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Issue 1

September 27th, 2019

Reselling thrifted clothes causes reverse Robin Hood

FRI. | 10-16-20 | OPINION

     While COVID-19 left many unemployed and put the economy on hold back in March, my already unhealthy online shopping problem only grew. With little to occupy my days, I scrolled through Instagram accounts that cleaned out their closets and sold their no longer needed clothes. Soon enough I became so engrossed in such accounts that my bank account took a big hit — I shopped like there was no tomorrow. I was fortunate enough to still have a job during the summer, but as a result, I spent hundreds of dollars on second-hand clothes. 

     Shopping second-hand has many benefits, especially in a time where fast fashion has taken over. In 2017, the Environmental Protection Agency noted that textiles accounted for 11 million tons of waste in landfills. A vast majority of textile waste comes from fast fashion clothing; we buy trendy clothing, wear them a few times

T-shirts for life..jpg

Graphic by Tierney Reardon

and discard them once the trend is over. Professor Karen Leonas from the Wilson College of Textiles at NC State University notes that individuals are “buying 60% more clothes today than 15 years ago,” meaning some of the problem lies with consumers. Fortunately, shopping second-hand can remedy this by extending the life of already existing clothes. According to research done by the UK Waste and Resources Action Programme, simply extending the life of clothing by even three months “would lead to a 5–10% reduction in each of the carbon, water and waste footprints” over the span of two years. 

     The concept of shopping second-hand is phenomenal, however I began to notice a problem with many accounts that sell second-hand clothes on Instagram. Before I continue, it is important to note that there are different types of Instagram accounts that sell clothes: ones that are cleaning out their closets for extra money, ones that design and upcycle clothes for sale and ones that go thrift shopping to resell their finds as a source of income. I take issue with those that resell thrifted clothes with an insane markup.

     Thrift stores are donation-based and typically not-for-profit, which makes them incredibly important to low-income individuals and families. If you go to any thrift store, such as Goodwill and Salvation Army, chances are you will not pay more than $10 for any single article of clothing — a t-shirt from Goodwill is $2.99. Such prices are not found elsewhere, but those prices may begin to rise. As more people go to thrift stores with the intent to resell whatever they purchase, they thin out the variety of products available at a fast pace. If the new thrift customers simply shopped for personal use, the supply at thrift stores would not be nearly as at risk. A study conducted by Professor Spencer James from Penn State University found that higher-income households typically shop at thrift stores for pleasure and non-necessities while lower-income households shop out of necessity. Having more people shop at thrift stores for clothing, when not out of necessity, is detrimental to low-income individuals, to say the least.

     Now, I am not trying to discourage those with a higher budget to avoid thrifting. Shopping second-hand is for everyone. But buying second-hand items en masse just to resell them is a privilege that must be checked. Many resellers buy t-shirts at thrift shops for $3 and sell them either at retail price or higher, simply because people with money are willing to spend that much. I have seen Instargram resellers sell stained t-shirts for over $30 and Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E) shirts — which are available on the D.A.R.E website for $7 — for $25. While this is undeniably a smart business model, it takes advantage of the non-profit status of most thrift stores in a selfish way. There is a reason most thrift stores are non-profits — it is about making other people’s unwanted goods available and affordable to those that will deem it a treasure and may not otherwise have the opportunity to purchase such goods. 

     The ethicality of basing a business off of the exploitation of such low prices must be questioned. Just because there are people willing to pay high prices for thrifted pieces of clothing does not mean that selling them at those high prices is morally correct. Regardless of the environmental benefit, there is no reason anyone should be selling a secondhand sweatshirt for $60. That same sweatshirt, which was probably sold for $5 at the thrift shop, could have been needed by a low-income individual — but resellers take that option away.

     As thrifting and shopping second-hand popularizes, shoppers need to be cognizant of the goods and clothing items that are necessities to low-income individuals. Next time you scroll through Instagram, be more critical of accounts that resell thrifted pieces with artificially and unnecessarily high markups. 

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