The ethics of thrifting

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In recent years, thrift shopping has become increasingly popular among young people.

Shopping second-hand is seen as an alternative to fast fashion and consumerism. It’s an environmentally sustainable and affordable way to add new pieces to your wardrobe and it can be fun to find unique items that other people likely don’t have.

But with its increase in popularity, some have begun to debate the ethics of it, more specifically, whether it’s actually ethical to thrift if you can afford to shop elsewhere. 

Ultimately, the world of thrifting has changed. Thrift stores used to be mainly occupied by those who could only afford to buy secondhand, but now on an average thrift store trip you’ll see people from all sorts of income brackets. 

While buying used clothes means we avoid contributing our money to the already over-saturated consumer market, it also means that we are taking affordable donated clothes away from those who may truly need those items. The question is whether or not this is a responsible use of resources.

Without a doubt, some of these once-affordable thrift stores have already seen — or will see — an increase in prices, simply due to the high demand of thrifted clothes. This, of course, prevents those on a tight budget or without a steady stream of income from shopping at these places, as they can no longer afford it.

What’s more is that some folks have picked up the hobby of reselling thrifted items with the intention of making a profit off the clothes that have been donated as an act of charity thrift stores. 

Shoppers will often thrift in bulk, “flip” the items and sell them at a higher price, ultimately preventing those with a lower budget from being able to purchase these once-affordable pieces.

Sometimes, thrifters or resellers will buy clothes in a size that doesn’t even fit them with the intention of reworking it to a better fitting size. This again means that people who truly wear those sizes may be more hard-pressed to find clothes that actually fit them. 

With all this considered, it’s difficult to resolve how to truly shop while being considerate of others as well as the environment. 

While many shoppers may not be financially struggling, not everyone can necessarily afford to stock their closet with clothing brands like Everlane or Reformation, both of which are credited for their sustainable — and very expensive—pieces.

Ultimately, no one can stop you from thrift shopping. If items are intended for purchase, shoppers are not obligated to leave them behind in hopes that someone who needs them more will pick them up instead. 

I personally have an uncertain relationship with thrifting for these reasons. Although many young people like myself are becoming more environmentally conscious, it can be hard to take into account all the different aspects of responsible clothing consumption. 

For those looking to reduce their impact on others, clothing swaps are a great way to find new pieces, as you aren’t purchasing items that would otherwise go to someone less fortunate. Rather, you are trading items with others who are also looking for something “new.”

As a final statement and lasting thought, perhaps it would be appropriate to quote the (generally) leftist idea that there is no ethical consumption under capitalism.

With this, it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try to be considerate of the environment and others, but it does mean that we’re stuck between a rock and a hard place regardless. You are free to use your judgement and determine your impact against others when shopping, but you aren’t obligated to. 

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