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Top 3 Things You Need to Know Before Your Next Thrift Haul

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Rack holding up various blouses and shirts with people shopping behind it, in a thrift store.

Social media has popularized thrift shopping. Although second-hand shopping is good for the environment at first glance, the gentrification of thrifting has made the supply of vintage clothing diminish. Taking away quality second-hand clothes from low-income consumers gives them no other option but to turn to fast fashion. The result: more harm to the environment than good. 

Thrift shopping has become a major trend. Second-hand stores no longer have a dirty, “used” stigma around them.

People have stopped associating them with charity work and have come to see its vintage potential. More and more shoppers, especially those of younger generations, love the fact that it’s cheap, eco-friendly, and unique. 

This gentrification of thrifting is supported by social media. Many influencers have begun thrifting and showing off their clothe to their social media followers which increases the pressure to stay trendy.

YouTubers like Emma Chamberlain and Paul Cantu post videos of their thrift hauls. There are many Instagram accounts including, I Got it from the Charity Shop that flaunt cute vintage finds to encourage followers to do the same. 

Besides influencers, younger generations are becoming more aware of the detrimental effects of climate change and how clothing production affects it. In the fashion industry, clothing stores are beginning to turn to environmentally friendly materials, like organic cotton, and provide proper working conditions for their employees.

Because companies are putting more money into their production, prices of their products skyrocket. Second-hand stores offer a cheaper alternative that is still beneficial to the environment.

The Downsides of Thrifting

Although shopping second-hand may seem like a positive idea, it could also be seen as doing more harm than good. Low-income consumers rely on thrift stores to find quality clothes at a price they can afford.

People who can afford to shop at other and more expensive eco-friendly options are choosing to thrift with the increasing popularity of second-hand shopping. With more consumers, the quality clothes at second-hand stores are now limited for those who actually need them.

There are a couple of ways the gentrification of thrifting has diminished the supply of clothes. Finding larger clothing has always been tough when shopping second-hand.

Now, more and more people who thrift look for bigger clothing so they can modify it to create a trendy item. Extra-large men’s t-shirts can be turned into a dress.

Large weathered, light blue sign with gold writing saying "second hand" pointing to a thrift store.

Larger vintage sweatshirts are an easy lazy day outfit. People who can only fit into large clothing are having even more trouble finding items that fit now that petite people are eating away at their supply. 

Sometimes, people will even find vintage clothing at second-hand stores and resell them at a higher price in order to make a small profit.

This also depletes quality clothing at thrift stores. The Vintage Twin, an account on Instagram, prides herself in doing this. She finds clothes, reworks them, and sells them for high prices. 

With the supply of quality clothing in thrift stores decreasing, low-income consumers turn to fast fashion for their clothing needs.

Fast fashion is cheap due to the exploitation of workers and unsafe working conditions as well as use of cheap materials. Not only is this unethical, but buying these clothes leads to a serious impact on the environment.

Fast Fashion Destroying the Environment 

The concept of fast fashion encourages consumers to view clothes as disposable. There are constantly new items being released to replace the old with less than 1% of it recycled when an item is discarded.

The poor quality fabric gives each article a short lifespan and sends consumers back to the store to buy more. 

Cheap materials, like polyester, make up 90% of clothes and emit 1.2 billion tons of greenhouse gasses annually during textile production. With cotton requiring a lot of water and pesticides to grow, and polyester deriving from oil, the environment in countries of production are being harmed tremendously.

For example, untreated wastewater from dyes is discharged into local water systems. This releases heavy metals and other toxicants into the water which harms the health of animals and residents nearby. 

Beyond the production of fast fashion, 85% of clothing Americans wear is sent to landfills as solid waste. Only one-fifth of donated clothes to charities and thrift stores is actually used or sold.

The rest of it is sold by the bale to other countries, where it is deemed worthy of reselling, recycling or throwing away. Those sent to landfills end up clogging rivers, greenways, and parks, thus creating environmental health hazards.

Young generations have been turning away from these fast fashion companies due to their effect on the environment; however, low-income consumers are now increasing their business. 

Think Twice Before Thrifting

The root cause of the gentrification of thrifting and its effects on the environment is people not recognizing their privilege. If you choose to thrift even if you can afford other stores, think about those you are taking away from.

Don’t go over the top in buying a lot of new clothes for cheap at second-hand stores; buy fewer clothes for more money at stores you know are environmentally friendly.

Be aware of greenwashing and know which companies are making claims about sustainability versus those who actually are practicing it. Recognize the fact that it is a privilege to have available retail options when buying clothes.