• Anuva Roy

Rise of Thrifting

With the surge of Instagram stores, small businesses and increased environmental concerns, the concept of buying second-hand clothing has grown in popularity, but unlike most things on the internet, this trend is here to stay.

Why has Thrifting become Popular?

  • The spread of ideas and subcultures through social media apps like Tiktok, Instagram and Pinterest.

  • Desire to own unique pieces in the age of mass production.

  • Environmental Concerns and increased awareness about sustainability.

  • Relatively cheaper than buying first hand.

Gen Z: Changing attitudes

According to McKinsey’s “The State of Fashion 2019” report, “Nine in ten Generation Z consumers believe companies have a responsibility to address environmental and social issues.”

Thrifting, much like the internet, is dominated by the younger generation as 90% of Depop (Peer-to-peer social shopping resale app) consist of active users under 26.

The app also saw a 300 per cent year-over-year increase in items sold during the COVID-19 pandemic, reflecting rising consumer demand for pre-owned purchases.

The Need for Thrifting

The fashion industry is valued approx 2.4 billion dollars globally and directly employs 75 million people throughout its value chain, making it the world’s third-largest manufacturing sector.

At the same time, the fashion industry is notorious for-

  • Exploiting workers in world countries with relaxed labour laws

  • Being the second highest polluter

  • Dumping waste in landfills and the ocean

As fashion cycles become shorter and micro trends take over the internet, the average consumer discards clothes after only 7 or 8 years, creating unnecessary demand. Since clothing production has doubled in the past 15 years, the waste produced also increases-

  • In 2018 the fashion industry produced 2.1 billion tonnes of CO2.

  • Around 85 per cent of textile waste in the US, much of which is synthetic and non-compostable goes straight to landfills or incinerated.

Sustainable or Second-Hand: A Blurred Line

Although the demand for second-hand clothing is surging, demand for new clothing marketed as “sustainable” is declining.

We can attribute this towards the reduced accessibility along with consumer concerns about greenwashing(organisations deceiving their consumers to paint a more eco-friendly image) and transparency.

Cause of Concern: Gentrification of Thrift Clothes

Previously, thrifting was associated with uncleanliness and often stigmatized with the status of being poor, as thrifting was not an option but a necessity.

Over the past three years, reselling and thrifting has grown 21 times faster than the actual retail apparel market. Thrift “business” grows, expected to double to a 77 billion dollar industry in 2025 from 36 B $ in 2021.

Along with the growth of second-hand clothing, the resale market is expected to more than triple from 15 to 47 B $ in these years, while it was almost negligible a decade ago.

Critics of resale distributors say that-

Upper middle class and rich communities have gentrified thrifting, causing the price to rise, making it inaccessible to need-stricken communities. ThredUp’s report with the Global Data market revealed that 82% of people have or are open to shopping secondhand when money gets tighter.

While supporters of resale distributors point out that more person engaging in second-hand clothing will-

  • Make thrifting accessible in the long term due to increased popularity

  • Reduce waste: research shows that if every garment was given a second life, waste and emissions would be reduced by 73%

What thrift stores represent

Traditional thrift shops run on donations and aim to price items in a way which reflects their condition, usability and remains accessible to poverty-stricken populations.

They aim to sell their items quickly and focus on their user value for these for the buyer. The newly-formed resale shops, however, are more focused on the aspects such as the brand, quality and fashionability of the items that they deal in. They are designed to run on the same principles as most fast-fashion stores, by reselling top-condition pre-sold items from them and attracting the end user, once again, by lowering prices. The focus remains not on usability but rather on keeping up with buying urges more easily, thus only giving rise to wider consumerism. The aim here is not to make the clothing accessible to lower economic classes or re-use old items in an environmentally-friendly way, but to rather make a business out of selling pre-sold but hardly pre-used items. Thus, it is promoting shorter usage and repeated buying of items, based on trends that the market runs on, rather than utility and durability that are more important for a need-stricken individual.

The future of Fashion (Conclusion)

As we contemplate if the negative impact of thrift shop gentrification outweighs the environmental benefits which come with second-hand retail, we should remember that gentrification in any sector should not be given excuses. An act of exploitation cannot be justified under the disguise of environmentalism.


~ Anuva Roy


2021 Fashion Resale Market and Trend Report | thredUP


How Much Do Our Wardrobes Cost to the Environment? (worldbank.org)

Fashion Industry Waste Statistics – E D G E (edgexpo.com)

Used Clothing Resale Is A Rising Opportunity For Retailers Large And Small (forbes.com)