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The Ethics Behind Thrifting

Thrifting is an activity that has become popular amongst Gen Z in the past couple of years. Essentially, thrifting is buying second-hand clothing from thrift shops, garage sales, or flea markets at a discounted price. Often, people find high-end and vintage clothing for much lower and affordable prices. In the past, the idea of buying second-hand clothing carried the taboo of uncleanliness and poverty. However, the rise of middle and upper-class consumers who have switched and begun thrifting has prompted this once unpleasantly-seen activity to become a widely-accepted trend.

(Image is courtesy of Wix)

What caused the rise of thrifting?

No doubt, the idea of thrifting as a go-to option for clothes amongst the wider public was started by teens or members of Generation Z. According to the 2019 Report on Fashion by McKinsey, 9 in 10 Gen Z consumers believe that companies have a responsibility to “address environmental and social issues.” In particular, clothing companies are targets of this, especially those considered “fast fashion”, which contribute largely to clothing waste and pollution.  As a result, thrifting has become an eco-conscious method of shopping for clothes, while still being able to keep up with fashion trends (especially with the recent popularity of vintage fashion). Ultimately, the switch to second-hand shopping can be attributed to wanting to make a difference in the fight against climate change and the increasing pressure to stay up-to-date with social media trends. But while people who thrift have good intentions, are they actually causing indirect harm as well?

The gentrification of thrifting

Gentrification is the process by which the character or services of a low-income community area are changed by wealthier people moving in or using their services, which might displace or put the original users of these services at a disadvantage. This can easily occur with thrifting. Often, individuals travel to lower-income communities since they offer more discounted clothing options. When middle and upper-class individuals go thrift shopping in such areas, important articles of clothing (especially seasonal clothing, such as winter coats for the colder weather) are taken by ‘wealthier’ thrifters, and there is not much left for those who actually need it at the discounted price. While it might bring feelings of satisfaction to the teen buyer, it really does a lot of harm to the community.

If you're interested, here’s a great article that covers the gentrification of thrifting, and the ethics behind it! Make sure to take a look: https://imperfectidealist.com/is-thrifting-and-reselling-ethical/.

Tips to thrift consciously

It is evident that second-hand clothing shopping is an ideal activity to help our environment. But it’s also important that thrifters who are thrifting as a privilege and not a necessity can do it consciously, in order to help the environment and not put anyone else at a disadvantage. Here are 3 main strategies to ensure you are thrifting consciously:

  1. Don’t do huge hauls: shop mindfully and only purchase items that you know you willwear. Buying massive amounts of clothes undermines the real reason people thrift in the first place—to shop ethically and eliminate the cycle of disposable fashion.

  2. Choose your thrift store locations wisely: try to avoid stores in low-income communities, where the stores are the main destination of shopping for individuals who live there. Instead, look for vintage or thrift stores in mainstream areas that are often there for the purpose of thrifting as a hobby.

  3. Avoid buying high-need items, especially during certain seasons. Examples of high-need items are professional clothing, specifically-sized clothing, and seasonal clothing (especially winter jackets). These are usually quite expensive, and they are a necessity for many. It’s important to avoid purchasing these items, as it is important that they are available to those who actually require them.

Final notes

Overall, the idea behind thrifting is an important one—to be able to do our part in the fight against climate change. That is, helping the earth while still being trendy, as seen through the eyes of many Gen Zs. But while doing an act of kindness for the earth, it's important not to disservice the people who need thrifting the most. So the next time you decide to go thrifting, make sure to keep these thoughts in mind!


BER Staff. (2019, November 19). Rise of Thrifting: Solution to Fast Fashion or Stealing from the

Poor? Retrieved from https://econreview.berkeley.edu/rise-of-thrifting-solution-to-fast


Imperfect Idealist. (2020, September 16). The Gentrification of Thrifting: Is Thrifting +

Reselling Ethical? Retrieved from https://imperfectidealist.com/is-thrifting-and-reselling


Article author: Asima Hudani

Article editors: Sherilyn Wen, Victoria Huang