Thrifting is no longer a “dirty” word in fashion

Thrift stores in Kensington Market
Thrift stores at Kensington Market in downtown Toronto. Taken on Oct. 30, 2020. (Megan Camlasaran/Ryerson Folio)

Trends come and go, and while some have lasting impacts on society, some merely disappear into a faded memory. As vintage makes its comeback in the fashion world, thrift stores are finding their place amongst mainstream culture once again. 

Thrifting has become increasingly popular with younger generations because people are now seeing it for its affordable, easy and unique charm. 

Wearing thrifted clothing was once seen as an anti-fashion movement because it didn’t follow mainstream fashion trends. However, it has become a trend in itself now. It’s unlikely you’ll find yourself in a thrift store without seeing countless other young people looking through racks of clothes, trying to find the perfect piece to match their personal aesthetic. 

“Right now, we live around hype culture on social media where everything becomes a trend… for some people thrifting has always been a way of life,” said Anderson White, an employee at Vintage Depot, a Kensington Market thrift store that caters to vintage aesthetics.

Personal expression and sustainability 

For people like Sarina O’Gorman, thrifting has always been an outlet for expression because she never really saw her personal style reflected in mainstream fashion. 

A photo of a student with text overtop.
Sarina O’Gorman wearing a thrifted outfit, via Instagram

Some thrifters love the idea of finding an item that represents their individuality or the feeling of finding something that otherwise might have been lost or forgotten in a rack of other pieces of clothing. 

“I like to think that every item I thrift has some sort of story to it. It’s kind of like a scavenger hunt when you’re trying to find the perfect thrifted item to buy,” says Ayleen Karamat, a second-year journalism student at Ryerson University. 

Thrifting has become widely embraced because society has grown more conscious about sustainable processes, as seen in the 2019 Climate Strike where some young people wore thrifted outfits to also protest harmful shopping habits. 

This year, 82 per cent of Canadians shopped at a thrift store, according to Statista

A chart from Statista.
Graph showing what motivates Canadians to thrift. (Statista) 

Fashion is one of the most wasteful industries in the world. On average, Canadians throw away 37 kilograms of textiles annually, according to Waste Reduction Week In Canada.

Thrift stores are a good way to recycle clothing that would otherwise be discarded to a landfill. Instead, clothes can be upcycled into something more desirable and trendy. 

Past stigma and experiences 

Before it became trendy, thrift stores and the people who shopped at them were stigmatized, being seen as dirty and poor.  Some people, such as Noura Dehghani, recall being ridiculed for not having new clothing and not looking like everyone else. 

“I thought thrifting was dirty growing up, I just really wanted new clothes so I could fit in with the kids at school,” said Dehghani, a first-year global business and digital arts students at the University of Waterloo. 

Sharon Abel, a manager at YSM Double Take thrift store in downtown Toronto, says when she used to work with youth in the community a few years ago, they used to think “ew, gross” to thrift stores. They liked the idea of upcycling, but didn’t necessarily want to come inside the store because they felt embarrassed to be seen there. 

“For those kids, I think because their parents had to shop at thrift stores, to them it wasn’t cool. As they experience it more, they start to feel more comfortable with the idea,” she said.

For thrift stores like Double Take, Abel says their store is very much community-based, because people are just looking for a place where they can find affordable clothing, whether they are facing precarious financial situations or not. 

Businesses and upselling  

Recently, a popular trend has been people opening their own thrifting business. These businesses buy thrifted clothes for cheap prices and then resell mostly vintage items for double the price, because they know how in-demand these pieces are. 

The idea of reselling clothes isn’t controversial in itself, but what raises concern is when people buy essential clothing like sweaters and jackets for the winter season and upsell. This takes away from the people who genuinely rely on thrift stores for their affordable clothing.

“You’re just helping thrift stores sell to the wealthy. I don’t know how people sleep at night when they resell a thrifted shirt they bought for five dollars, for thirty dollars,” said Karamat. “It’s super unethical and no one can tell me otherwise. You can just get another job if you want to make more money.” 

Dania Amin is the owner and operator of Amin’s Collective, an online business that sells curated vintage clothing. As someone who has always loved fashion, she says she knows what trends are in and what people want. She visits thrift stores within the GTA and spends hours finding clothing that she would personally wear, while keeping in mind what her clientele usually requests. 

A photo of a business' Instagram feed.
Amin’s Collective, via Instagram

It’s not only her passion that inspires this business, but also the  sustainability of thrifting. “Bigger companies will trash the products that don’t sell. It’s just a waste. The whole point of reselling and recycling garments is sustainability,” she said. 

Dania also disagrees with people who upsell, because not only does she want to be fair to her clients with pricing, but she also understands that she has to be mindful of not exploiting the very thrift stores that supply those who solely rely on them. 

“I fully understand that thrifting started off and still is for the less fortunate. By no means am I trying to take away from these people. If you visit my site, you’re not going to see winter coats during this time, not going to see necessities during this time, you’re going to see trends,” she said. 

YSM Double Take thrift store say they have seen a decrease in sales for their vintage collectives since the upselling trend began. Abel said it poses a challenge for the store, because they relied on selling these items for good business. Now, especially as COVID-19 decreases foot traffic in store, people are more inclined to buy vintage from online businesses that are upselling. 

Thrifting, here to stay?

It seems that the thrifting trend is here to stay,, not only because of the vintage fad, but because of its eco-friendliness. As more shoppers are realizing there are other methods of indulging in fashion without contributing to a wasteful industry, thrifting’s popularity will continues to rise 

The stigma that once defined thrifting has now made a turnaround and is no longer seen as something to be ashamed of, or to hide. 

Thrifting can be for everyone, whether it’s shopping at your local Value Village, exploring the countless vintage stores downtown, or supporting an Instagram reseller, thrifting caters to everyone.