labor with almost no enforcement of ethical labor laws.

This doesn’t stop people from purchasing clothing from fast fashion brands such as FashionNova, Shein and Forever 21, though it is important to note that some lower income families simply can’t afford the luxury of avoiding fast fashion brands.

If you’re like me, you might find yourself shopping at thrift stores despite having the privilege of being able to afford more expensive clothing. Growing up with the internet at my full disposal, I have witnessed a multitude of trends, and one trend that I have undoubtedly participated in is the growing support for thrifting. Watching “thrift hauls” on YouTube kept me entertained through quarantine and long after.

Thrifting is generally portrayed as a sustainable, environmentally-friendly and financially-responsible way to shop. As I’ve thrifted more and more, I’ve noticed that although none of these things are false, people tend to gloss over the not-so-pretty aspects.

According to the 2021 Resale Report by popular thrifting website Thread-Up, the secondhand market will grow to be twice its current size within the next five years. This increase of thrifters has led to a rise in prices, a decrease in quality and has also introduced resellers: people who resell items for double or triple their sale price on reselling apps such as Depop.

Oftentimes these resellers purchase plus size clothes that they then alter to fit smaller sizes. This makes it extremely difficult for people who wear plus sizes to find clothing that fits them, especially since they already have limited options.

Ideally, if you are able to afford it, you should make an effort to purchase from more sustainable brands such as Reformation, Girlfriend Collective or Kotn so you can avoid contributing to fast fashion and apply less pressure to your local thrift store.

It should be noted, however, that thrifting shouldn’t be labeled as “bad.” According to the Emerald Review, roughly two-thirds of unpurchased thrift store items make their way into landfills. These clothes, along with others, play a big part in greenhouse gas emissions.

Thankfully, not all overlooked items have this same fate. According to the Emerald Review, other clothes are shipped to developing countries and make up the 1.6 million tons of secondhand clothing that the US exports annually.

It’s nearly impossible to definitively say if thrifting is “good” or “bad,” but it’s certainly still possible to shop responsibly while visiting your local thrift store. Doing things such as planning in advance what you’d like to purchase can help reduce extraneous spending and overconsumption.

I personally will continue to thrift, but only while simultaneously educating myself and holding myself accountable for the amount of clothing I purchase, regardless of where it is from.