Thrifting in the Era of Gentrification – Will it Ever Be the Same?

Imagine yourself walking into your local thrift store at six years old and falling in love with the idea of shopping someone else’s closet and giving pieces a new life. This was an experience I savored when thrifting with my mother throughout my childhood. To this day, I still thrift with my mother. However, today’s thrift stores are a tad bit different since gentrification has taken over the secondhand shopping world. Stores and online thrift retailers like Saver’s, Goodwill, The Salvation Army, Depop and ThredUp, have recently seen a rise in sales and consumers’ eagerness to discover the best yet budget-friendly items. Thrifting’s gentrification negatively impacts lower-income communities that rely on second-hand shopping for clothing and other essential living items such as furniture.

When it comes to thrifting, gentrification is defined by the ever-growing business of visiting thrift stores, purchasing valuable items and reselling to gain a profit. Taking the practice of secondhand shopping, known for being performed by low-income families, has been idolized by higher-income families, which has an attempt to normalize their business practices, have decided to refer to themselves as “curators.” With this stated, this simple business model converted the thrifting world to something out of the ordinary for a variety of reasons.

 Growing up, I was never affluent or even financially stable most of the time. Therefore, my family needed to shop at thrift stores on occasion, especially when money got tighter. In today’s thrifting era, families like mine are struggling to afford thrifting because it has become a “trend.” Social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram are the primary reason that thrifting has become a problematic trend, causing second-hand stores to increase their prices and experience an increase in the number of shoppers. TikTok has been popular since 2019 and has formed a rather big dent in the fashion and thrifting industry. This social media platform is influencing viewers to shop second-hand just because it is trendy and to overbuy whatever they think might be worth reselling for more than the thrift store price.

Most recently, resellers sell their thrift store finds on Depop, among other platforms. These items can cost anywhere from under $10 and are selling for $50 or more. In addition, the benefits of purchasing secondhand are lowered by those who sell thrift store finds online, which also pitch in with shipping-related pollution and utilize unsustainable packing materials.

As reselling thrifty finds becomes a commonality, thrift stores across the whole country are aware that the increased demand for secondhand items permits them to increase their prices. Resellers will plan on continuing to participate in thrifting because of the extremely high-profit margins. Therefore, price increases aren’t ceasing them from continuing their business. Although this may be the case, low-income secondhand shoppers have experienced a hit due to the escalating acclamation of thrifting and reselling. These consumers have hung on to thrift stores for affordable clothing options as well as household items for years. Going back to the Great Depression, these consumers are tremendously affected by these price increases. Thrift stores were locales where clothes were affordable, usually less than $3 to $4. However, those specific thrift stores have items priced similarly to bargain retail stores such as Ross Dress For Less and TJ Maxx.

 With all this information to consider, I question if thrifting will ever be the same. Of course, there are still millions of pieces you could find and style your way. However, is it worth spending the money that you would spend at any other generic fast fashion retailer like H&M or Zara? There are so many reasons why you should be thrifting, as it is much more sustainable than shopping fast-fashion and you receive the opportunity to go on an adventure while doing so. The prices are picking up, which have unfortunately changed thrifting for the long run —- but hopefully not forever.