Who is allowed to buy and sell secondhand items in a world that produces too many clothes?
Buying second hand allows consumers to find one-of-a-kind pieces for low prices and consume an ethical and sustainable alternative to fast fashion.
For those buyers unwilling to wade through worn clothes in hopes of a find can fork over cash for pre-curated secondhand clothing online.
While online stores have marked-up prices, these prices reflect the labor that goes into preparing an item to be marketed and sold online.
Hypothetically, platforms like Depop, Poshmark, and Mercaris have made second hand buying and reselling more accessible, especially with the decline of in-person shopping due to the pandemic.
However, critics claim that the thrift and resell business model is unethical because it gentrifies thrift stores.
The general consensus is that when resellers and bulk buyers purchase items they do not personally need to be sold online, they inadvertently raise the prices of thrifted goods. This could result in low-income shoppers being priced out of thrift stores in their areas.
This concern is valid in theory but not quite valid in practice. In the United States, of the unsold clothes that wind up in second hand stores, around 85% are shipped to landfills annually. The rest are sent to the international resale market or recycled in textile factories.
It is apparent that companies like Goodwill have no shortage of inventory and by extension, no reason to raise their prices based on the law of supply and demand.
As demand increases, the supply is so large that it is impossible to deplete completely.
It is far more likely that price increases are attributed to estimated guidelines for valuation prices for donors to claim charitable deduction to the IRS.
However, the question remains — whether reselling thrifted clothing items for higher prices is unethical.
The answer lies in the value of such items. Secondhand clothing has become coveted as online stores sanitize and glamorize thrifted clothing.
Unfortunately, the transformation of secondhand clothing into a trend is a process defined by class and privilege.
The “Depop reseller” evokes a stereotype of a conventionally attractive, slim, teenage girl running a small business to cultivate her brand. On TikTok, she is the epitome of cool for today’s youth and as a result, a trend is born.
However, when well-off teens and young adults thrift and resell out of trendiness, they create social barriers to accessing quality clothing at thrift store prices.
Those who shop out of necessity still want to be socially included and accepted – when trendy clothes are bought up or their prices are inflated online, they become inaccessible to low-income individuals.
On the other hand, the idea that those who can accommodate the higher prices of the fashion industry should do so is an inherent issue with the criticisms of thrifting.
The idea that used items should serve the poor alone has long been drilled into Americans even as thrift stores barely sell most of the products they receive. Shopping second hand is a public good, and the idea that clothing donations should exclusively serve communities in need is a capitalist ideal.
While more constructive conversations are necessary about the social implications of reselling and overconsumption, people should not shy away from thrifting.
It is important that we have an intersectional view and check our privilege when looking at issues like the gentrification of thrifting because it is a problem that involves race, class, gender, sexuality, and ability.