By Shalet Jeevita Serrao
Recently, I came across a Reddit thread with a full-blown discussion on whether gentrification of thrifting was a real thing. Thrifting is a method to beat fast fashion that involves buying pre-owned/secondhand clothing, household items, furniture, and other miscellaneous goods for a cheaper price. Not only does this allow you to own an item for cheaper, but it’s also a sustainable way to recycle commodities that are of no use.
Below I take a look at the phrase and its implications.
The word gentrification was first used in 1964 by British Sociologist Ruth Glass to describe the displacement of lower-income residents from urban areas. The term is native to real estate where the rapid growth of an area increases the cost of living. In turn, this pushes the original residents to leave since they cannot afford the rent or cost of living anymore.
Thrift shopping has always been a way for individuals from lower-income backgrounds to buy necessary items. From dishes to winter clothes, thrift shop chains like Goodwill and Value Village provide an assortment of secondhand goods for cheaper and affordable rates. But what happens when gentrification gets in the way?
The gentrification of Thrifting: The Debate
In the last two years, claims have been made about the slow but steady gentrification of thrift stores. Secondhand items that did not hold value a decade ago are now being bought and resold for higher prices. The increase in the value of these items can be attributed to the process’s commercialization and growing demand among wealthy teens and young adults.
Sustainable clothing does not come cheap owing to its high production costs. For those consumers that look for sustainable but affordable options to counter fast-fashion, thrifting serves as a way out.
In recent times, however, thrifting is perceived as the chic thing to do. It has now turned into a rat race to find the best vintage items possible. Unsurprisingly, you can now see numerous shops that resell items for exorbitant prices after buying them for a meager sum. Not only does this defeat the purpose but it also makes the process inaccessible for a large majority.
Over-consumption of clothing, no matter where the clothes come from, feeds the fast fashion mindset: feeling that we must constantly buy things we don’t need, with no consideration as to how our purchases are affecting others.Naomi Rubalcava-Levinthal for The Berkeley High Jacket
Isaias Hernandez (@queerbrownvegan), an environmental educator, in a recent Instagram post explains that gentrifiers buy clothing from thrift stores for a cheaper rate and proceed to resell these on fashion/social media apps for a higher price. According to Hernandez, not only does this take away the opportunity for individuals from lower-income backgrounds to own clothing that they cannot afford, but it has now turned into its own fast-fashion industry.
Another issue comes to light: thrifters purchasing larger clothing sizes to alter/ crop and sell for higher rates. While the demand for “oversized” clothing rapidly grows, resellers follow by generating a supply. This pushes out individuals who cannot find their sizing to look for alternatives and purchase from fast fashion brands.
In the same Reddit thread, a user comments, “There is a conversation to be had about how so much ‘conscious consumerism’ ends up having negative effects elsewhere. (The wealthy) thrifting for eco reasons inadvertently end up raising the price of used clothing and turn thrift stores into hotspots, when the working poor need stores like that for survival. It reminds me of how fake leather purses which would have cost $50 back in the 90s are now re-labeled as “vegan leather” and sold for $400. It’s all about cashing in on people’s desire to be socially conscious consumers. Woke neoliberalism, basically.”
The Other Side of the Debate
It’s a multi-dimensional issue where people in power control the supply chain while not creating equitable systems for allIsaias Hernandez
An op-ed in The Oracle by Teegan Oshins states that these claims of the gentrification of thrifting are misleading. Oshins claims that the thrift industry experiences an overflow of items throughout the year. A majority of this overflow is never purchased and ends up in landfills. Allowing people to resell and purchase thrifted items helps with the problem. However, this opens up another conversation on the impact of the rapidly growing fast-fashion industry on developing countries like Bangladesh; where a large majority of clothing is not only produced but also dumped.
A comment on Hernandez’s post reads, “Resellers help get secondhand clothes in the hands of the people who might not have access to thrift stores depending on where they live. Clothing waste is a mounting problem that needs to be dealt with a variety of angles, reselling is one of them.”
It now lies on us to be more vigilant of the impact our actions have on the community. At the same time, small resellers and individuals cannot be blamed. The larger chains are at fault because they need not raise their prices. It is their corporate greed that is slowly leading to a rapid hike in prices.
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