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What’s something that could be someone’s favorite activity, but another person's worst nightmare?... Shopping.
Whether it’s at the mall or online, we are confronted with a plethora of options, boasting the latest trends, and outrageous sales compelling you to click “add to cart”. It can all feel so overwhelming, but simultaneously exciting. We’ve all felt it, possibly contributed to it, or even benefited from it, but there is something incredibly troubling about this way of consumption. The rapid speed, the vast selection, and the low prices that encompass the fast fashion industry aren’t possible without harm to people and planet. Fast fashion as an industry contributes to 10% of our carbon emissions and is the second-largest consumer of the available water supply. Think of it this way, it requires 713 gallons of water to produce one cotton t-shirt, that you could find on the clearance rack of an H&M or Forever 21 for $4. Cotton is a water and pesticide intensive crop which pollutes waterways during production. Now this is just one type of fabric used, and many others like polyester, lycra(spandex), and nylon are derived from plastic that isn’t biodegradable. As clothes are being produced at expedited rates to keep up with the trends, and using cheap and exploited labor to keep prices low, the clothes are often not ethical or of quality. This leads to many clothes being thrown out and even burned after just one season of use (the average American throws away nearly 65 pounds of clothes a year). With sustainability on many of our minds, it has become more important than ever to move away from fast fashion and start making more conscious buying choices.
So, what is the solution to this dilemma of dressing your best and living sustainably? Thrifting!
With its recent rise in popularity, it is no surprise thrift stores and online resellers, like Depop and Poshmark, are doing well these days. Thrifting is often viewed as the most sustainable way to shop for clothes as it helps reduce the amount of clothes that would otherwise end up in landfills. By choosing to shop at thrift stores over fast-fashion retailers, we can reduce the demand on brand new clothes and in turn reduce pollution, carbon emissions, water waste, and microplastics, along with use of exploited labor. The benefits of thrifting don’t end there! Some other perks are:
Saves you money
Many thrift stores proceeds benefit charities.
Be on the lookout for thrift stores that are in direct support of charities as a way to feel even better about your purchases. It’s fairly common to find thrift stores that benefit hospitals, religious charities, LGBTQIA+ orgs, veterans, and animal shelters. Some chain thrift stores like Goodwill, Salvation Army, and Buffalo Exchange are known for their charitable donations.
Opportunity to find one-of-kind pieces
There is no feeling quite like stumbling upon a rare find in a thrift store. You know the one. It looks like it should be worth $100, but it has the blue tag (which means it’s 50% off that day) and it’s only $10. It feels like it was just waiting for you to find it, it's the ONE... if you will. The chance to find THAT piece is what hooks many people into thrift shopping, and is reason alone to give it a try if you haven’t already.
Craft a unique wardrobe.
When you avoid the constant onslaught of “on trend” clothes that fast fashion retailers provide by thrifting, you encounter a new way to dress. A way that can be more authentic to who you are and more expressive of your personal style. There is always a generous selection of statement pieces at thrift stores, so don’t be afraid to get creative. As trends often repeat themselves, we have found you can often still find trendy clothes while thrifting.
Clothes are often pre-washed and pre-shrunk
Like all forms of shopping, thrifting can still feel overwhelming for beginners and veterans alike. Upon first walking into a thrift store, it’s fairly common to feel disoriented as there are often clothes of all different patterns,styles, sizes, and colors all intermingled. But do not fear, we have some tips for navigating this semi-chaotic but wonderful space, to ensure you can enjoy the many pleasures of thrifting.
This is like setting an intention for your time thrifting. An example of this could be “I’m looking for a graphic tee, a green blouse, and floral maxi dress”. This is helpful because most thrift stores are set-up by the type of item with t-shirts usually in one area, dresses in another, and blouses in a different spot. This will help you find what you are looking for and avoid wasting time and energy sifting through the endless array of racks.
Be on the lookout for clothes without loose threads, stains, holes, and rips. By purchasing items that are intact you can ensure your new-to-you items will stand the test of time and remain out of the dumpster. Finding clothes that will last is essential to making thrifting worthwhile. Also while an item may look good on the rack, it’s important to try clothes on to make sure they fit well and flaws can be more easily spotted when you’re wearing it.
This is really the secret to having a good thrift experience. Unlike going to the mall or online, you can’t always predict what you will find in a thrift store. While having an idea of what you are looking for in mind is helpful, being flexible and open to new pieces is key to scoping out the coveted “rare find”. Attitude is everything while thrifting, so go in excited and open to trying something new!
It is important to point out the difference between wanting to thrift vs. NEEDING to thrift. With the rise in popularity of thrifting among those in upper and middle classes, those with low-incomes who may have depended on thrift stores to find clothes have noticed a decrease in quality items. A suit or nice dress you may want to add to your collection, because it’s cheap, could be essential for someone else’s job interview. Now if there are many different dresses and suits, you may be in the clear, but if there isn’t… it’s probably a better idea to opt out if you can and save it for those who can’t afford to buy new. This is just one example of why it’s important to thrift consciously. Something else to be mindful of when thrifting is the lack of size diversity, especially in larger sizes. Those who wear plus size clothing often encounter difficulties in finding well-fitting clothes at thrift stores. With the rise in buying plus size jeans and shirts from thrift stores, then DIY-ing them for thinner bodies, this has only exacerbated this disparity. You can avoid contributing to this by simply only buying clothes that fit you as is. It’s also important not to judge plus-size people for shopping fast fashion, as thrifting isn’t always accessible for all body types.
Whether you thrift regularly or it’s your first time, there are some things to keep in mind to be sure you are thrifting as sustainably and consciously as possible. If you have the means to donate a piece of quality clothing, we recommend donating at a 1:1 ratio. For every piece you purchase, donate another one. It doesn’t have to be at the same time, but try your best to keep track of this to help replenish the stocks of quality thrift clothes available. Next, try to only thrift for items that you need as this will help avoid buying in excess and wasting quality items. In conclusion, it’s important to be mindful while thrifting and think about those that may depend on these clothes. If you adhere to this way of thinking while thrifting, you can help preserve the sustainability and ethics of thrift shopping!