The Rise of Social Media Thrifting and Resale: An Ethical Solution to Fast Fashion?

Written by: Sophie

Edited by: Jessica

Visuals by: Xiatian (Summer)

Thrifting has allowed us to acquire a unique and oftentimes more environmentally friendly wardrobe for a fraction of the price. Although thrifting is not new, social media influencers like BestDressed and Emma Chamberlain have brought a new life to thrifting for younger audiences. However, with resellers such as Depop or Poshmark, reselling clothing items for marked-up prices, is online thrifting as ethical as it might seem? Subsequently, what does this mean for low-income consumers for whom the concept of thrifting was created in the first place? 

In the 19th century, as manufacturing and consuming clothing became cheaper due to the industrial revolution, highly populated urban centers contributed to larger amounts of textile waste. In response to this, pawnshops and second-hand clothing stores began to emerge. Despite hygiene concerns and racial stigma discouraging second-hand purchases, thrift stores continued to grow due to increasing immigrant populations. This was also thanks to efforts to destigmatize second-hand buying by Christian-run organizations like The Salvation Army. 

The rise of thrift culture has been introduced to different countries across Asia, such as The Philippines. Becoming popular in The Philippines in the 1980s, these thrift stores are colloquially known as “ukay-ukay” or “UK”, meaning “to dig”. Thrift stores have had a stable role in society across all continents — highly prevalent within low-income communities. 

Over the past decade, thrifting has been redefined by Gen-Z (born between 1995-2010). Rebelling against the controversies of the fast fashion industry in an attempt to alleviate it’s environmental and social concerns, the popularity of thrifting has drastically increased among middle-class consumers. In fact, 70% of millennials and Gen Z consumers state that sustainability is an important factor when making purchase decisions. The internet has played a huge role in the rise of thrifting, various popular social media accounts showcasing their thrift shop finds, tips, DIYs on Youtube, Instagram, and more. In truth, there are over 6 million posts under the hashtag “thrifting” on Instagram. While the rise in thrifting benefits sustainability in the fashion industry, the popularity gained by wealthier consumers, who tend to thrift as an alternative to buying from ethical and sustainable brands, reduces the already limited clothing options available to low-income communities. 

Moreover, many individuals make businesses out of reselling thrift items for more than double the price. Depop is infamous for this. With around 90% of Depop’s active users under 26 years old, it’s often young adults or teens looking to receive profit. To achieve this, they sell market-up thrift finds that are often desired by their age group in this competitive market. Items once sold at affordable prices targeted towards low-income communities are now sold by privileged individuals with the advantage of participating in such entrepreneurial activities. An ISM student believes that, “If you go thrifting with no purpose to oppose issues of fast fashion and only care about the money when reselling, you don’t have the right intentions.” Furthermore, with this growing market, it’s reported that the secondhand apparel market that was worth about $28 billion in 2019, is expected to reach $64 billion in 2024. 

Overall, the rise of thrifting and resale apps represents optimistic change against issues in the fashion industry. The vast increase of donated garments and materials requires a consumer base in order to prevent excess supply from reaching landfills and third-world countries. Which can result in excessive pollution, chemical contamination, harming local environments and the health of citizens. While purchasing thrift items for business or resell purposes may frustrate some, many thrift stores actively combat class privilege. These actions may be non-profits— like Goodwill and Salvation Army— reinvesting money into poor communities, and ensuring low-income communities receive the first pick on the clothing stock. In the end, both consumers and owners must recognize their privilege when purchasing items from the second-hand market to make sure low-communities are being fairly served alongside our step towards an environmentally friendly solution against fast fashion— thrifting.


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