Conner Stella, 26, owner of online resale store Baby’s Basement, can relate to the struggle that comes with recessions and fashion choices. She says she turned to thrift shopping because of her financial situation when growing up.
“I was poor, I also went through an ’80s movie phase. I wanted to be, specifically, Andie from Pretty in Pink. I thrifted a lot of floral, a lot of lace, a lot of pearls. I decided that looked cool and that’s what started it for me. But, it was also because I couldn’t shop at a mall if I wanted to. Maybe I just convinced myself it was cooler to dress that way because it was all I could afford,” Stella says.
In the last ten years, used merchandise stores, better known as thrift stores, have been on the rise.
According to Merriam Webster, thrifting comes from the noun thrift which originated from the verb thrive. Thrifty means to use money and other resources carefully and not wastefully.
The word came into play in the 1300s after being derived from thrive. It became used more often in the early 2000s, part of which is thanks to Tyra Banks, for challenging America’s Next Top Model contestants to create outfits out of secondhand items in 2003.
According to Statista, Ontario is the province with the most resale stores in Canada, leading with almost 1,000 stores. British Columbia is in second place with 461 followed by Québec with 413 thrift stores.
Different from resale is retail, which is typically considered fast fashion. The term fast fashion comes from fashion retailers pumping out designs and shipping them to stores to capture current fashion trends.
Fast fashion continues to create textile waste while thrift stores diminish this by reselling used clothing and prolonging the garments life cycle.
According to Fashion United, which collects fashion statistics, news, archives, and more, the value of the fast fashion industry in 2016 was 43.6 billion Canadian dollars.
While retail apparel expects a 2 per cent annual growth, resale apparel expects a 15 per cent annual growth.
Popularity of Resale Stores
People starting to ditch retail for resale isn’t so surprising, says Dr. Nelson B. Amaral, assistant professor of marketing at UOIT. He says the popularity of thrifting came with the recession.
“I think people started to look for different ways of finding value,” Amaral says. “We find psychological ways of making ourselves feel better about things that we don’t have much of a choice about. So we have been forced to find better ways, cheaper ways of buying things.”
A recent 2018 fashion study done by secondhand online clothing store, thredUP, shows thrift stores overtaking fast fashion and dominating the fashion world.
The report also estimates that by 2022 the resale market will reach 41 billion dollars and 49 per cent of the market’s value will be dominated by apparel.
The online store is recommended by fashion blogs as a top resale store. It’s used to buy and sell women’s and kids’ second hand clothes.
The philosophy of thredUPs is convenience and affordability. The online store allows shoppers access to brands and styles that represent different individual styles. The store prides itself on offering the same items you’d find in retail stores but at up to 90 per cent off.
In a section of thredUP’s study titled “Bye Bye Stigma, Thrift is going mainstream” it is detailed one in three women shopped secondhand last year, and that 45 million women shopped secondhand in 2017 compared to 35 million in 2016.
Stella, 26, is the the owner of online vintage resale store, Baby’s Basement, in Oshawa. It’s a small independent business she brands as green and sustainable. She believes in the importance of local and sustainable shopping, like reselling or repurposing old clothes.
While the popularity of resale stores has increased in the last ten years, one of the biggest impacts the stores have is environmental.
“Clothing is regularly thrown out, making its way to landfills. It is much better to reduce one’s consumption of new clothing and to purchase used goods,” says Dr. Kirsty Robertson, a professor of Contemporary Art at the University of Western Ontario, has also written multiple pieces on textiles.
Since 2008, Robertson has researched textiles, the textile industry, and fibre-based arts. She is currently researching petrotextiles: textiles made of oil which disintegrate into plastic.
“When it comes to the 3Rs (reduce, reuse, recycle), recycling is the least preferable when it comes to textiles and clothing. Reducing consumption is best, followed by reusing [thrifting] clothing, with recycling a distant third,” Robertson says, she is a founding member of the Synthetic Collective, which is a group of researchers working on plastics pollution in the Great Lakes Region.
