Is Thrifting Really Sustainable? A Look Into This Viral Social Media Trend

If thrifting is here to stay, let's do it right!

Explore in this Article

  1. What is thrifting?
  2. Fast fashion - the harsh reality!
  3. More brands are getting into the thrift shopping game
  4. The sustainable side of thrift shopping
  5. The not-so sustainable side of thrift shopping
  6. 5 Tips to thrift like a pro

It is the middle of 2022 and even Love Islanders are wearing pre-loved clothing, bringing the fast-fashion world to a slow down to a more mindful space. Slow fashion, sustainable fashion, thrift shopping, thrifting, and ethical fashion are topics that are trending on social media right now. And how! Many popular fashion influencers have already started to embrace pre-loved clothes, to show people that you do not have to buy brand new clothes all of the time. Part of this shift is the rise in environmentally conscious celebrities, influencers, and even big brands wearing thrift and second-hand clothes.

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What is thrifting?

Thrifting is the act of searching for and purchasing an item of clothing (or anything that falls under the shopping umbrella, really) that is considered second-hand, from a charity shop, consignment store, thrift shop online, or a flea market. When you thrift clothes, it can be fun, exciting, and an adventure of sorts. Thrift shopping makes you feel good for multiple reasons – saving the environment, discovering great finds, starting vintage fashion trends, and of course, saving money, to name a few.

And we have put together this guide to thrift clothes, which we are sure will help you when you thrift.

Within a few months, thrifting has become a new normal, more like an online hobby, predominantly among Gen Z and Gen Y, who are more concerned about climate change than older generations. Shopping for vintage and second-hand clothing has become the ultimate way to be sustainable, a form of slow fashion. As per McKinsey’s “The State of Fashion 2019″ report, “Nine in ten Generation Z consumers believe companies have a responsibility to address environmental and social issues.” 

But is online thrifting really the solution to fast fashion?

Fast fashion – the harsh reality!

The fast fashion industry is among the most significant contributors to climate change, affecting the environment and the workers. Fast fashion refers to the rapid manufacturing and supply of vast amounts of clothing to match up with constantly changing fashion trends, seasons, and customer demands. The fast-fashion sector alone is accountable for 10% of greenhouse gas emissions. Recent reports show that almost 80 billion brand new pieces of clothes are bought globally, each year.

Coming to the rescue are sustainable and ethical fashion brands, proud residents in the ‘galaxy of minimalism,’ with these thrift shops and marketplace apps.

More brands are getting into the thrift shopping game

Marketplace apps like Depop, ThredUP, Vinted, and Thrifted are growing in popularity as online thrift shops. For example, Vinted has reached over 30 million members, since its app launched in 2012.

Fashion biggies like Reformation and Everlane are striving to ensure ethical treatment of their workers, reduce wastage of resources like water & electricity, and minimize their impact on the planet. However, most ethical & sustainable brands are often a bit pricier than their fast-fashion counterparts. Enter, thrift shops!

Thrifting allows eco-conscious consumers to do their bit for the planet, without spending TOO MUCH or changing A LOT!
Now, let’s take a real look at the good and the bad of thrifting.

The sustainable side of thrift shopping

  • Thrifting allows eco-conscious consumers to reduce their carbon emissions by buying clothes that would have otherwise ended up in landfills. In a recent study by Green Story , a second-hand dress bought from the thrift shop online thredUp saves 21.4 lb carbon emissions. A secondhand handbag reportedly saves about 267 lb of carbon dioxide emissions, as compared to when a new one is purchased. In their 2019 report on unsellable items from thredUp’s inventory, it shows 90% resold, 3% towards industrial usage, 2% recycled, and the rest 5% go to landfills or get incinerated.
  • Many thrift stores also support charities. And thus, thrift shopping becomes a sustainable act to help others, for the greater good. Community Thrift Stores (CTS), the Salvation Army, and Goodwill are listed as non-profit thrift shops, where all donations or purchases at such stores will benefit some charity or the local community.
  • Consumers can buy stuff that they will not be wearing for longer times. This helps to reduce the water consumption that a new pair of shoes or clothes, would ideally require. For instance, getting a second-hand pair of denims helps to save 2,000 gallons of water, which can be used to make a new pair of jeans.
  • Consumers end up buying more and spending much less. Sometimes really expensive things are at cheap prices only because they are a few seasons old. Routine thrifters would even know of the gratification and sense of finding precious gems, out of a huge pile of everything at thrift shops.

But, there are many negative impacts of thrifting, as well.

The not-so sustainable side of thrift shopping

  • People are buying more than they need. One of the negative impacts of thrifting is that it has led to high spending habits, with a focus on quantity over quality. These terribly consumerist, unethical shopping habits and shrouded under the facade of eco-consciousness. Thrifting is actually taking the word “minimal” out of minimalism.
  • The clothes will eventually end up in landfills, only at a slightly later point in time. As per EPA reports until 2018, about 700,000 tons of used clothes are shipped overseas, and 2.5 million tons of such clothes get recycled. But, over 3 million tons of used clothing get incinerated, while a shocking over 10 million tons end up in landfills.
  • Many clothes are actually for charity. But thrift shops make more money off them and they never reach the needy. It is unfortunate that certain thrifted items and vintage products at affordable prices (required by underprivileged and marginalized communities) end up resold at marked-up prices. Such big thrift shops online cater to wealthier shoppers who buy spontaneously and without any budgets, to achieve that ‘unique thrift trending’ look.
  • And the viral idea of thrift flipping, is the worst! The thrift flip trend has blown up on TikTok with over 2.5 billion views. It usually involves buying oversized clothes from local thrift shops and DIY-ing them into trendy, chic pieces for zero-sized or thinner body types. This creates a grave shortage for the demographic (usually in the low-income group) that actually requires them. Yes, the fashion industry is fatphobic and size exclusive – but this thrift flip trend is adding to the negative impacts of thrifting!

5 Tips to thrift like a pro

Reflect and be responsible for helping the planet, while shopping consciously – whether for new or pre-loved clothes. So, here are some good tips to become a more thoughtful & conscious thrifter:

  1. Know your shopping reasons: Ask yourself – Why should I buy this? How long will I use it? Does it complement the other clothes in my wardrobe?
  2. Make ethical shopping choices: Particular items in thrift shops are in more demand than others. For instance, men’s clothing, plus-size clothing, and kid’s apparel. So, only thrift clothes if you really really require them.
  3. Thrift within your size range: Don’t unnecessarily buy out of your size range. Especially if you plan to thrift flip the clothes later, just for a social media trend. This makes it challenging for other plus-sized people to find thrifted clothes for their size and body type.
  4. Prepare a thrift wishlist before your shop: Don’t over-consume just because it’s second-hand clothing. Consciously avoid overconsumption and follow ethical shopping habits to buy only what you love and not what you already own.
  5. Learn to thrift clothes sustainably: Thrifting doesn’t only mean buying from second-hand thrift shops or vintage boutiques. Rummage through your own closet, or even the wardrobes of parents, older siblings, or relatives. Find old clothes that are not being used anymore; maybe even clothes that you really liked at some point. Now, you can give them a second chance. Upcycling old clothes is not only good for you but for the planet too!

So, in conclusion:

If we can make thrifting the new normal, it would be a step towards a more sustainable world.
Here are some other questions you should be asking, to make ethical shopping choices.

Thrifting has definitely got a lot of support on social media lately! But the question is, does this truthfully slow down fast fashion? Or does it simply create another fleeting trend in itself? The short answer:
Thrifting isn’t really slow fashion, but it is one step closer towards ethical fashion and having a more sustainable closet.

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