For the month of December, I made it my goal to text and stay in touch with my friends from high school. As sparse as that number is, I found myself entranced with the new lives they were living, from new relationships to sudden hair color changes. Stemming from this resolution came a conversation with one of the girls I messaged. In our texts, we reached the topic of Tiktok, which dwindled into talking about how popular thrifting has become on the platform.
Growing up, my family was far from well off, but we never thrifted. Our parents never knew the galore of second hand shopping until I insisted we go to the Goodwill two minutes from our house to look for discounted skirt suits for a debate tournament. After that fateful day, I couldn’t go one week without resisting the urge of finding more clothes. I had previously depended on a mix of fast fashion, birthday funds, and sibling hand me downs to adorn my closet, but now there was a store that sold nice clothes at a lower price than the cheapest online store? Finally! No more cringey graphic tees from Forever 21!
However, having joined the thrifting fun only a few years ago, I didn’t realize the magnitude of how deeply shoppers had been scrutinized only a few years before. Obviously, I knew there had been a massive stigma towards thrift shopping for the majority of my life, and while I wasn’t as tone deaf as the 18 year old college student who asked me “Don’t you need a food stamps-esque card to qualify for Goodwill?” (seriously, I have no clue how much mental gymnastics you have to do to come to that conclusion), it wasn’t until the conversation took a more personal turn that I realized the shoppers endured a lot more than just side eye glances..
“Kids were brutal when it came to this stuff. I used to cover my face when I went thrifting just so no one from school would recognize me.”
Followed by more texts along the same lines, my longtime friend distended an issue that has recently dissipated: The shame of second hand shopping. Thrifting has become increasingly more popular, and while this is very beneficial, promoting sustainable habits and funding great programs, it’s become a jarring reminder of the hive mind mentality most folk maintain.
This article is not going to be a piece on whether or not to “gatekeep” thrifting, I refuse. Rather, one that focuses on the benefits behind the popularization of thrifting.
Foremost, thrift shopping is outstandingly environmentally friendly. According to Penn State’s sustainability department, 1,800 gallons of water are used to produce enough cotton to make a single pair of jeans, and according to the Student Environmental Resource Center at UC Berkeley, the equivalent greenhouse gas production of 80 miles driving is used to produce the same single set of jeans. Meanwhile, jeans from a thrift store have already been produced , so buying pre-owned Levi’s won’t sacrifice a drop past the washing machine. Additionally, thrifting reduces the influx of plastic in landfills, plus, once you’ve grown out of your jeans or simply don’t want them anymore, you can donate them for a new owner to cherish, continuing the cycle of reusability. On the other hand, popular stores like Urban Outfitters, that sell cotton and polyester shirts for upwards of $79, show zero evidence of minimizing textile waste nor of implementing water reduction initiatives.
Beyond just environmental assistance, thrift shopping means you’re buying clothing from a second hand supplier, like Salvation Army or Goodwill, that uses a grand portion of their funds to promote wellbeing in struggling communities. Goodwill is a nonprofit organization, and they use money from their retail and outlet stores to cover job placement trainings and classes for those with disabilities or who are otherwise struggling to find work.
Another major benefit of thrift shopping is not supporting fast fashion brands like SHEIN, that rely on child labor and sweatshops. The influx of sites such as Aliexpress and Wish can be enticing to shoppers, however, these stores, similar to companies like SHEIN, take advantage of abusive factory worker treatment to produce cheap items to sell online.
Thrifting supports your local communities, and many companies such as Goodwill and Boys and Girls Club hire disabled individuals, giving them job opportunities most companies refuse to offer, while fast fashion companies and retailers promote unhealthy work conditions and ethics. Plus, it’s great for your wallet! $40 saved on a pair of jeans is $40 put towards bettering your education, buying healthier foods, or investing in improving your wellbeing.
Even though my buddy from high school struggled to thrift in peace as a child, she went on to explain that she’s excited thrifting has found a wider audience. Now, thrifting has a significantly reduced stigma surrounding it, allowing those who thrift to do so shamelessly and gleefully.