It’s not only experts who are noticing the impact resale has on the planet, business owners like Stella, aim to shop ethically and locally to promote an eco-friendly lifestyle. Reusing, recycling and repurposing clothing isn’t new. But it became a popular trend in the 2000s, with resale stores like Plato’s Closet opening their doors.
“I think thrifting means more ethical consumption so it’s like reusing, recycling and repurposing anything that’s not made new. You can thrift from thrift stores, but you can also thrift just from using things that already exist,” Stella says. “Like using your friends clothes, or your moms clothes, or just chopping off a pair of legs on jeans to make them [into] shorts.”
According to Statista, in August of 2015 the sustainability habits of thrift shopping Canadians were recorded. There were over 1,000 respondents aged 18 and older.
The study shows that 80 per cent of Canadian thrift shoppers prioritized the environment when shopping, 50 per cent prioritized buying sustainable or recyclable products and 42 per cent bought from companies who are environmentally conscious.
“In the wake of fast fashion and so much clothing being produced every year, 70 per cent of what ends up at a Value Village still ends up in a landfill. Now the purpose of a thrift store is just, I guess for anyone to make use of anything. It’s hard now, because now we’re drowning in clothes and textile waste,” Stella says.
She’s right, a CBC News series called Reduce, Reuse and Rethink revealed only 25 per cent of clothing donated to second hand stores sells.
It’s not only the allure of the new trend and the idea of saving the planet that drives the resale market. Dr. Amaral, consumer psychologist, who also teaches marketing at UOIT, says celebrities have played a hand in the popular hobby.
“Thrifting has become sort of cool. There was a story about Sarah Jessica Parker, shopping only at thrift stores for her kids. When that story came out, it led to legitimacy behind the fact that thrifting is becoming more mainstream,” Amaral says about a Nov. 2016 Vanity Fair article.
“Fashion magazines like, Vogue, have Alexa Chung, who’s a hugely popular fashion name, and she will often incorporate things she’s bought at a thrift store in her fashion arsenal, and that’s unheard of,” Amaral says.
He says the typical price of clothing in fashion magazines like, Vogue or GQ are in the high hundreds of dollars. In a Dec.12, 2018 article on Vogue‘s website, there are boots featured from $69 to $2,680. In the Dec. issue of GQ it features men’s pants ranging from $60 to $1,000.
Therefore Chung’s new twist on the styling of her “What’s hot this fall” or “What’s coming this spring” outfits are changing the game.
“It’s adding even more legitimacy to the fact that it’s no longer ‘bad’ to buy from thrift stores. It’s a two part thing, we kind of got forced into it [thrift shopping] and had to make it cool, so we didn’t feel bad about it,” he says.
Stella says the open dialogue around the trend has encouraged stores like hers to thrive.
“It went from only moms shamefully shopping for new boots for their kids, with some shame and guilt because it meant that they were poor. Now, it’s like an after school activity that teenagers do to look for ‘cool’ Tommy Hilfiger jackets,” Stella says. “The stigma around thrift stores has completely diminished.”
Celebrities have promoted thrift shopping for decades. In 1971, Dolly Parton released Coat of Many Colors, which started destigmatizing thrifting, and in 2007 Angelina Jolie wore a $26 dress on the red carpet. With more and more celebrities sharing their personal connections to thrift stores, the stigma surrounding the stores is reduced.
Whether it’s the impact it makes on the planet, the growing popularity or the recommendations celebrities are making, thrifting seems to becoming a bigger trend with each year passing.
More people, like Stella, seem to open their eyes to the damage fast fashion is causing to the planet, the popularity of the trend that was neglected due to shame that was attached to it and the celebrities who are endorsing the trend in attempts to normalize it further.
“Once you open your eyes, to things you can’t ignore like, not only is there slave labour and horrible [effects] to the environment, but there’s also so much waste, and the second it doesn’t feel necessary to buy from those big stores anymore, you realize that you’ve just been tricked forever into thinking that you had to,” Stella says.