With thrifting becoming a recent sensation, popularised by social media platforms such as Youtube and Tiktok, and the newly influential ‘y2k’ fashion aesthetic, many youths are buying and selling second-hand clothes by the bucket load. Yet what does this mean for people with a genuine need for affordable clothing? For if people can’t afford items in charity shops, many would argue it might push those who are economically disadvantaged into the arms of the cheap and convenient fast fashion industry.
Growing up, most of my belongings were bought from the charity shop. For my mum, dressing me in hand-me-downs from my older sister and offering me second-hand toys was the most sensible and affordable choice for us as a family. When I reached my teens I hated this aspect of my life, and I wanted nothing more than to stop trawling for bargains on our local high street. I was jealous of my friends at school who were gifted new branded school bags every year. Today it’s a completely different story: ‘thrifting’ is now a huge phenomenon, with young people flocking to charity shops en masse. Moreover, these teenagers are selling the items they find for incredibly inflated prices.
Second-hand selling is by no means new. People have been reselling items on sites like eBay for years now, with many making quite lucrative profits from upping the prices of vintage items. The crunch here is the massive chunk of the economy that reselling now makes up: in 2019 Thred-Up estimated that 10% of the retail market would be made up of re-sales within the next five years, double what it is now. In this case, it’s Gen-Z who has proliferated the phenomenon. In recent years, young peoples’ use of second-hand selling platforms such as Facebook Marketplace, Vinted and Poshmark has increased extraordinarily. By far the most popular app, however, is Depop, which has accumulated 13 million users and has boasted an annual growth in revenue of over 100% for the past few years.
Depop is becoming renowned for hosting sellers who ramp up the prices of second-hand items. ‘Rare’ items from brands such as Brandy Melville and Nike can cost much more than if they were bought from the original vendor. It’s very tempting to jump on the bandwagon; I bought an argyle sweater vest for £4 from a local charity shop and when I looked out of interest at what they were going for online, I found similar pieces being flogged for at least £30.
So, what’s the harm in the younger generation being able to make some extra cash? The argument put forward by some is that the rise of the ‘bedroom entrepreneur’ is contributing to the gentrification of second-hand selling; in other words, it’s generating a massive middle-class market for charity and vintage shops and pushing the prices up. If this is true, it’s a real concern for those in real need.
I took a trip to my local high street in Skipton, North Yorkshire, to have a look for myself. The prices varied between different charity shops, but in general I saw many items which could be said to be over-priced. For instance, in Oxfam, I found a floral Primark blouse for £4, which isn’t much cheaper than it would be in the original store. I also saw a pair of men’s shoes for £14.99 in the British Heart Foundation shop. These shoes could be much too expensive for someone who doesn’t have a source of income at the moment and needs them for something like a job interview. In more affluent areas, like Cambridge, the charity shop prices are even higher, and the stores are filled with well-off students hunting for valuable items. In a town where homelessness increased by 20% last year, it’s concerning that those in need might be in a situation where they are being priced out of the second-hand clothing market.
Back in 2013, the Charity Retail Association launched a defence against these claims, protesting that the average sale is still only around £5. However, this was seven years ago, and it’s clear charity shops are not as cheap as they once were, especially for more fashionable and better quality items. Even if you can still find some bargains, it can’t be fair if all the best items are snapped up by Depop sellers to sell for excessive profits.
Furthermore, this could have a profound effect on our donating habits. Would you give your old stuff to a charity shop if you could make more money by selling it on Depop? If people stop donating their old clothing, this could lead to an eventual shortage of stock and make places such as Primark and Aliexpress look even more desirable to those in financial difficulty.
To prevent further ‘gentrification’ of the second-hand clothing industry, we all have a part to play. Charity shops, for one, need to balance the responsibility of making items affordable for the whole community with remaining financially stable as businesses. As ‘bedroom entrepreneurs’, we should be conscious to avoid the temptation to exploit the affordability of these stores. Keep in mind that the most sustainable and socially responsible choice is to abstain from shopping altogether.