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Calling Thrifting Gentrified Is a Distraction From Its Movement

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Thrifting, a popular, sustainable option for many college students looking to purchase clothing, has recently gotten its share of discourse on social media. With the rise of apps like Depop and Poshmark encouraging reselling, along with corporations and vintage stores gouging prices for second-hand clothing that was originally oriented to be affordable, thrifting’s popularity raises issues pertaining to overconsumption and gentrification. There’s no doubt that the increased popularity of thrifting has led to some problems; however, far-fetched calls of gentrification and overconsumption can deter people from this environmentally-conscious movement, taking these genuine concerns to extreme levels. 

Thrifting’s origins run deep, gaining popularity in the late 19th century as mass industrialization dominated the U.S. Waves of popularity in the thrifting movement occurred in the ’60s and ’90s, with it once again becoming prominent today. Thrifting has been stigmatized throughout history, as it was mainly utilized by low-income individuals and was used to target immigrants and perpetuate xenophobia.

Today, thrifting has quickly accelerated into mainstream fashion. Social media influencers and Depop sellers have transformed thrifting from a taboo topic to a modern fashion statement. It’s true that the popularization of thrifting has its benefits, such as increased awareness for sustainability in fashion. However, we shouldn’t forget its original targets: low-income households who rely on thrift stores for their accessibility and affordability.

When Depop sellers purchase and resell mass hoards of second-hand clothing in order to make a profit, they stray away from these roots. When vintage stores and corporations catch on to thrifting’s popularity and exploit it by raising prices, the original goal of affordability is lost. 

While it’s true that Depop sellers’ act of over-purchasing clothing is an issue, the blame also lies with the corporations who choose to raise prices when demand increases. If Goodwill’s founder really had the goal of “not charity, but a chance” in mind, whether that be through Goodwill’s nonprofit ties, career opportunities or the sale of affordable second-hand items, how is raising prices giving those who need it a chance to survive and succeed? 

The truth is: it’s not. Corporations have even more responsibility than consumers to promote sustainability and avoid unfair sale practices, especially when it’s in their founder’s statement. It’s easy to blame Depop sellers and individuals who have hopped onto the thrifting wagon; however, thrifting corporations such as Goodwill and The Salvation Army need to put in the effort to return to the real objective of thrifting: helping those who need it. 

Even consumers can be aware of their clothing habits. According to the California Public Interest Research Group (CALPIRG), 85% of clothes in America end up in landfills, with the average American throwing away 81 pounds of clothes a year. Being conscious of what clothes we purchase and throw away can help us all become more environmentally sustainable. Changing mindsets on clothing — like avoiding buying wardrobes of new outfits every time the season changes — can also prevent overconsumption and lead to a reduction in waste.

There are many who argue that the popularization of thrifting has led to its gentrification, but this buzzword distracts from the roots of the movement. Thrifting should be accessible to all because it’s an affordable and sustainable way to purchase clothes. However, those of low-income backgrounds should be prioritized. If individuals can afford to buy sustainable clothing at higher-end places like Patagonia and Reformation, those options should be chosen over thrift stores that cater specifically to low-income families. 

Terms like gentrification and overconsumption can come off a certain way to the general public and using them to describe how the popularization of thrifting has caused problems may not be the best solution. Instead, we should take these genuine concerns into consideration and transform them into real results. 

Camelia Heins is an Opinion Intern for the fall 2021 quarter. She can be reached at cheins@uci.edu.