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How the Rise of Thrift Signals A Shift in Retail and Consumerism

Updated: Aug 9, 2021

My family was in the thrift industry in the late 70’s and 80’s, when going to a thrift store meant you had no means, and visiting meant you were in for a store full of worn out junk. We lived in a town that didn’t have a thrift store, consignment shop, or barely a used car lot. I remember we never spoke about what Dad did for a living to friends or neighbors, and Mom always found humor and irony in the saying “everything old will be new again someday”. Recently, everything thrift has become popular; very popular. Mom was right and Dad was a visionary. So what is happening?


Clothing is a big polluter; in fact, it’s one of the biggest polluters. Somewhere around 20% of wastewater worldwide comes from fabric dyeing, approximately 87% of disposed clothing makes it into a landfill, and the fashion industry is responsible for somewhere around 10% of the annual global carbon emissions. Customers are in tune with this and they're changing their purchasing habits. There is more demand for ethical practices, including upcycling and repurposing, and what better way to support these efforts than support resale?


More than ever, consumers are fueled by images of high end apparel, constant wardrobe changes, and fashionistas littering social media. What better way to satisfy that fashion craving than to purchase on trend items at less-than-half of regular prices? Only a few decades ago, shopaholic consumers couldn’t get enough “charging” items they couldn’t afford, only to brag about their luxurious lifestyles. Thrifting makes the same look attainable without the spend.


Interested in “thrifting”? Consumers have more choices now than ever, many of which do not require a visit to a retail store. Traditional brick and mortar options such as thrift stores, consignment stores, clothing exchange places, in all shapes and sizes, are opening up in every town and city across the country. Most recently, online options such as ThredUp, the Real Real, Poshmark, and others, are now available at the click of a button, making access to the industry easier and more readily available than ever.


The shopping experience offered by a resale, thrift, or consignment stores is unlike any other. And with customers demanding a unique experience during their shopping trip, the industry is poised for popularity. A visit to any store or website makes it easy to find new trends or even make your own, and allows for frequent wardrobe changes. Having access to all these unique styles makes it easier to create your own style, and then even blog about it, or at least brag about it.


In addition to shopping at a resale store, consumers have more access and exposure to the industry as a whole. Have something you want to sell, get rid or, or don’t use any more? Consider Craigslist, Ebay or LetGo as options for consumers to participate in the resale industry. Even if you aren’t interested in buying or selling anything used, television shows now push the topics above and have heightened people’s awareness to the finds and opportunities.

So that’s it. All of this has forced thrifting, resale, and consignment upwards in the echelon of the shopping world. And ironically, its forcing mainstream retailers to pursue or incorporate some form of secondhand offerings as they continue to struggle, face store closings, and see their stock prices drop. All consumers are paying attention, and winning for sure. For me, I’ll be sure to let people know what Dad did and tell my kids that those Ray Ban’s that Tom Cruise wore will be cool any minute now….

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