The Flip Side: Unveiling the Downsides of Thrift Shopping
Updated: May 25
Thrifting can be amazing as you could read in this blog post. However, there are also some disadvantages to thrifting. With its gaining popularity and the increasing demand for second-hand clothes, thrift stores are deviating from their initial purpose. Where it once was a place for people in need to find affordable clothing, this is no longer their main purpose. The demand for secondhand clothing is increasing fast. Where in 2016 about 50% of women were interested in purchasing their clothes secondhand. In 2021 this has gone up to 93%. In 2011 only about 4% of our closet was made up of secondhand clothes while in 2021 this was almost 10% and it is expected that this number continues to increase in the next decade. Consumers become more aware that the claims made about sustainable fashion feel like greenwashing. Because of this, they will move away from a fast fashion brand and opt to go for secondhand first. This increased demand for secondhand fashion comes with a few disadvantages.
Chain thrift stores
With the increasing demand for thrift stores more and more pop up. This is great when you love to thrift shop but it isn’t necessarily a good thing. Chain thrift stores like Goodwill but many others as well no longer aim to donate the profit they make to charities or people in need. Instead, a lot of the money they make from goods they received for free goes to the bank account of the CEO of the thrift store. Not only that, a lot of thrift stores operate with the help of volunteers (who btw do not get paid for the work they do) while their managers get paid from all profit that was made with the donated goods.
The impact of influencers
Finding a YouTube video with a thrift haul from an influencer is not even a challenge anymore nowadays. You see these influencers purchase a lot of secondhand clothes at a thrift store and especially young people who look up to these influencers think that it is normal to buy so many clothes. This encourages overconsumption and takes away from the purpose of thrifting, which is to promote slow and ethical fashion and provide affordable clothing to people in need. Consuming this amount of secondhand fashion at a “fast fashion’ rate isn’t a sustainable solution and should not be promoted.
With the increasing popularity of thrift stores unfortunately comes a price increase. This again results in a deviation from one of the main purposes of thrift stores which is to help those in need get access to affordable clothing. While the middle class is earning more money, they still want their clothes fast and cheap which can be found in thrift stores. The turnover of ‘new’ clothes is very high due to the high demand. This also means that every time you visit a thrift store they have a ‘new’ collection of clothes for you to go through. This encourages people to visit frequently and purchase ‘new’ clothes which result in an increased demand for second-hand clothes and where the demand for certain products is high, the price of these products increase.
People often donate older products that they no longer need. For example, a baby mobile was used for several babies in a family but now the kids are older and they don’t need it anymore so it is donated to a thrift store. This means that this mobile is now maybe over a decade old. Over the years, safety regulations change for lots of products. Especially the regulations around baby products get increasingly strict over the years. A decade ago, this mobile may have been safe to use for your baby but about 10 years later this same mobile may no longer be considered safe due to changing regulations.
In this study, it was found that 69% of the over 300 thrift stores visited had at least one hazardous product. Some of these hazardous products were kid-related products but there were also electronic devices that had no protection against electrocution. So, pay attention when you purchase second-hand electronics.
Good deal hoarder mode
When thrifting, it is very easy to fall into ‘good deal hoarder mode’ and over-purchase because everything is so affordable. But let’s be honest, do you really need a waffle maker for $4,-? Have you ever missed one in your life? Probably not so you don’t need it.
Clothing and textiles that are donated to thrift stores are not laundered before they end up in the store and could contain lots of bacteria or even bedbugs. Some of these clothes are so dirty, a thrift shop will likely immediately throw them away. This results in thrift stores producing lots of trash simply because people often donate stuff that is just filthy or broken and can’t be sold at thrift stores. This not only increases the workload of the volunteers but also increases the carbon footprint of a thrift store as some people are just too lazy to fix broken items (and a thrift store doesn’t also always have the means to do so) or put them in the right recycling bin when repairing is no longer an option.
If you are on the market for something specific, it may take a long time for you to find it. It could cost you several trips over several weeks of visiting thrift stores before you can find the specific item you were looking for. If you can find it at all. Each time you visit a thrift store you have to go through the entire clothing section (if you are looking for a specific clothing item) which can take up a lot of your time.
No warranty - no returns
This differs per thrift store. The one I visit frequently has a 1-week warranty on electronic devices but the other I visit regularly does not. So, you need to pay good attention to the items and if possible test them in the store so you are sure you don’t purchase a broken device or piece of clothing.
What can you do?
Make a conscious decision
We have to start making conscious choices at the beginning of the consumer cycle. This means we have to think before we buy and not just purchase and think afterward. With every purchase (whether new or second-hand) ask yourself; Do you need it or do just want it because you saw some influencer on Instagram wear it?
Choose your thrift store
I have 2 thrift stores in the city where I live. One operates with volunteers only while the other is a franchise. I shop at both (as the franchise is a very convenient location) but I only donate used products to the first.
Know beforehand what you are looking for when visiting a thrift store but don’t be too specific. If your goal is to find a vintage Levi’s in size 28 you are not likely to succeed while if you are looking for black jeans you are much more likely. Knowing what you need also helps to avoid impulse buys as you determined beforehand what you are looking for and you simply don’t need anything else.
I hope this list of disadvantages of thrift shopping, did not discourage you from buying secondhand. Second-hand shopping is still an amazing alternative to fast fashion as long as you make conscious choices and don’t purchase them at a fast fashion rate.