Is thrifting worthwhile?
- The first second-hand stores in America were developed in the 1890s by The Salvation Army, which employed a “salvage brigade,” to perform simple labor in exchange for food and shelter. Settlement houses and churches also adopted this model where “impoverished people became organizations’ workforce, collecting unwanted goods and refurbishing them. The pieces that could be salvaged were then sold at junk shops and the money put back into the programs.”
- The Association of Resale Professionals reports that during a given year, 16-18% of Americans will shop at a thrift store.
- National Thrift Store Day is August 17th and celebrates the “more than 25,000 resale, consignment and Not For Profit resale shops in the United States.”
- Resale company ThredUp projects that the second-hand market will grow to $77 billion by 2027.
Thrifting is essentially purchasing items second-hand or used; it’s now a major industry, and its popularity continues to grow. Thrifting is a resourceful, sustainable shopping trend offering myriad far-reaching benefits.
Buying gently used or well-loved objects doesn’t just save consumers money, although the savings can indeed be substantial, even highly profitable. Thrift, by definition, involves reducing waste. The act of thrifting promotes an attitude of restoration rather than disposal, an increasingly valuable behavior as finite resources continue being rapidly depleted by forces such as “fast fashion,” the mass production of which is supported by cheap--even child--labor. Meanwhile, Americans dispose of over 10 tons of clothing annually.
Thrifting is especially on the rise with Generation Z, as well as in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. The shopping strategy has successfully been implemented across multiple social media platforms, with modern brands taking note of the widespread eco-friendly trend, promoting sustainable practices in their own marketing. Caring for the environment while flaunting a unique look for significantly less money is motivation enough for many to take up thrifting. Moreover, thrift stores are often non-profits, actively giving back to causes and communities.
Finally, with thrifting, shoppers can score worn-in, unique, vintage finds that tend to be made from longer-lasting, higher-quality materials. The savings and discoveries to be had and the wide variety of items to choose from make thrifting a fun, worthwhile personal experience. When coupled with the greater benefits, locally and globally, the upsides to thrifting are too numerous and impactful to deny.
Thrifting may have justifiably gained momentum during the pandemic; however, there are several reasons why this trend isn’t (and shouldn’t) be for everyone.
First off, everything at thrift stores isn’t necessarily a treasure. As these are secondhand items, they may be damaged, which means they won’t last long or provide buyers with much value.
Also, the hygiene of thrifted goods is questionable. For instance, clothes aren’t laundered before they’re sold, which increases the risk of bacteria and pests like bed bugs and lice making their way into buyers’ homes.
Similarly, buyers may risk safety while thrifting. A US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) study uncovered that 69% of thrift shops contained at least one hazardous item. These items were banned, recalled, or failed to meet safety standards.
Value and safety aside, there are ethical concerns around secondhand shopping. The biggest problem is that 62% of middle-class Gen Z and Millennials head to thrift stores. About 42% of these consider the resale value of their purchases before buying them. This is problematic for two reasons. One, they’re taking items from individuals who may desperately need them--after all, these stores were set up to assist low-income communities. And, two, the higher demand by Gen Z and Millennials can lead stores to raise prices. Goodwill has already increased its prices, causing people who thrift out of necessity to struggle.
For these reasons alone, thrifting enthusiasts may need to reconsider dropping this trend. Especially considering the harm they potentially cause to 37 million Americans living in poverty.