Thrifting: helpful or harmful

As you navigate the Goodwill Outlet Center, groups of teenagers frantically dig through bins of clothes. But as you take a second look through the outlet’s two rooms, you will find a solitary family purchasing clothes to put on their children’s backs.

Originating in the late 1800s, secondhand stores were patronized by those deemed the lowest members of society, and they developed stigmas that discouraged others from using them, according to a 2018 TIME magazine story. Toward the end of the century, however, the demand for charity stores grew, with organizations like The Salvation Army and Goodwill beginning to destigmatize the practice of thrift shopping — now celebrated among many young Americans.

As this process continues, especially in recent years, economically disadvantaged people are no longer the sole, or even primary, customers at second-hand stores.

According to the 2023 Resale Report for ThreadUp, an online secondhand reseller, 83% of Gen Z have shopped or are willing to shop for secondhand apparel. ThreadUp’s report also estimates that the U.S. secondhand clothing market will reach $70 billion in value by 2027, compared to $39 billion in 2022.

Thrifting has become something of a mainstream trend. Gen Z, in particular, has taken up secondhand shopping, promoted by social media and their desire to help the environment, save cash and explore their individuality with clothes.

“I want to buy clothes for a cheaper price and find unique pieces [at second- hand stores],” Gabby Camargo (11) said. “I really care about how clothes affect the environment.”

In the TPHS Costume History and Design class, teacher Marinee Payne’s students often buy clothes from thrift stores to repurpose into various wearable pieces. According to Payne, her students understand the “power” of repurposing and the creativity secondhand shopping allows.

“I think they’re looking for something different,” Payne said. “We all get comfortable with what’s trendy, but there are a lot of students out there who are looking for something that will make them an individual, rather than part of a herd.”

The majority of Payne’s costumes are secondhand.

“When we performed Pirates of Penzance, I took the pirates to source their costumes secondhand,” Payne said.

As thrifting grows increasingly popular and new groups of people shop secondhand, the nature of thrifting has changed. These new shoppers have influenced the price and availability of items at thrift stores. While there are benefits of shopping secondhand — from decreasing consumerism and decreasing landfills to expanding one’s wardrobe — some say that thrifting has been “gentrified” by the more affluent.

Camargo remembers when she could purchase t-shirts for $0.49. Now she can find a similar shirt at Goodwill for $6.

“It’s upsetting, obviously,” Taya Meluk (11), who shops secondhand, said.

In recent years, thrifting as a practice of the wealthy has been criticized for decreasing available clothing for low-income communities. Exacerbating this trend are those who buy from thrift stores just to resell items at increased prices on marketplace sites like Depop.

“I think it’s okay when you’re shopping for yourself, but reselling items is getting out of control,” Meluk said.

On the other hand, an increase in purchases benefits organizations like Goodwill or The Salvation Army.

When these organizations prosper, they can, theoretically, better support those who truly benefit from them. Moreover, according to the Goodwill of San Diego Co. website, Goodwill’s mission “is to provide employment and training opportunities to people with disabilities and other barriers to employment.”

No matter who purchases, Goodwill benefits from revenue and uses it toward their goal of employing and supporting individuals. According to the Goodwill Industries International Inc. 2022 Annual Report, 96.7% of the organization’s revenue derived from the sale of donated goods. This $73.5 million in revenue went directly into its mission.

The newfound popularity of thrifting has struck the secondhand industry. But it is a double-edged sword: it drives out the lower-income customer while providing an economically friendly option to shoppers and supporting the organizations that sell secondhand goods and their goals of aiding communities.

“At Torrey Pines, we have a very wealthy community, so we can try not to support fast fashion as much as possible,” Camargo said.

In order to fulfill the desire to shop secondhand, it is important to buy only what you need and keep highly demanded but scarcely available items, like winter coats and shoes, available for those who most rely on an affordable price.

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