By: Subaita Rahman

As someone who grew up wearing thrifted clothes, worked in thrift stores, and continued to frequent them into adulthood, I’m no stranger to second-hand shopping. For years, many people, including myself, advocated for thrifting as a way to sustain the environment, slow down fast fashion, and save some money doing so.

Then something strange happened: people started listening. 

Suddenly, young people started hitting the thrift stores in droves, inspired by haul videos, and posting their own tutorials on how to alter clothing they found or pair it into something fashionable to make their own unique style. It was affordable, it was socially-conscious, and best of all, it was sustainable. 


Families like my own growing up often relied on thrift stores as a necessity; it was more or less their only option for affordable clothing. To that, thrift stores served their end well — you could buy a whole outfit for under $20 and no one could tell the difference (of course, you wouldn’t really want to tell them either). 

After the shedding of significant social stigma, thrifting grew popular among those who were previously unfamiliar, often resulting in them shopping from the same places low-income families would frequent. To anyone who knows anything about supply/demand relationships and gentrification, the resulting price increase of places like Goodwill and the Salvation Army would come as no surprise. Therefore, many areas are seeing exacerbated income inequality and the marginalization of the people who need these resources the most.

One question that might be arising is if people know more about thrift stores now, aren’t they donating more? Shouldn’t that bring prices down, too?

Ideally, yes. It is true that people are donating way more clothes to thrift stores now; the increase in prices isn’t due to a lack of good clothes. The gentrification of thrifting brought with it inflation and corporate greed, given that chain thrift stores have been proven to be a growing site of capitalization. 

Unfortunately, this also means a growing amount of waste. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, donated thrift clothes have an 80% chance of being incinerated, dumped, or shipped off to developing countries. As the lines blur between the volume of fast fashion shopping and chain thrift store shopping, the impact on sustainability is also compromised.

Now, by no means am I saying not to thrift. I still think it’s a dramatically better option than buying fast fashion. However, putting thrift stores in competition with fast fashion defeats the purpose, especially when rising prices of thrift stores is leading more low-income people to look at cheap clothing options like Romwe and Shein, which carry their own plethora of problems and exploitations.

Still, thrifting is definitely not a bad thing — it still does plenty to destigmatize buying used clothing and combats excessive materialism. To keep the good parts of thrifting alive and well, there are measures we can take to make things more sustainable for all of us. 

One way is to transition from chain thrift stores to local thrift stores, and ideally stores that cater more to your economic status. Some people still have no option but to thrift, and keeping affordable options open is crucial.

Another way to stop the gentrification of thrift stores is to donate your clothes to places that will implement more of immediate use for them and will ensure they go to people who really need it. This includes homeless shelters, domestic violence shelters, and clothing drives (which will also prevent inflation for clothes, since they’ll be free!). 

There are a lot of points to be made about this, like the stigmatization of low-income folks shopping from corporations, the discrimination and exploitation taking place at big thrift store chains, the timelessness of vintage trends coming back around, the actual economic model of thrifting, etc. For now we can try our best to understand that sustainable fashion means different things for different people. For some, it means buying and donating second-hand clothes. Others buy from larger franchises but continue to hold onto their for multiple seasons and donate it after. A growing number are also getting better at repurposing the actual fabric of their clothes in creative, environmentally-friendly ways.

In the meantime, thrift on! Just do it for your own behalf, and do it in a way that doesn’t take from someone else.


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