Until just a decade ago, thrifting had a stigma around it. Rapper Macklemore’s hit 2012 song, “Thrift Shop,” poked fun at thrift stores across the country. But over the past 10 years, there’s been a shift in perception about thrifting. The rise of fast-fashion brands and online shopping has made clothes cheaper and easier to access than ever, which has also caused many fashion-forward consumers to take a step back and look at the problematic system they’re feeding money into.
Fast fashion is a business model that uses cheap materials and labor to produce clothing collections at a rapid pace. It’s a multifaceted problem that negatively affects the environment and causes social issues as it exploits its workers in developing countries. According to Business Insider, fashion production comprises 10 percent of global carbon emissions, equal to the annual carbon emissions of the entire European Union. It wastes water and pollutes rivers – 85 percent of textiles go to dumps every year.
Moreover, a whopping 80 percent of fast-fashion garments are made by women between the ages of 18-24. A 2018 U.S. Department of Labor report found evidence of forced and child labor in the fashion industry in countries such as Argentina, Bangladesh, Indonesia and the Philippines.
While there isn’t much global urgency to stop the fast-fashion industry, a way to help mitigate its negative effects is thrift shopping. Shopping at thrift stores is one of the best ways to reduce your clothing footprint, and it is a great way to find high quality and unique clothing pieces at a fraction of the price of retail.
Averill Smith is a sophomore at the University of Southern California and thrifting advocate.
“I first started stepping back from fast fashion when I realized the unethical practices of most fast-fashion companies,” she explained, “I have been recycling my clothes since I was in middle school and I love to revamp old clothing pieces, especially jeans!”
Members of Generation Z like Smith are the majority of those behind the thrifting movement. According to McKinsey’s “The State of Fashion 2019” report, nine in 10 members of Gen Z consumers believe companies have a responsibility to address environmental and social issues.
Social media platforms like TikTok can also be thanked for the rise of thrift shopping. Creators such as Los Angeles based-Maci Eleni and Atlanta based-Symphony Clark are champions of recycled apparel and share their love for thrifting with their 100,000s of followers. Like Smith, Eleni said that she started thrifting in middle school when her family would stock up on clothing during Salvation Army’s half-off family day. But thrift shopping soon evolved from an essential to a passion for her, and she began sharing her thrifting experiences on YouTube in 2011, migrating to TikTok in 2020.
Eleni shares a myriad of thrift-inspired TikToks with her 269,000 followers, such as thrifted clothing hauls and her favorite local L.A. thrift stores. Eleni said her biggest tip for first-time thrift shoppers is to “(go) into the thrift store with an idea of what you’re looking for, as well as an open mind.” The creator hopes that her videos influence her following to be more conscious about what type of clothing they consume.
Smith echoes Eleni’s sentiment. The USC student understands that fast-fashion companies are extremely convenient, but she says one step in the right direction is enough. “I think it’s hard to say, ‘Stop consuming from all fast fashion,’ but to just be conscious of one’s purchases. I always ask myself, when purchasing an item, if I will like in a year from now – and if not, I won’t buy it!”