Thrifting points to larger issues with our consumption habits

Consuming less is still your best bet

illustration of a trash bin with clothes in it
ILLUSTRATION: Den Kinanti / The Peak

By: Yasmin Hassan, Staff Writer

Do you ever find yourself scrolling on Instagram, TikTok, or Pinterest and falling into a rabbit hole of thrift hauls? Dazed and envious of the stuff people find — the lot of it all. So, you go thrifting in an attempt to score big like the people you see online, thinking you see a cute shirt, only to find a Shein tag staring back at you. In these past few years, many of us have tried to make more sustainable choices to ease off our carbon footprint, and buying secondhand is one practice that has become popular on social media. But, just as fast fashion brands have negatively impacted the environment, garment workers, and consumers, it seems thrifting has also shifted in its influence. 

Consumerism has gripped modern society for ages now. To me, this rings to themes seen in movies like Fight Club or Trainspotting, denouncing the unquenchable thirst for unnecessary materials just for the sake of having them. Thoughtless overconsumption can creep back into thrifting despite its reputation of reversing the rising currents of fast fashion. When scrolling on my For You Page, why do I see haul after haul after haul of thrifted items that I know most people don’t need? The practice of thrifting itself is good when it takes away from the harmful impacts of buying new clothes, especially considering the excess of secondhand clothes. But when do we realize we’ve made overconsumption through thrifting a trend? 

That’s also not to mention the flood of low-quality clothing that has found its way into thrift stores, dumped by their owners after realizing the quality isn’t meant to last. Donating an item may give it more life, but it can’t offset the impact of purchasing fast fashion in the first place. Obviously, buying fast fashion is better if you’re doing it secondhand, and not everyone can afford ethically-made clothing. But, amid the resellers, “throwaway” low-quality clothing, and overconsumption through pointless thrift hauls, thrifting quality clothing has become incredibly difficult. This especially impacts those who might not have the funds to buy new or want to make an environmentally-conscious choice. 

So, what can we do? Don’t buy stuff you don’t need. According to Oliver Franklin-Wallis, author of the investigative environmental book Wasteland, “only between 10 and 30% of second-hand donations to charity shops are actually resold in store.” Because of the “onslaught of fast fashion, these donations are too often now another means of trash disposal — and the system can’t cope,” he told GQ. Ask yourself: “Will this last me a long time?” “Will I wear this, or is it going to sit complacent in the back of my closet till the next spring cleaning?”  

“Thrifting quality clothing has become incredibly difficult for those who might not have the funds or those who want to make an environmentally conscious choice.”

Fast fashion as a whole is detrimental to our society, but some brands are notably worse than others. Shein has mounting ethical concerns like labour violations, ecological damage, and copyright infringement. The long lines at their pop-up shop in Vancouver this past April only prove how large of a grasp fast fashion has on consumers. Researching the practices of a brand on sites like Good On You before purchasing can help you make as conscious a decision as possible. You don’t have to be perfect to make an effort; every small decision adds up.

Another option is to reuse items you already have, and consider repairs or alterations to extend their lifespans. You can also upcycle your clothes — that way you’re saving money and enhancing your hands-on skills! Bringing new life into an article of clothing you thought you didn’t need or know you had is magical. That long, awkward-looking T-shirt could be fitted and styled to your liking. For those jeans you don’t like, turn them into shorts, patchwork denim, or a denim skirt. That uncomfortable-looking sun dress that takes up space in the back of your closet is begging you to turn it into a flowy skirt you can actually wear. 

If you’re thrifting, avoid buying in excess and search for high-quality products where possible — not the remnants of fast fashion trends that have washed up on the shores of the thrift racks. Things that last you a long time and are good quality will prove to be much more lucrative than any trendy top that someone could resell for ten times the price. Don’t let consumerism consume you!

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