Redefining Shopping Second Hand: Environmentalist Approach

*Opinion Piece

I grew up shopping at a swap-meet for clothes and other items. In reality, it was all I knew and saw it as normal until I began to realize wearing second-hand clothing was looked down on. I began to notice how if peers or others knew where I got my favorite shirt, I might not be seen as stylish. At the time, mentioning consignment shops, thrift stores, swap-meets, or anything related, was taboo. It was seen as dirty and a sign of “poverty.”  Now, I catch myself telling others, “Your vintage find is so cute!” and “Which flea market did you get it from?” In modern times, we have redefined the true meaning and idea of shopping pre-owned. 

Gentrification is the process of making someone or something more refined, polite, or respectable. Primarily, gentrification is a word used to classify regional areas or urban cities that have been transformed to fit a middle-to upper-class profile. In this context, gentrification is being used to describe the actions of middle to upper-class income individuals who will buy their products second hand rather than new. Second-hand goods are typically products that have had previous owners and have been repurchased. Recently, buying second hand has become a trend amongst Millenials and Gen Z environmentalists, with good reason. Thrifting reduces waste, it is environmentally friendly, and it is financially accessible. However, what is often not mentioned and forgotten in the excitement of “saving the environment” is that thrifting for some is a necessity and not a privilege.

For decades, low-income communities have practiced this conscious way of shopping, often having no other options. In the past, they were subjected to different treatment and were perceived differently. Yet, when Middle-class and Wealthy individuals chose to make the switch to pre-owned shopping, they were met with praise on all levels, as it was seen as responsible and ethical. Why? The language surrounding pre-owned clothing shopping has changed.

What are you talking about? Despite most people going to a Goodwill to shop, they renamed it a “thrift store.” Despite most people going to a consignment shop, they renamed it a “trading post.” Despite most going to a swap-meet, it is renamed as a “flea market.” Though all these comparisons seem the same, why are they treated differently?

Social Media

Within Gen Z community, we have created a culture on social media that surrounds the art of “thrifting.” Buyers are flocking to local shops and purchasing bags of clothing to leave feeling morally superior and praising themselves as they ‘did the right thing for the environment’.  Environmentalism becoming a trend led Gen Z to redefine the existing norm and rewrite a new one: no one should be looked down upon for where they bought the clothes unless it is from fast fashion.

The new profound love for second-hand shopping has never come at a better time. The term “fast fashion” relates to “inexpensive clothing produced rapidly by mass-market retailers in response to the latest trends.” Fast fashion consumption has skyrocketed as new media trends are constantly being made. With the constant need to follow these trends, it has led to “the average American throws away around 81 pounds of clothing yearly.” While fast fashion continues to create more carbon emissions, that can change if shoppers switch to thrifting. However, there is one question that still remains, If the entire point is to be more sustainable, what if I cannot afford thrift store vintage but I can afford a vintage-inspired shop from Shein? If I take care of it and donate it after use, am I still being sustainable?

The new profound love for second-hand shopping has never come at a better time. The term “fast fashion” relates to “inexpensive clothing produced rapidly by mass-market retailers in response to the latest trends.” Fast fashion consumption has skyrocketed as new media trends are constantly being made. With the constant need to follow these trends, it has led to “the average American throws away around 81 pounds of clothing yearly.” While fast fashion continues to create more carbon emissions, that can change if shoppers switch to thrifting. However, there is one question that still remains, If the entire point is to be more sustainable, what if I cannot afford thrift store vintage but I can afford a vintage-inspired shop from Shein? If I take care of it and donate it after use, am I still being sustainable?

The answer is yes. The entire point of sustainability is to shop wisely, choose the proper fit for your lifestyle, and maintain those items to create gradually less waste. While the most obvious answer is no, as fast fashion is constantly creating new garments, it is also important to remember that different people have different accommodations, and they should still be given the same praise for any effort that they put in. All issues are intersectional. So, after all, it is important to not act in a classist manner if someone chooses a different path but makes other adjustments. 

A switch to adopt sustainability is an individual choice and can look different for everyone. For one, it can be shopping at a high-end sustainable, eco-friendly brand. For another, it can be holding onto those fast fashion clothes and then donating them. It can also be thrift and flea market shopping.

When it comes to being a conscious thrift store shopper, there are three significant factors to remember:

  1. Am I shopping in an affluent area? Did I travel to a “lower-income” area to find “better deals?”
  2. What type of thrift store is this? (Chain store or Locally owned and operated)
  3. Am I buying this to resell? (Key: If you are, just don’t ridiculously upcharge)

In the end, there is no ethical consumption under capitalism. Nonetheless, it should be the responsibility of all consumers to shop as consciously as they can. As members of our local community, we should keep in mind the idea that all problems are intersectional. Yes, shopping on Shein is bad in the eyes of ethical consumption, but why shame someone for it? Guilting others into participating in another way of shopping because in your eyes it saves the environment is not the way to go. People have different circumstances and their sustainability journey should not be shamed, as it is personal and authentic to them. Encourage conversation, support growth, and inspire others to do the same.


Isabel Rodriguez

Writer

Isabel Rodriguez is a Latina woman based in California. She is a student at Cal Poly Pomona and plans on studying Communications with an emphasis on Public Relations. During her free time, she is a freelance writer covering intersectional feminism, environmentalism, voting, and any issues affecting underrepresented or minority communities.


Sources

“Gentrification | Definition of Gentrification by Oxford Dictionary ….” https://www.lexico.com/en/definition/gentrification. Accessed 15 Oct. 2020.

“Fast Fashion | Definition of Fast Fashion by Oxford … – Lexico.” https://www.lexico.com/en/definition/fast_fashion. Accessed 16 Oct. 2020.

“Ready-to-Waste: America’s Clothing Crisis ….” 16 Jan. 2018, https://www.saturdayeveningpost.com/2018/01/ready-waste-americas-clothing-crisis/. Accessed 16 Oct. 2020.

“Intersectionality – Merriam-Webster.” https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/intersectionality. Accessed 16 Oct. 2020.

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