March 14, 2023
Secondhand clothing has become an increasingly popular choice for eco-conscious consumers looking for an ethical and sustainable alternative to fast fashion. However, the rise in demand for second-hand clothing has sparked criticism, with some accusing sellers of greed and unethical intentions. Critics claim that the buy-then-resell business model is one of the drivers of gentrification and depletes the clothing supply.
While these concerns may seem valid in theory, they are not well-founded in actuality. Thrift stores continue to receive regular donations despite the increase in second-hand sellers buying items. In fact, online thrift and consignment stores like ThredUp have seen a 50% increase in donations during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Furthermore, the idea that there is a shortage of second-hand clothing is false. The fact is that the supply of second-hand clothing is virtually inexhaustible and free. This undermines the argument for raised prices, which is not due to the consumer, but rather corporations.
The narrative that thrifting is being marketed as an ethical alternative to fast fashion, and because of that the poor and eco-conscious customer segments are fighting for the same resources, is another fallacy. Second-hand retailers in the Global North can only sell about 10-20% of what they collect in the country of consumption. Most of the clothing donated in the Global North will pass through multiple hands in multiple countries before ultimately being exported to the Global South (Which creates a whole host of other problems).
According to British charity Oxfam, at least 70% of Europe’s donated clothes end up in Africa, and some people in that continent are starting to resent it because they’re not able to build their own domestic apparel or textile industries. Local manufacturers can’t compete with the prices of second-hand clothing resellers in their countries. African countries have begun putting steep tariffs on second-hand clothing imports, making it more expensive and more difficult for Western countries to send clothes to the African continent.
Secondhand fashion and textiles have the potential to transform the industry for good, but at present, we are turning a blind eye to the hidden actors in the supply chain. The people who sort, recycle, and resell our unwanted clothes, and the often unjust systems that underpin their work, are often ignored. Additionally, the oversupply of cheap second-hand clothing teaches people that clothing is disposable and primes people to become consumers of new fast fashion.
To me, it seems the myth of scarcity in second-hand clothing is unfounded. The belief that the rising popularity of vintage and second-hand clothing among wealthier individuals is leading to the displacement of lower-income communities from thrift stores and other second-hand shops is also a myth. The real issue lies in the systems that underpin the global second-hand clothing trade, which need to be addressed to ensure ethical and sustainable practices.
I would also love to know what percentage of second hand sellers are low to low-middle income. I think the average person sees these influencer type resellers making thousands of dollars reselling, but I truly think that is such a small percentage of the resellers in general. I’m pretty sure most of them are just trying to get by like the rest of us.
A forever reminder that we should be turning our anger towards these huge corporations and unbridled capitalism.