Donation bins, antique plates and patiently flipping through rows of crop tops are all cornerstones of one thing: the thrift store.
Thrifting gained popularity over the last few years as trends from the 1990s and 2000s come back into fashion and more young people are taking a critical view of fast fashion's environmental impact.
Business owners and second-hand sellers saw potential in the resale market that led to a jump in consignment stores and individual Depop store owners selling vintage and thrifted merchandise at moderately high price points.
In London, Goodwill opened their consignment shop under the namesake Goodwill Boutique. Their collection features curated pieces of name brand items sold at a higher price point. But as one of the two biggest thrift names in the province, Goodwill’s shift into curation points to the social implications of thrifting as a trend.
Gentrification is the process of making something more modern and mass-marketable, often increasing prices and driving out those who used the service out of necessity as they can no longer afford it. This term originally refers to changing characteristics of urban areas resulting from wealthy newcomers driving up housing prices.
Thrift prices originally made clothing accessible to low-income people and was not seen as trendy. Big-name stores like Goodwill opening consignment shops could pose another hurdle for low-income students and people who want to explore fashion as a medium of expression, as they move donated designer items out of their main shops.
“One of the biggest reasons I thrift [is] for budget," says Sam Stones, president of the Fashion and Lifestyle Society and fourth-year consumer behaviour student. "We’re all students trying to ball on a budget and thrifting is one of the best ways to find cool, unique, interesting pieces without spending so much money on it.”
Cindy Wang, the clothing director of CAISA Fashion Show and second-year international relations student, started thrifting because online influencers showed her how they found pieces she wanted but weren't available at traditional fast-fashion shops. She also cites environmental factors as a reason she thrifts.
Utility isn't the only reason people are thrifting more. Stones notes that TikTok culture and the rise of "e-boys" and "e-girls" has made thrifting cool.
"[Thrifting] become a trendy thing."
In their own social circles, neither Stone nor Wang knows of anyone who thrifts for clothing out of necessity.
Thrifting is a fun pastime for some, but for others, it's the only way to source clothing. Although these students haven't been reliant on thrifting, their understanding of need-based thrifting transforms their approach.
“There needs to be awareness from people who do thrift and resell. You are making a profit from something that people need to do through necessity. I’ve noticed that there are fewer clothes in sizes like extra-small to medium, I think resellers need to be more conscious,” explained Wang who noted that awareness goes hand-in-hand with the experience.
Thrifting is also seen as a substitute for buying from retailers that harm the planet and use unethical labour, but can still be damaging if consumers don't understand the repercussions of their purchases.
And while consumers have the responsibility to curb ignorance, they aren't wholly accountable for "thrift gentrification." Wang believes that the burden shouldn’t only be placed on the consumer.
“I think it’s the corporation’s fault. Think about the structure of thrifting, they don't pay for anything except labour and overhead so they need to make sure they give priority to people who need it. They should make sure they don't raise prices because of demand," she explains.
Even though these new consumers are buying the stock from a thrift store, needs-based purchases are hindered because of the higher corporate structure.
However, there are ways to lessen the impact while still staying fashion-forward on a low budget.
“I donate to thrift stores because it’s a cycle of donating clothes and people buying it. There’s a lot of conversation about the gentrification of thrift stores, like how in the winter people need coats so you really shouldn’t be thrifting those at that time,” says Wang who sees donating as a way to combat thrift gentrification.
“If you financially don’t have to thrift, you should make sure the supply doesn't dwindle by donating,” she continues.
Stones sees an artistic element to it.
“I think donating to thrift shops and consignment stores is really fun. One aspect I like is that every piece of clothing has its story."