The morality of thrifting

By Shaina Mandala, Graphics Editor

As fast fashion took hold of the world with trends changing so quickly that almost no one can keep track, environmentalists desperately raked their brains for a reasonable solution. Clothing production has a massive negative impact on the environment, as more than 100 billion items of clothing are produced each year with no sustainable method of disposal, according to sustainability analyst Marcus Ruggiero. Rolling with the familiar phrase “Reduce, reuse, and recycle,” many environmentalists pushed for thrift shopping (commonly referred to as thrifting) to solve this ever-present problem. Like every solution, however, there are downsides, and many thrifters are unaware of the consequential problems that arise.

The secondhand clothing trade is not a new concept, according to Time magazine. Resale clothing stores have been around, at the newest, since the 19th century, and because used clothes are marketed cheaper than new ones, this gave many underprivileged people the opportunity to buy clothes when they otherwise would not be able to afford them. Wearing used clothes, however, was looked down upon as a cheap and dirty way of life.

In the 20th century, the ideas and culture in regard to thrifting shifted; thrifting became an entertaining trend for those who could afford any type or amount of clothing that they desired. With the rise of social media in the 21st century, people developed a desire to appear individualistic, and shopping through a selection of discarded clothing gave them that unique chance. 

The affluent who took advantage of this trend were fed the rationale that thrifting is the solution to fast fashion and clothing overproduction and that it would resolve sustainability issues as well as secure environmental well-being; this justified their used-clothing shopping hobby and allowed them to perform as environmental “activists” while doing so. 

Those following this trend also began to buy thrift store clothes for cheap and resell them for higher prices on secondhand shopping apps such as Depop, Poshmark, and eBay by marketing those clothes as “vintage,” “retro,” or other terms that may catch buyers’ eyes. 

With the consequential decrease in the supply of thrift store clothing, the demand increased, and, therefore, prices rose. This caused the disadvantaged, who had initially been able to afford thrifted clothes, to struggle to find low-cost options.

For thrifters and resellers, it is extremely important to understand these consequences. While taking clothes out of the hands of the underprivileged is not the intended result of thrifting, it is crucial to know that is the outcome and to consider alternatives.

To produce a unique fashion look while remaining sustainable as well as environmentally friendly, there are multiple options. The most straightforward alternative is to switch from thrift stores to vintage clothing stores, which are curated to provide true vintage clothing. Vintage clothing is clothing original from the time period and is often higher quality than recently made clothing, according to Time. A handful of vintage stores are more expensive than thrift stores, but this is justifiable as the clothing will last longer and oftentimes is more individualistic. Another option is to sew your own clothes, however, this takes time and practice. The most sustainable alternative is to simply keep your currently owned clothes and restyle them when your rotation gets repetitive. 

Being aware of your environmental, economic, and social impact is inherently your responsibility when you purchase clothing, or any other item, for that matter. You are not necessarily at fault if you were initially unaware of your impact, but it is crucial to take action once you have been informed. If you still buy fast fashion, inform yourself of the impacts of mass clothing production. If you are a thrifter or reseller, consider that option may not be the best option, and share that knowledge with your peers. Trends are not necessary to follow, and in the big picture, taking care of your earth and fellow humans is more important.