Conscious Thrifting In The Age Of Sustainability

At the beginning of the decade, conscious thrifting was the furthest thing from trendy. Instead, we all wanted new things: Ugg boots, Juicy sweatshirts, Abercrombie t-shirts, and Victoria’s Secret underwear. Fast fashion brands like Forever 21, H&M, and Zara were extremely popular amongst teens and young adults, as they allowed them to wear looks mimicked straight off the runway, but at an affordable price. As a result, oftentimes, thrift stores were looked down upon with misconceptions that they were “unhygienic” and lacking in quality pieces of clothing

But 10 years later, things are different now. Thrifting has become mainstream, with more and more young people opting for upcycling and secondhand “recommerce” to create and update their wardrobes. In fact, in a study done by GreenMatch, it was revealed that Generation Z (those born after the year 1995), have a strong preference to switching to brands who take sustainable initiative, and these initiatives take preference over cost when it comes to consumer behaviour. Sustainable fashion is now experiencing a trendiness not seen ever before.

While all of this is very promising, it’s also important to be cautious. For example, there is always the fear that once something becomes hugely popular (especially under a capitalist system), that it would be taken advantage of and will lose the purpose it originally had.

An example of this would be the sustainability movement in general. As it has “gone mainstream,” the phenomena of greenwashing has allowed companies to try to deceive customers into believing that they are being environmentally aware, but for profit. 

Can the same thing be said for thrifting? Maybe not yet. But here, we’ll highlight two potential issues surrounding thrifting, as it gains its momentum in the mainstream. 

Conscious thrifting
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Why “Thrift Hauls” Don’t Really Make Sense 

One consequence of thrifting becoming popular in the mainstream is the rising phenomena of “overthrifting.” An example of this is “thrift hauls” by influencers. Search “thrift hauls” on Youtube, and you’ll see thumbnails of fashion gurus holding up a pile of thrifted clothing. “Haul”-based videos are not a new phenomenon on Youtube, as these “haul” videos were originally made from clothing bought from fast fashion brands such as ASOS, Forever 21, and the U.K.-based brand, Primark. 

An obvious criticism can be made for “haul” videos featuring fast fashion brands: overconsumption of fast fashion, only for it to be worn for only one season, is wasteful and contributes to clothing being one of the biggest polluters of the planet. But can the same thing be said for thrifted clothes? After all, thrifted clothing is secondhand, meaning that its lifespan would be shorter than a brand new piece of (quality) clothing.

But there can be such a thing as over-thrifting. Although thrifting means that you’re contributing less to the creation of new clothes, going on a thrift shopping sprees is problematic because it defeats the purpose of slow fashion and thrifting. Buying piles of clothing from thrift stores just to wear once defeats the purpose of thrifting in the first place, which is to pick and choose unique second-hand clothing to wear mindfully. Instead, those clothes (which are presumably in better condition than most), could be bought and worn by someone who will wear it repeatedly until it wears out. Even when thrifting, the importance of shopping mindfully should always be a shopper’s number one priority. 

The Gentrification of Thrift Shops

Another criticism that has arisen from thrift shops becoming popularised in mainstream media is how thrift shops are being “gentrified” or “fetishised” by middle-class young people who don’t necessarily have to be thrifting (strictly in terms of their economic interests). Similar to criticism on the popularity of “looking poor” fashion, there has been some debate on whether secondhand and consignment stores should prioritise customers who cannot afford new clothes over those who can. After all, before thrifting became so popularised, thrift, consignment, or secondhand stores were originally mainly targeted towards those who cannot afford new clothing. For some, thrift stores are the only places where they can afford clothing, as opposed to those who choose to thrift out of environmental consciousness.

The debate on whether individuals who can afford new clothes should or should not be thrifting put aside, it is hard to deny that in some places, there is a very real consequence of the gentrification of thrift shops. One of them being that prices are rising in some thrift stores, much to the chagrin of original customers who shopped there out of economic necessity. There are definitely a couple of caveats, however–one is that this phenomena is not that widespread, and the second is that we don’t know whether this is caused directly because more (wealthy) people choose to thrift clothing. But it’s something that we should all keep in mind as we participate in this movement to buy less and thrift more. 

So does this mean that we shouldn’t thrift just because we don’t have to? Not necessarily. We should all consider conscious thrifting to lessen fast fashion consumerism and to minimise our impact on the environment. In addition, hopefully, this conscious thrifting trend will de-stigmatise those who wear secondhand clothing, and subsequently, eliminate classist attitudes towards fashion which has so often been focused on costs and trendiness. 

The key here is mindfulness. Be mindful of what you buy at thrift stores. Remember, thrifting for the sake of thrifting is a privilege not afforded to many. Be mindful of this privilege as you step into a thrift store. As thrifting becomes more and more mainstream, conscious thrifting will help maintain the original purpose of thrifting, which is to lessen the environmental impact of fashion. 

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