You have probably heard the term fast fashion before. Fast fashion refers to the industry that designs, creates, and markets clothing at a rapid pace in an effort to keep up with the ever changing trends in fashion. It produces a lot of clothes, and quickly. The other defining factor of fast fashion is that it’s cheap. That’s why it’s such a booming industry. Regular people like you and me can look and feel cool for a fraction of the price of designer brands.
The fast fashion industry, however, has a lot of downsides.
The two main drawbacks to this kind of clothing manufacturing are that it’s terrible for the environment and it utilizes outsourced, underpaid factory labor. This is what allows for brands to sell their clothing so cheaply while still making a profit. About 85% of these factory laborers are women, and they have little to no protection in the work environment. They often get paid what amounts to slave wages. One of our contributors has written an in-depth article about the vices of fast fashion, and you can read it here.
It’s wonderful that the world is waking up to the societal and environmental detriments of the fast fashion industry. People are beginning to look to other options for expanding their wardrobes, such as intentionally buying from sustainably and ethically sourced brands and buying second-hand. In recent years, thrift shopping has grown immensely in popularity and is becoming more and more en vogue. However, as good as this may be for the planet and overseas workers, it is actually beginning to harm low-income communities right here in the United States.
Consider basic economics.
When the demand for something goes up, so does its price. This is what is happening to second-hand clothing. As thrift shopping becomes more and more “cool,” and second-hand pieces get re-labeled as “vintage,” the prices at places like Goodwill are slowly going up. The Goodwills and Salvation Armies in expensive neighborhoods in New York City have left behind their old models and turned into high-end vintage boutiques. Now, instead of 3-dollar t-shirts, you can buy second-hand designer pieces for $100 or more.
That’s if these second-hand stores stay in the area at all. In many places, as the neighborhood gets more and more gentrified, stores like Goodwill simply close altogether. In either scenario—turning into an upscale vintage outlet or just leaving—low-income people are harmed. These stores were initially envisioned to serve people who couldn’t afford to buy things new. Now, the very people these stores were meant to help are being left in the dust.
Even if second-hand stores don’t “gentrify” or close up shop, the new trendiness of thrift shopping could still hurt low-income shoppers. When privileged, middle- and high-class people sweep the racks at these outlets, they buy up the clothing that other people need. They are taking advantage of something that wasn’t really meant for them, leaving those in need with less options.
But all of this doesn’t mean that we should stop thrift shopping.
It’s still true that buying second-hand is exponentially better for the environment than buying new all the time. We still shouldn’t support fast fashion that utilizes unsafe and underpaid factory labor. So how can we recycle clothing without contributing to this form of gentrification? If you are relatively privileged, there are several things you can do to continue to shop second-hand but minimize the negative impact of your thriftiness.
Firstly, assess your need.
If you can afford to buy more expensive clothing, research some sustainably and ethically sourced clothing brands to support. It’s okay to buy new sometimes if you make sure you’re supporting the right businesses. Pro tip: find some sustainably sourced, ethical, and POC owned stores!
Secondly, buy online.
Apps like DePop allow you to buy directly from the people selling their clothes, and you can search for specific types of clothing. This also prevents you from buying out local thrift stores or driving up prices in your area. And there is a wide range of price tags, so you will be sure to find pieces in your budget.
Finally, if you do shop at the second-hand stores in your area, consider your buying-to-donating ratio.
Places like Goodwill depend upon people donating their used clothing so they can sell it at a low price. Are you constantly taking advantage of 5-dollar jeans and 3-dollar hoodies, but never giving back? Make sure if you buy from these places, you also regularly go through your closet and donate clothing as well. I know from personal experience that the more I shop, the more things accumulate that I never wear—but somebody else might.
The Observer: Gentrification at the Goodwill: Not Even New York’s Thrift Stores Are for the Poor
Medium: Privilege, Gentrification, and Thrifting