We are entering Oxfam’s “Second Hand September”, and with it, an increased focus on sustainability and the ethics of clothing retailers. As the resale app ‘Depop’ has grown in popularity, a conversation has erupted surrounding the gentrification of thrift stores. A problem many sustainable fashion advocates have with Depop is the increased number of accounts reselling charity shop finds at huge mark-ups; often selling items with desirable tags like “y2k”, “vintage” and “urban”, allowing them to put up prices astronomically. These sellers use the app as a main source of income, taking hundreds of garments away from those from low-income backgrounds who rely on charity shop bargains. The huge mark-ups on Depop have caused inflated prices in some charity shops. This begs the question of whether the increased demand is making charity or thrift shopping an inaccessible avenue for those who rely heavily on such stores.
Growing up, about half of my clothes came from thrift stores in the United States, and I was often embarrassed and looked down upon for my second-hand outfits. I’m happy to see that thrift stores are no longer steeped in shame, allowing working-class people to feel less self-conscious about their clothing. But rising prices are not a consequence of more second-hand buyers, rather the blame lies with the owners of these establishments, many of whom do not use the increased funds to raise the wages of their workers, many of whom are disabled.
It’s unfair to place blame on conscious buyers on a budget for the gentrification of thrift stores. Reusing garments and reducing single-wear clothing is essential in our quest for sustainability. While it is certainly controversial and arguably unethical for Depop sellers to mark up their items, charity shops around the country already have a surplus of clothing still available for shoppers.
Many conscious buyers have limited affordable avenues when wanting to revamp their wardrobe. Sustainable, ethical brands come with a hefty price tag that isn’t always accessible. Additionally, many brands participate in greenwashing, otherwise known as a ‘green sheen’, whereby their sustainable image and marketing is not reflective or their practices behind the scenes: leaving customers with limited options outside of Depop or charity shops.
Ultimately, the gentrification of thrift stores is not the fault of customers or Depop sellers, but lies with the owners who raise prices without giving back to their workers or the community. Eco-conscious buyers should not be guilted for their sustainable shopping habits, and it’s important to promote sustainability with even the smallest lifestyle changes.