The Thrifting Trend and the Negative Effects on Low-Income Communities

posted in: News | 3

It’s Saturday morning and the local Goodwill in Hillsboro is filled to capacity. The lines are long. Each aisle is crowded with customers digging through racks of clothing and home goods, trying to find any steals. A warm hoodie selling for $10 is taken to be shown off in a social media haul, and the next day it’s selling for $30 on Depop. 

Thrifting flips are a new trend that has taken over the past two years. With Generation Z (Gen Z) holding bigger companies accountable for sustainability and the cancellation of fast fashion, thrift stores have increased in popularity. Thrift flipping is buying used products and turning them into new items, then reselling the newly made item for profit. Small thrift flip shops have opened on the internet and social media, creating a controversy over the trend of thrifting. Thrifting has its benefits, especially in helping out the environment and canceling fast fashion through recycling and reselling; but it can be detrimental to lower income and immigrant communities who rely on low priced everyday necessities.

The Berkley Economic Review takes a deeper look into the controversy of thrifting in their article released in 2019.“The rising popularity of thrifting among more wealthy consumers as an alternative to buying from sustainable and ethical fashion brands reduces the already limited options available to low-income communities when it comes to clothing.”

Second-hand places like Goodwill and Salvation Army have been around for more than 100 years, and became a space for lower income and immigrant communities to shop for affordable clothing and other necessities. Recently, other communities have picked up on thrifting and thrift flipping for profit. People who may not necessarily need certain products, but instead buy them to resell vintage brands for profit online on places like Instagram, Depop, Mercari, Facebook Marketplace, and more. 

COVID-19 brought financial problems to people worldwide. According to ThredUP 2020 Resale Report, 88% of consumers started thrifting during COVID, with the number one reason being to make money. The report also states that 4 out 5 people have or are open to shopping at second hand stores when money gets tight. Creating a cycle in the thrifting community; money gets tight, go to thrift stores, resell, and make profit. 

@JJthejetplane, a.k.a Jenna Jula, a student at Portland State University runs some online reselling profiles on Depop and Mercari. “Reselling is my only source of income right now,” said Jula. After COVID hit, some college students turned to thrifting and reselling to continue to make a living.

Imperfect Idealist is a blog run by a woman named Lily, who talks about the importance of thrift reselling. “Many resellers are lower and middle class people operating small businesses, who like myself, use this income to get them through college, stay home with children or an elderly parent, or have a flexible work schedule,” said Lily in her article The Gentrification of Thrifting: Is Thrifting + Reselling Ethical?

While this trend has helped people in tight money situations, those who benefited from thrift stores now have less resources. People who resell thrift finds often know what day of the week stores will restock the floor, and will be there bright and early to catch all the good deals. When others show up at later times, there are less items in each section. 

“This means there are less quality items left on the thrift store shelves for those who truly have no other affordable options, say, for buying professional attire that could mean the difference between impressing or crashing at a job interview,” The Berkley Economic Review states.

“Now, those same households that threw it into a thrift store, are taking it back,” said Ginae Borja-Johnson, a Media Arts major at Pacific University, referring to products that end up in thrift stores and get resold online. “This affects low income households [because] they are left with the leftovers.” 

According to The State of Fashion 2019 report by McKinsey&Company, nine out of ten consumers in Gen Z believe that bigger companies and corporations have to take responsibility towards environmental issues. Recently, clothing stores have tried to show a more “green thumb” and sustainable side when it comes to marketing new products, especially clothing. However, in some cases this has resulted in greenwashing, which is when an organization misrepresents, or sometimes even lies about, their environmental and sustainable products.

Instagram account, @ssustainably_, also known as Gaia, created a visual representation of the cycle of greenwashing, called “The Six Sins of Greenwashing.” Their Instagram page is dedicated to educating people on fast fashion and greenwashing, while also providing resources for how to reach a more sustainable fashion future.

Seema Khatcherian, an anthropology and applied sustainability double major at Pacific University brings the attention to the gentrification of thrifting. 

“You’re taking this good that uses a resource for a low income community and you’re making it popular and shifting from the needs of the community to the needs of a whole different group,” she said, “It’s a complicated subject because what we’re talking about is gentrification in a broad sense.”

Gentrification is when the character of a neighborhood is changed because of the invasion of higher class residents and businesses. This often forces the current lower-class residents to move or find a new area to afford. The same idea applies to thrift stores.

“Because of this increase in buyers, thrift stores are starting to raise their prices, which means those who needed the low prices that once existed will need to look for clothing elsewhere. Hence, the gentrification of thrifting,” said Kaelin Trombl, writer for The Villanovan in an article called The Gentrification of Thrift Shopping.

There has been a flow of people for generations who have relied on thrift stores for necessities, resulting in thrift stores having a negative stigma attached to them, such as being unclean. Yet, with the rising trend causing the gentrification in thrifting, that flow gets interrupted; those same people that relied on thrift shops now compete with others who never necessarily needed to go to thrift stores. On top of that, since there was a negative connotation attached to thrift stores, the clothing from the thrift stores is associated with that same stigma.

It used to be embarrassing if you would go to Goodwill and stuff, and now it’s something that everyone does just because it’s a trend,” said Sheyla Hernandez, a student at Portland Community College. She shares a brief story about how her family relied on thrift stores when they emigrated from Cuba, “I used to tell my mom, ‘No! I don’t wanna go in there, what if I see someone I know? They’re going to make fun of me,’ and now, it’s trendy.” 

Shifting from a negative connotation to a positive one is good, but making thrifting into a trend because of wealthier communities and white people does more harm than good. Turning things that were once looked down upon due to their connection with working-class people and people of color into a trend does not justify how those communities were treated. Being a part of the lower class or immigrant status is not a trend, it’s a reality. — Ashley Meza


3 Responses

  1. Tonya Pash

    I agree with the article. Goodwill for example calls itself a retail store and doesn’t boast that it’s an option for the poor. It instead boast that it provides jobs for disadvantaged. That was me and I couldn’t support myself on the earned wages. I went to shop at goodwill today and felt like I was competing with investors for decent products. I recently scoured the internet looking for ministries that offer hand me downs because thrift stores no longer serve the poor.

    • Kelly

      I really hope they can ban this practice of allowing resellers into their facilities. How terrible -the nice pair of shoes is snatched up for instance, instead of going to someone who needs it. As someone who saves my really good stuff to donate, it really is disheartening too that now my items will not go to those who I intended them for. I’m sorry you are experiencing this.

      • Christina Destro

        This article is bunk . Do your research . 80 percent of the stuff at Goodwill and Salvation Army get tossed into the landfill . Or worse . Sent to other countries who can’t use it as much of it is stained , ripped , flawed and then ends up in their waters.

        There’s more than enough clothes to go around ! I am a reseller and do it full time . My time , effort , gas , mileage , taking pics , listing is a JOB!

        Goodwill & Salvation Army we’re never structured to clothe the poor . They were structured to hire employees . You’re welcome !

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *