The word “sustainability” has found a special home in the hearts of consumers. With the rise of eco-friendly clothing lines and online re-sale platforms, buying used items has become increasingly accessible and a preferable mode of shopping for many students. Whether this shift in buying patterns is due to a new global consciousness or high school nostalgia for Macklemore, being thrifty seems to be in our jeans.
Julia Tello (first year) grew up buying secondhand clothing because it was a necessity. When she was young, she found shopping at second-hand stores to be a source of shame, but as she got older, it became a way to reclaim her identity and express her personality in modes others were not able to. Tello attributes thrifting to her individual style.
“I used to feel really ashamed because my clothes didn’t look as nice or I never had the styles that were in,” Tello said. “Once I got to high school, I started to take back the shame and find my own style within it.”
Rachel Hayes (first year) defines thrifting as their liberation through fashion. Clothes shopping for them is mostly at second-hand shops. Hayes started thrift shopping their junior year of high school while seeking ways to consume more ethically.
“You have 100 percent creative freedom while doing something good for the environment and good for the soul,” Hayes said.
Carey Cannata (first year) also began buying most of his clothing second hand in high school. Cannata said he considers many things as thrifting — from Goodwill to online applications such as Depop and Poshmark, which allow users to buy and sell used goods within an online network.
“The only clothing pieces I actually shop for are socks and boxers,” Cannata said. “Pretty much everything else in my closet is thrifted.”
Cannata, Hayes and Dahlia Theriault (sophomore) appreciate the social aspects and sense of community this form of shopping offers.
According to Hayes, the diverse array of people at thrift stores can lead to interesting conversations and connections. Thrift stores often serve as community centers or support community initiatives through sales.
According to Urban and Environmental Policy (UEP) Assistant Professor Mijin Cha, the buying and selling of used clothing seek to solve some of the detrimental impacts of the fast fashion industry. The term “fast fashion” is used to describe mainstream retail and department stores, often associated with the use of sweatshops and cheaper materials. Examples of popular fast fashion chains include Forever 21, H&M, Zara, Topshop and Gap.
Cha attributes two major issues to fast fashion: resource use and the cost at which people demand fashion, which feeds into consumer culture and lack of labor and environment protections.
“Part of the problem with fast fashion is that the clothes that are created are not great [quality],” Cha said. “Ideally, you have a system that’s closed loop: where you produce materials that were strong enough or quality enough that you could pass them down for generations.”
According to Cha, fast fashion doesn’t provide sustainable clothing. Buying second hand promotes recycling and incentivizes clothing manufacturers to create more high-quality goods that last through several cycles of thrift stores.
“The thrifting thing helps in the idea of consumption. You can’t just go and find whatever you want, you have to go and sift through,” Cha said.
According to Tello, thrifting is a great way of recycling and keeping things local. Tello says second-hand shops have helped her be more mindful of her consumption habits, but she worries that there are possible dangers in thrifting becoming a cultural trend. She encourages staying mindful of the variety of reasons people thrift, and the differences between choice and necessity.
“I think it’s being turned into a kind of culture or aesthetic and that’s a choice that people with more economic ability can choose,” Tello said. “For a lot of people, that’s just how they get their clothes.”
According to Cannata, who is from Middlebury, Conn., the colder months raise more questions of ethics within thrifting.
“Some people took issue with the fact that some of those resources [supplies in second-hand stores] are really lacking, especially in the colder months,” Cannata said. “A drawback would be that you’re draining resources from communities that rely really heavily on the thrift stores.”
For college students, many of whom are on a budget, thrifting makes the most economical sense — as most second-hand stores sell their items for a fraction of the price of retail and department stores. Buy and sell websites such as eBay also allow students to access a plethora of clothing they would originally not be able to find.
Nate Lund (senior) began using eBay to buy and sell shoes he couldn’t find in his hometown of Hudson, Ohio.
“It’s a good way to find products unavailable elsewhere without really having to worry about getting scammed. Most sellers are other individuals, so you can see if you’re at risk of getting ripped off by checking their feedback. The pre-owned items usually cost less too, meaning more savings and less chance that someone’s trying to sell you something fake,” Lund said.
Although most people associate thrift stores with clothing, some students use second-hand shops to buy household items. Yingfei Xin (first year) has bought various pre-owned home goods and kitchen supplies at thrift stores, aligning with her love for cooking.
According to Xin, since there are a limited amount of pots, pans and cooking supplies in the on-campus kitchens, she is left to buy a lot of the supplies she uses to cook on her own. She sees buying secondhand goods as a way to reduce waste.
“If you buy a brand new saucepan from Target that means you’re using a brand new thing and then ignoring this saucepan that’s been abandoned by someone else that’s been left there with no purpose and no use, so it’s wasted,” Xin said.
Haelan Nunn (senior) has been buying and re-selling pre-owned items and antiques since he was thirteen and has experienced the other side of buying secondhand. He was introduced to the craft through his mother, who sells items at flea markets in his hometown of Seattle.
Visiting thrift shops has become one of Nunn’s favorite past times. He says he searches for second-hand treasures every day when he is home.
“It’s time that I wouldn’t spend any other way. The Seattle Goodwill is my happy place, it’s where I go when I’m stressed out or sad,” Nunn said.
Nunn sees thrifting as an investment — rather than paying money to get exactly what you want when you want, there is more time spent in the process of shopping.
Nunn’s favorite part about second-hand selling is the pursuit for high demand goods. According to him, the community of resellers can often be intense — camping out of stores early in the morning and competing at estate sales for the best items.
The intensity of thrift store shopping can also surface when attempting to navigate large warehouses or outlets with no clear organization. Because the surplus of sizes, styles and colors can be overwhelming, Cannata advises thrifting with a vision and a goal.
“I usually go with certain items or colors in mind of what I want or certain looks I want to recreate,” Cannata said. “It’s kind of like a treasure hunt, I’m not there aimlessly looking.”
For Hayes, the thrift store chain Savers has remained their favorite secondhand store since high school. Cannata’s favorite is a classic among Occidental students: the Goodwill outlet at 1600 E. Colorado St. in Glendale, Calif. According to him, the items are not as heavily curated and the process of sifting through the many options is exciting. For Lund, Society of St. Vincent de Paul at 210 N. Avenue 21 in Los Angeles, Calif. has a wide array of clothing and furniture. Theriault’s favorites are American Vintage at 7575 Melrose Ave. in Los Angeles, Calif. and Jet Rag, at 825 N. La Brea Ave. in Los Angeles, Calif. that is known for their $1 Sunday sales.
There are several thrift shops in walking distance from Occidental. Urchin Vintage is a small boutique on York Boulevard that offers retro styles to buy, rent and trade. An Eagle Rock classic, Owl Talk, has sold pre-owned dresses and jewelry on Eagle Rock Boulevard since 1994. The Green Bean, only a few stores down, specializes in lightly used children’s clothes and toys.