Spike in thrifting popularity hurts low-income neighborhoods

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Graphic by Maisie Derlega

Mia Heyward

The phrase, “Oh, I thrifted it,” echoes through Wilson’s halls as someone responds to “Where did you get that cute top?” Thrift store shopping, “thrifting,” and buying second-hand clothing has become a trend for teenagers within the last year. Thrift hauls are at the forefront of Youtube and TikTok, while clothes at the mall sit on racks untouched. Thrifting has become a way that teens can find cute, unique, and cheap clothing. While this increase in second-hand shopping is good for the environment and decreases the sales of big corporations it also has some unforeseen side effects impacting Black and Brown communities. 

As far as the environment is concerned, thrifting is an excellent way for people to decrease their contribution to fast fashion industries. Most big corporations exploit their employees, usually those in prison. Fast fashion, cheap clothing updated with new trends, is the number one contributor to old clothes ending up in landfills after the pieces are no longer considered trendy.  Not only does fast fashion populate land, but the way clothing is made also harms the environment. If you buy a fresh new pair of jeans from Urban Outfitters, it takes 1,800 gallons of water to produce just that one pair, and on average, people use 15.8 gallons of water when they shower. This means making one pair of jeans is equivalent to taking roughly 114 showers. Buying your clothes second-hand reduces waste and our carbon footprint. However, that doesn’t mean thrifting is always the best choice. 

The next time you drive, take the bus, or metro to thrift stores, look at the area surrounding you. Georgia Avenue is entirely different from Tenleytown. You are shopping with Black and Brown communities who use thrift stores as their primary source of shopping for their lives. The same way you notice them is the same way they notice you. As a Black girl, I never feel out of place. I have been shopping second-hand for most of my life, but recently, I saw the prices increase. What used to be a $3 white tank top at thrift stores can easily go up to $10 today. We can thank the popularity among teens for these new prices. 

While it is amazing that so many people buy second-hand, what does this mean for the Black and Brown people who rely on thrift stores for clothing? Thrifting has been a way for people in low-income communities, especially Black and Brown communities in the DMV, to shop for clothes on a budget. However, with more teens shopping second-hand, thrift store corporations like Goodwill and Value Village are slowly raising their prices. Second-hand shopping is becoming gentrified. 

One of the most prominent examples of second-hand gentrification is Depop. Do not get me wrong, I love Depop. I use the app to sell my old clothes and shop to avoid buying first-hand. However, as I began selling my clothes, I had trouble deciding what to price them. I knew that “vintage Levi’s,” the ones you can get from the thrift store for $7 in the men’s section, could be sold for up to $180. Most Depop sellers use thrift stores to buy clothing in bulk, and then upcharge prices. Of course, there are exceptions, specifically if you make thrift store bundles for a business. However, just for one seller, this practice is unethical. It is a way of misusing a website that could benefit low-income communities who want to buy cute clothes online. 

Honestly, there is no perfect solution to this issue. We do not live in a circular or equitable economy. While the increase in thrifting has undeniable impacts on our environment and redirects profit from wealthy businesses, not everyone is winning in this situation. My advice: if you have the means to purchase from ethical and sustainable first-hand brands, try doing that. It’s okay to go thrift shopping, but it is crucial to recognize the effects on less wealthy Black and Brown communities and speak out about it. There needs to be a way to make environmentalism and boycotting big corporations intersectional.