THRIFTING: THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY

“One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”

The spirit of thrifting is embodied in this idiom. The idea of finding value in objects which have been discarded by another person is not only beneficial to the environment but also friendly to the pocket. People often complain about how expensive living sustainably can be but I truly believe that sustainable clothing shopping and conscious consumerism is built on the very notion of buying less and not wasting money while saving the planet. Nothing embodies this spirit better than thrifting. 

When you practice thrifting, you donate rather than throwing away things you don’t need anymore and purchase pre-owned goods. Let’s look into some of the ways in which thrifting saves the planet. 

HOW THRIFTING IS ECO-FRIENDLY 

Reducing Waste 

Most of the waste we generate ends up in landfills and polluting water bodies. However, a lot of these products are still usable and we can choose to donate them to thrift stores instead. Items such as clothes, old furniture, crockery, showpieces, etc. can be made more accessible to those who cant afford to buy them firsthand. Good quality designer clothes, for instance, are more accessible to the poorer strata of society thanks to the highly discounted rates they are sold at in thrift stores. Thrifting helps in circulating products in the economy till they reach the end of their lifespan. 

Reducing Overproduction

Production of products such as clothes requires a huge amount of water, and energy and releases toxins into the environment. By reducing demand for such products and instead opting to thrift them, we indirectly succeed in reducing supply. Consumerism is one of the biggest culprits leading to pollution and unethical practices. When we opt to thrift, we are slowly but surely eliminating the extensive use of natural resources and pollution caused by production. 

Deals With The Problem Of Fast Fashion

In their desperate quest to garner profits and preserve brand relevancy in this world where fashion trends change at the drop of a hat, fast fashion brands like Shein, H&M, and Zara release new clothes almost on a daily basis. Influencer culture has only made the situation worse by promoting fashion hauls and needless purchasing. The problems associated with fast fashion are endless ranging from environmental harm to exploitation of labor and everything in between. Thrifting deals with all these issues and encourages consumers to not needlessly engage in fast fashion and instead make conscious choices. We can reduce our carbon footprint by not buying from stores such as Shein. 

THE GENTRIFICATION OF THRIFTING 

Platforms like Youtube are filled with thrifting haul videos.

Thrifting, as a concept does seem flawless. However, as things are going now, we really have to question whether it has actually helped battle fast fashion or indirectly promoted it? Has thrifting been taken over by the elite and left the poor without any other options? 

During the pandemic, I saw a drastic increase in the number of thrift stores available online. At first, it made me very happy. Thrifting had finally become trendy! Except, when you start looking into the consequences of it becoming trendy, you realize it is doing more harm than good. When looking into Instagram thrift stores, you realize an unfortunate pattern.

Most of them are owned by influencers trying to make a profit while simultaneously getting rid of clothes they bought on a whim from Shein or H&M or other fast fashion brands. They buy clothes to make trendy haul tiktoks, do photoshoots and immediately dispose of them using their thrift stores after only wearing them once. In fact, a lot of them even advertise the clothes they are selling as being “brand new” or “worn only once.” This defeats the entire purpose of thrifting. They aren’t reducing their carbon footprint and still engaging in overconsumption. 

And all you are doing is helping them get rid of their impulsive purchases while they make a profit. More often than not, the costs are also not significantly lower. Even sites like Depop have been taken over by influencers looking to dump their purchases. Once they dump them and make a profit off of unsuspecting followers, they use the money to buy yet more clothes from fast fashion brands and the cycle continues. Unfortunately, this just increases the sales of unethical brands. 

People on social media enjoy the idea of thrifting and treat it as an aesthetic which is why they actively purchase from rich influencers rather than thrift stores run by charities. 

I personally feel that thrifting only really has meaning when the stores are run by charities and if influencers truly cared about thrifting as much as they say they do, they would donate their clothes to such charitable thrifting institutions. At the end of the day, they are unethical with their practices. 

This brings us to the second issue. Even when they donate clothes to thrift stores, they flood them with low-quality Shein products. These stores were supposed to be an avenue for poor people to purchase long-lasting items they normally cant. There is absolutely no point in them purchasing a top that doesn’t last for more than a year from a thrift store. It’s almost like rich people are using thrift stores to clear their own guilty conscience when overconsuming. Thrifting should reduce consumption. Instead, people are using this concept to buy more and dump their impulsive purchases while patting themselves on the back for doing a supposed good deed. 

Finally, thrift stores are being taken over and essentially people are stealing from the poor. There is something highly problematic about privileged people now using thrift stores to do “fashion hauls” and purchasing literally every pair of jeans in their size just to make a fun TikTok while getting brownie points from their followers and then leaving nothing for poor people to purchase. They also purchase oversized clothes to cut them down and repurpose them which makes it even more difficult for plus-sized people to find affordable clothing. This is exactly what I meant by thrifting becoming a trendy aesthetic being a problem. The poor are disproportionately more obese than the rich. Influencers use plus-sized clothing to craft them into more stylish outfits which only fits thin bodies. So, even if these newly revamped clothes are sent back to thrift stores they now can only be bought by a privileged demographic. 

Even after all this, thrifting still remains a beautiful sustainable concept. Store owners on Depop and Instagram as well as consumers need to recognize their privilege while taking part in the thrifting market. All the problems mentioned above are solvable. We need to create awareness about the true essence of thrifting and not exploit this concept. We need to remember that the target demography for thrifting should be and always remain the underprivileged and not take away resources from them. We must also not practice unethical consumption as it goes against the principles of thrifting.

Nadeem Mirani
Author: Nadeem Mirani

Freelancer and an avid reader.

About Nadeem Mirani

Freelancer and an avid reader.

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