It’s an understatement to say that thrifting has seen a huge shift in popularity in the last decade. In the last year, especially, the pandemic has saturated the thrift landscape even more on Instagram, Depop, Etsy, and Poshmark.
So where are all these curators sourcing their products, and how is this practice changing the thrift landscape for consumers?
One popular opinion amidst internet discourse is that vintage reselling is an unethical, privileged practice, taking affordable clothing options away from low-income communities.
But Depop seller Hannah Valentine believes that this argument is too generalized. Valentine, who was voted Depop’s most influential seller of 2020, posted an infographic on her Instagram account last July, entitled “Why Thrifting is Completely Ethical.” She makes the point that thrift resellers give rejected pieces a second chance at life.
And that’s not all. Resellers continue to offer nuance to the conversation—promoting slow fashion practices and encouraging consumers to reconsider where they place their blame. Many feel that thrift curation can be done ethically if certain factors are taken into consideration, such as accessibility, inclusivity, and a sourcing practice that prioritizes quality over quantity. Here’s what they have to say.
Teaunna Gray is the owner of the vintage Depop and Instagram shop @sunday______afternoon. She aims to distinguish herself from other resellers by selling high-quality pieces with thoughtful affection, sourcing beautifully crafted pieces rather than catering to trends.
When Gray launched Sunday Afternoon, she asked her friends and family not to link her personal account to the shop. “It felt important for me to kind of blend in at the time, and work on building a quality brand. I wasn’t seeing many shops owned by women of color at the time,” she says.
Then she saw a post circulate during the Black Lives Matters protests that asked secondhand shop owners of color to show their faces and post selfies. She realized that there were all kinds of small-business owners across America whose identities hadn’t been previously advertised alongside their brand. “When I saw that post, I was like, ‘Oh my god, screw this,’” she says. “I’m proud of what I’ve built and hopefully I can act as an inspiration to people who look like me to find passion in this work and in sustainable fashion.”
When talking about her sourcing process, Gray muses, “I price based on the material, the era [the piece] is from, and how hard it is to come by.” As a twin sister raised by a single mom, she says that thrifting was an affordable way for her to buy clothes as a child. Her goal is to offer her community the same by pricing as honestly and realistically as possible.
“A rule of thumb with buying is that you should try to earn 2.2% more than what you pay for it,” says Olivia Haroutounian, Texas-based owner of the popular Depop shop @reallifeasliv, who was recently profiled in Vogue.
Haroutounian exclusively sells rare designer vintage, but still tries to keep her pieces as affordable as possible. She started selling clothes in 2016 to pay her college tuition, and now sources pieces from private estate sales and auctions. Despite an increasing demand, a number of her products remain listed at under $100.
Perhaps because Depop is Haroutounian’s sole source of income, she maintains a realistic perception of cost and value. “I don’t come from a family that has a ton of money,” she explains. As a child, her mother sold vintage clothing to pay the bills. “There weren’t people doing this—people made fun of me for wearing secondhand clothing.”
Haroutounian argues that a lot more secondhand clothing is going into landfills than people realize. “There’s always clothes coming in. I see the back room of most of these places,” she notes. Even privately owned warehouses waste a lot of clothing because of how much supply they get, but these are now becoming popular sourcing destinations for resellers—meaning more clothes at the end of the line are being given another chance.
Mia Tran is the owner of Toronto Instagram shop @thevintageladybug. On the topic of sourcing, she notes, “A lot of these thrift sellers on Instagram actually have their own wholesaler. They order in bulk and there ends up being a lot of leftovers that they wouldn’t sell in their store, but maybe that I can sell in mine.” Tran explains that resellers can order clothes in bulk to save money, but they won’t know what they’ve ordered until they get it. Instead of discarding the clothes, they often sell unwanted pieces to other resellers at quote wholesale prices—“maybe $10-15 a piece.” This way, the clothes are continuously given another chance to find a long-term home in someone’s wardrobe.
“At the end of the day, I think it’s a bit of a shame that blame goes to the shoppers,” says Erica Black, owner of real-life brick-and-mortar vintage shop Wild Thing Vintage in Toronto. Black has owned her business for about ten years.
I asked Black her thoughts on the recent saturation of resellers online, and she endorsed their ethicality—noting that supply is frequently replenished. “If I know anything about people who shop at thrift stores, it’s that they also donate with some enthusiasm,” Black quipped. “That being said, I’ve been in a Value Village and seen a manager bump the price up on something even though it’s dirty or stained. I think that the focus needs to go on the companies who are setting these price standards and continuing to raise them.”
At the end of the day resellers are continuously being held accountable, while conglomerates like Walmart profit off mass clothing donations to Value Village. Really, though, unless these girls decided to resell clothes at the price of purchase and bypass any profit at all, “ethicality” seems impossible to achieve. The point stands that it isn’t Depop sellers doing the dirty work of capitalism; blame can and should remain on corporations.
By Emma Johnston-Wheeler
Visual by Kaylina Kodlick