Thrifting can be problematic 

Lauren Harries

Recently, more attention has been drawn to the fast fashion industry and its lack of respect for basic human rights and the environment. This has led to many people, including students, turning to thrifting as a more environmentally friendly alternative, as well as a form of activism against the brands that partake in fast fashion. However, due to an increase in thrift stores and Instagram pages throughout South Africa, thrifting has also created a completely new issue within the fashion industry.

The fast fashion industry is characterised by cost-effective clothing with an unethical production line. According to Insider, the fashion industry is responsible for 8-10% of global carbon emissions. In addition to this, the fast fashion industry is known for using cheap labour, which involves child labour, and in extreme cases, slavery. Ultimately, the main focus of the fast fashion industry is capitalistic gain. It therefore stands to reason that people have turned to thrifting as a more environmentally friendly and cost-effective way to purchase clothing.

This aside, the thrifting “industry” does not come without its baggage. Many people avoid thrifting due to the perceived inferiority associated with second-hand goods, as well as the time-consuming nature of thrifting. The convenience of buying retail, as it is less time-consuming and in some instances more cost-effective, has resulted in thrifting becoming a luxury that many cannot afford.

 In addition to this, the overconsumption of thrifted pieces has also caused an issue. An article on Vox titled, ‘How Thrifting Became Problematic’, partly attributes the rise in the popularity of thrifting to the “popularity and proliferation of thrift haul videos on YouTube and TikTok”. PlanetAid.org also lists a stigma shift and heightened consumer responsibility as reasons for this rise. Therefore, the many people, usually part of the upper or middle class, who purchase huge quantities of thrift items for resale purposes (‘flipping’) and personal wear, have contributed to the gentrification of thrift stores. This overconsumption results in raised prices. As thrifting became a trend, largely due to social media platforms and influencers, it has resulted in the raised prices of thrift items, as a large population of people resell thrifted items to accumulate profit.

Increased prices and overconsumption have resulted in difficulties for low-income and plus-sized shoppers. Low-income shoppers are being out-priced from thrift stores they previously relied on. An article entitled “Rise of Thrifting: Solution to Fast Fashion or Stealing from the Poor?”, by Berkeley Economic Review, describes how thrifting’s rise in popularity among wealthier consumers “reduces the already limited options available to low-income communities when it comes to clothing”. This is in addition to its effect on plus-sized consumers, who already struggle to find clothing, and who are now left with even fewer options, as re-sellers are buying larger sized clothing items to ‘flip’ into new clothing items.

The increase in the number of physical and online thrift stores and the ‘flipping’ of thrifted items to create new ones has resulted in clothing items that one previously would have been able to thrift for a reasonable price, now being sold on an Instagram page for more than twice the price. The Spartan Shield describes this “conundrum of fashion” by explaining how the cheap prices offered by thrift stores enable thrifters to “dig through clothes for hours and buy many items”. These thrifters will then advertise these items on their accounts and sell them to customers, often for far more than the original price they paid. With this in mind, it begs the question of whether thrifting is really the most environmentally friendly way to combat fast fashion or if it is merely becoming an industry designed for capitalistic gain, similar to the fast fashion industry, or, as Popular Science describes it, “an environmental and ethical trap”.

Despite the baggage that comes with thrifting and the gentrification associated with it, thrifting still remains one of the most environmentally friendly ways to combat the fast fashion industry. However, many people argue that consumers need to be doing more, like holding governments and clothing brands accountable for their unethical behaviour in order to make a dent in the fast fashion industry.

Image: Cletus Mulaudi 

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