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Thrift Culture in Jeopardy

Simone Bélanger

Arts & Culture Editor



Photo via latribune.ca

An exponential number of resellers, rapidly rising prices, gentrification of historically cheaper thrift stores (Value Village, Renaissance, Salvation Army, etc.), fast fashion brands proliferating on the racks: the mere diagnosis of an endangered scene. People who actively rely on donation stores are now faced with an insufficient selection displaying price tags disconnected from their pockets. The second-hand market, worth $28 billion in 2019, is expected to reach $64 billion as of 2024, where resale is anticipated to be one of the industry’s leaders. As the thrifting world shifts towards a new agenda, ethical concerns deepen.

On Instagram, resellers can be seen exiting Renaissance with an overflowing cart worth at least $250 of clothing, ready to quadruple this amount into profits through platforms like Marketplace and Depop. These second-hand apparel platforms count millions of regular users, among which 90% are under 26. There, reselling thrifted clothes in bulk became a highly attractive, lucrative scene. This hustle has been striking thrift stores ruthlessly, especially since the pandemic, when internet trends centred on thrifted clothes and the demand for online shopping exploded. As of now, resellers thrive due to the unprecedented appeal of curated second-hand clothing: a young, large demographic is hungry for unique pieces.

This clientele’s lack of knowledge is easily weaponized by resellers, and the aforementioned platforms are veritable oases for scammers. Users arbitrarily dictate prices, which tend to be unreasonable due to the current high-demand climate, and profit from the ignorance regarding original vintage pieces to pass imitations for the real deal. Resellers use those tactics offline as well: taking a walk in the Mile End is enough to realise that you’re lucky if two average pieces cost you less than 50 bucks. The profits these resellers make are hefty, and the clientele shows up, so why would they not seize the opportunity?

As these gentrified thrifts and online sellers thrive at the detriment of the weekly-looted donation stores, vintage amateurs must remain critical and see beyond the greenwashing associated with all forms of thrifting. Although these stores build their brand on the curation of second-hand luxury vintage clothing, their merchandise’s provenance is sometimes questionable. Mass wholesale companies often supply vintage shops, which, added to the literal pillaging of donation stores, raises questions about the ethicality and sustainability of these stores.

For online as well as offline resellers, quality can never be taken for granted by shoppers at a time of inflated prices that rarely rhyme with the clothing’s actual worth or authenticity. Such practices are hypocritical for buyers, obviously, but the effects of bulk reselling upon donation stores are even worse. With a smaller selection, less quality clothing on the racks, and growing demand, donation stores followed the trend and managed to nearly double their prices in the last three years. I have recently witnessed a faux fur coat being sold for $70 at Renaissance. Is this reasonable when a large, low-income clientele is dependent on such stores’ accessible clothing?

Student Meza-Silva brings up a universal experience for those who thrift from time to time: “Just the other day, I went to a Value Village and I saw teenagers dressed in big brand name clothing with carts filled to the brim with clothes.” Such consumers include upper- and middle-class “haulers” who showcase frightening amounts of thrifted clothing online, “flippers” who convert oversized garments into smaller pieces, and resellers, the infamous thrift shops’ looters. From these circumstances ensue a record demand and a depleted supply; no wonder prices keep rising. Hence, low-income shoppers find themselves outpriced, and plus-sized customers, who already struggle to find fitting items, have increasingly limited opportunities. The verdict reached by a Renaissance worker is that “excessive thrifting makes it less accessible for the people who do actually depend on it.”

Yet, is it fair to point a finger at resellers this hastily? Not necessarily. Although most workers in the industry agree that mass buying and reselling are the major issues responsible for inflated prices, donation-based corporations such as Goodwill and The Salvation Army are the true beneficiaries of the current situation. And we are still oblivious regarding how these profits are redistributed within these corporations; as a Goodwill employee mentioned: “I don’t think it’s going towards our pay cheques.” It is therefore our job as consumers to remain critical, especially when confronted with the fact that a majority of those donation stores’ welfare programs are largely performative.

Thrift stores, historically known for helping low-income shoppers and immigrants in harsh economic times, used to cause shame for some of those who could not afford anything else. Today, thrifting holds different undertones. While a minority utilises the opportunity to make a quick buck, a youth that rejects the fast-fashion industry yet yearns for individuality stands out behind thrifting’s ambivalent state. If one thing should ultimately be said: make the effort to give back and donate to your local thrift. And as it goes for all things, thrifting, when practised in excess, is still overconsumption.



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