Thrifting: The New Fast Fashion?

Thrifting: The New Fast Fashion?

Shelby Smith

March 19, 2020

Fast fashion—the umbrella term for inexpensive, low-quality clothing produced at a rapid pace by corporate retailers to keep up with ever-changing trends—ruled the industry not long ago as young people sought affordable ways to customize their closets. As Millenials and Gen Z become more conscious of their environmental contributions, though, many are choosing to ditch environmentally-unfriendly fast fashion in favor of buying second-hand. Aside from the typical thrift shop—such as Goodwill, Salvation Army, and more—there are increasingly new ways for consumers to buy vintage and resale clothes, even online. 

According to Morgan McFall-Johnsen for Business Insider, the low prices and even lower quality of the fast fashion found at retailers like Forever 21 and Zara led consumers to buy “60 percent more garments in 2014 than in 2000,” but “they only kept the clothes for half as long.” This makes for a dangerous level of waste coming from the fashion industry. In the era of the climate crisis, conscious shoppers could hardly ignore this glaring issue, like the fact that nearly 85 percent of fabric waste in the U.S. goes to landfills or is incinerated and, due to their now-synthetic nature, they will not decay.

So, conscious shoppers sought out more sustainable ways to fill their wardrobes. 

Thrift stores became the obvious solution for sustainable shoppers who don’t want to break the bank. Some of the most common thrift stores throughout Michigan are places like Goodwill and Salvation Army. St. Vincent de Paul is another thrift store found around the state with one right here in Lansing. Stores like these state their purpose as providing affordable clothing and home goods for lower-income households who need it. The other aspect to thrifting at places like this is that if you get sick of an item in your wardrobe, you can donate it back to one of these stores to give someone new a chance to own it for the same low price.

In being conscious of the environment, it is important to also consider the social implications of thrifting for those who don’t shop this way out of necessity. With gentrification around every corner, economically-advantaged shoppers need to take caution not to eliminate necessary options for consumers who may not be able to afford shopping outside these thrift stores. Privileged shoppers should take care to consider that these stores weren’t made for them, but rather to meet the needs of others. Keeping Mother Nature in mind is always a good idea, but it’s important to also consider those who are less fortunate. If you frequent a thrift store that also has a donation center, drop off clothes you don’t wear anymore when you go to pick out something new. 

Another way to please Mother Nature is to go vintage, where the price tags are undeniably higher, but the finds are just as good. Vintage stores are a different breed of secondhand shopping that focuses on cultivating unique pieces. 20-year-old Wayne State University student Ally Davis works at The Velvet Tower, a vintage store in downtown Detroit. 

Davis said, “vintage store items are hand-picked, so each piece is special, but more expensive because that’s what you’re paying for. Things are often rare or collectibles. Thrifting is different. It’s always a gamble, but you can totally pull off the same vintage look if you’re diligent with your shopping.”

Davis’ sentiment on consignment shopping is a popular one, particularly among those in Gen Z, which has led to a rise in online resale shopping. Sites like Poshmark allow users to not only shop but sell a variety of name-brand and eclectic pieces online. There are also sites like The RealReal and Rent The Runway that offer environmentally friendly ways to shop luxury and designer brands, and, in the case of the latter, pay only to borrow them before sending them back and onto the next person. Thrifting communities have even popped up on Instagram, with users creating accounts specifically to sell and ship clothes.

With the existential dread of climate change ever looming, it’s encouraging to young shoppers to be able to minimize their environmental impact while also being able to express themselves through their wardrobe.

It’s important to understand your place when it comes to thrifting and be conscious of the impact of your choices, but you can still indulge in and enjoy the abundance of resale opportunities while you do. Davis says of resale shopping, “it brings me joy because it feels like each piece is one-of-a-kind, especially when thrifting, the right purchase can be like finding a diamond in the rough made just for me.”

Shelby Smith is a junior double majoring in English and Professional Writing with a concentration in creative writing. After graduating, she hopes to pursue a career in the world of television writing. When not writing, Shelby can be found absorbed in a fantasy novel and a very large cup of coffee.