Is thrifting really helping the environment?

by Carmen Visser

The Cambridge Dictionary defines thrift as “the careful use of money, especially by avoiding waste”. However, the concept of thrifting today is more concerned with a new way of shopping. Thrifting is buying pre-owned items at thrift stores, garage sales or even flea markets.

Thrifting could be described as the latest trend or the latest craze, especially regarding thrifted clothing. Many clothing items sold by thrift stores have been mended, resized and even remade. While thrifting used to have negative connotations such as low-class and poverty, it has become an admired and encouraged activity, especially among the young generations. One might wonder, why has thrifting gained such popularity?

The simple reason is sustainability. The fast-fashion industry is incredibly damaging to the environment as new garments are constantly being made to fit the latest trends. Furthermore, many textile factories have poor working conditions and pollute the environment by releasing harmful toxins into water bodies and the air.

As the younger generations, particularly millennials and Gen Z’s, are much more aware of climate change and global warming, they are also more worried about living sustainably. As Dropps explains, thrifting is an environmentally friendly way to shop for clothes.

Furthermore, the development of technology and social media has helped thrift stores operate online. Thrift store owners can manage their businesses through an Instagram page and couriers. This had made it easy for thrift stores to be set up and managed.

The Instagram page for “TinyTownThrift”

Another significant advantage of thrifting is the unique items up for sale. Since thrift stores often mend their clothing, the result is personalised, one-of-a-kind items being sold. Additionally, thrift stores often sell clothing items that are no longer made, giving them a vintage look. Thrifting is a great way to find items of clothing that you would struggle to find in fast-fashion clothing stores.

Supporting thrift stores often means supporting individuals, small businesses or even charities. For example, the Grahamstown SPCA Charity store sells used clothing and many other items. Supporting these individuals instead of the well-known clothing stores means that you are helping a family make a living instead of assisting a millionaire become a billionaire.

The Grahamstown / SPCA charity shop offers a variety of good-quality secondhand items. Many of these items are donated to the SPCA by local individuals and the profits made from selling the items are then used to support the SPCA. Photo by author.

The final and most obvious advantage to thrifting is the lower price. As you are purchasing pre-owned items of clothing, they often cost significantly less than new items. This is usually the case with all thrift stores unless the owner or seller is looking to exploit the market, which brings us to the problems with thrifting…

With thrifting being such a trendy way to shop, several sellers exploit the market and make large amounts of profit from sales. While this might be great for their entrepreneurial careers, this defeats one of the original purposes of the thrift industry.

Thrifting started as a way for low-income individuals to buy their clothing. Thrift stores and sellers exploiting the market means that these individuals can no longer afford to buy their clothing.

Additionally, with so many more customers shopping at thrift stores, fewer items are available for those who cannot afford to shop anywhere else. Berkeley Economic Review stresses how much low-income families and individuals rely on thrifting to purchase their clothing. It is essential that the thrifting industry remains an option for them.

In addition to this, thrifting can also cause hyper-consumption. According to TWYG, the clothing items at thrift stores are so cheap, many consumers will buy more than what they need. This is a change of mindset that places quantity above quality and this mindset defeats the sustainable and environmentally friendly goals of thrifting.

So, what is the future of thrifting and should you thrift?

To make sure that the thrifting industry remains an environmentally friendly one, consumers of clothing should only purchase items that they need. While buying articles of clothing simply because they look nice might be attractive, it adds to hyper-consumption and decreases the already small stock that thrift stores have. Speaking of limited inventory, hopefully, as the thrift industry grows, thrift stores will offer more items for men and larger bodies.

The most important part about thrifting is that it remains a sustainable method of shopping for those who rely on it. The South African NGO, TWYG, suggests that thrift store owners have two equal goals for their business. Firstly, to make an income through their successful business and secondly, to focus on still being sustainable.

Focusing on these two goals will ensure that thrift stores are viable businesses for entrepreneurs without having them exploit the market.

The last note is an encouragement to carry on fighting for the earth. As a younger generation, we need to continue placing pressure on large companies to become more environmentally friendly.

Additionally, we also need to continue finding new ways to be sustainable ourselves. Climate change and global warming is a real issue that needs to be urgently addressed. Thrifting is only the beginning of a new world.

Nearly New is a secondhand clothing store located in Pepper Grove. The store consists of great pre-owned apparel and a friendly furry shop assistant who wags her tail at each customer. Photo by author.

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