Jun 24th, 2024, 12:00 AM

Secondhand or Landfill?

By Victoria Kaltalioglu
Clothing racks in second hand shop, Prague, via MAKY.OREL on Wikimedia Commons
Sifting through thrifting as the new source of fast fashion

It’s easy to get carried away when everything is so cheap and easily accessible. This type of consumerism is common in the fashion world, especially with ever-evolving trends. This is the issue with fast fashion, and it’s now becoming an issue for thrifting as well.

People see thrifting as a more sustainable alternative to fast fashion and for the most part, this is true. But issues start to arise when people use thrifting as a replacement to brands like Shein or H&M but don’t change their consumption habits and continue to buy massive amounts of clothing simply because of the lower price-point.

Besides the humanitarian and labor concerns, fast fashion is an extremely unsustainable way to shop. Because of the cheaper labor and textiles, items get sold for a fraction of the cost. This prompts consumers to buy more than they need because the items are cheaper than at other stores. Consumers then treat these lower-priced garments as almost disposable, discarding them after seven or eight wears, says McKinsey Sustainability.

According to the UN Environment Programme, every second one garbage truck’s worth of textiles is landfilled or burned. These textiles are also often made with synthetic materials, so they release microplastics into the ocean.

Thrifting as a whole is a way of recycling these garments that would otherwise go to landfills. People can donate clothing they no longer want, and others will buy them for a fraction of the original price. The pros: there’s a huge selection to choose from and it’s all cheap.

The con: Overconsumption.

Because clothing is so cheap at thrift stores, people end up buying more than what they actually need, the same problem as with fast fashion stores. This continues the cycle of consumerism that normalizes disposable fashion. People find cheap and possibly lower-quality items that might not last long and end up discarding them quickly, leading to more textile waste. And if they don’t discard them, they may re-donate the item back to a thrift store where someone else will end up buying a damaged item.

Terrelle Brown II, an occasional Tik Toker and sports marketing professional in Portland, Oregon, expressed his thoughts on the subject. “The allure of cheap prices for large quantities of [secondhand] clothes brings in the idea that because something is cheap, you should buy it even if you don't need it. If you don’t have a purpose for the clothes or items you find but continually go out to buy more, you aren't really being sustainable,” Brown said.


There are hundreds of social media accounts dedicated solely to “thrift hauls” where the person buys a mass amount of secondhand garments and videos themselves showing everything they bought. Even if they end up keeping everything they bought, they could never end up wearing every garment they bought.

“That signals to me that said person has been caught in the trap of thrifting for clout rather than for curation, collection, or reselling,” Brown said.

A lot of the time these influencers are also resellers. Resellers buy larger quantities of items from thrift stores and sell them on websites like Depop, Poshmark, or Vinted. The concern with this form of thrifting is that the reseller takes items that could have gone to someone who needed them and instead upsells them for a profit.

Brown has another perspective on resellers, having previously been one himself. In a video, he mentioned that as a reseller he picked up some bad habits of buying more than he needed with the intention of selling but never getting around to it.

“I have a love-hate relationship with resellers. Love them when they have things that are impossible to find in my thrifting, hate them when I’m out on my own and I see people buying up everything in a store,” he said.

“Not everyone wants to go digging in the thrift, so in a way resellers are a critical piece of the circular fashion cycle. Having a reselling business is a great way to build a community around clothes and introduce people to buying preloved items … [but] when pricing gets out of touch, I resent the hustle,” Brown added.

The other issue with this overconsumption specifically within the secondhand market is it can take away from people who may actually need to shop secondhand. Thrifting has always been associated with affordability and accessibility for marginalized communities. But with the rise of thrifting as a trend for more affluent demographics, thrifting isn’t what it used to be.

The more we consume things we don’t need, the more waste we produce. Whether it’s from fast fashion brands or its secondhand clothes we end up with too much. Then either those clothes are landfilled, or they’re donated to thrifts. But when people donate their garbage bags worth of garments, they see it as a way to discard their things. There’s little intention as to what gets donated, and the state of the pieces.

Bags of sorted secondhand clothing

None of this is to say that we need to stop thrifting entirely, but we do need to change our spending patterns. It’s not the solution to the cycle of fast fashion; the solution is to change our consumption habits. Instead of buying items because they’re in style right now, we need to buy items that we like regardless of trends.

The trend cycle has been pushing us into overconsuming because trends come in style as quickly as they go out of style. We’re forced to play a game of catch up where we buy something that only stays in style for three months then it’s so outdated we’ll likely never wear that piece again.

This is where movements like “deinfluencing” can help. “Deinfluencing” is a trend where social media influencers share why their followers shouldn’t buy viral products instead of influencing their audience into buying new products. It is a reminder that you don’t need to get things just because they are viral or because you saw an influencer wearing it.

We need to stop buying for the sake of buying. There needs to be more critical consideration when shopping. It’s easy to get sucked into the “more is better” mindset when you can justify the purchase financially. But can you justify having four leather jackets that look virtually the same just because they were cheap?

It’s important to be mindful of your purchasing habits and avoid buying items on impulse.

Before making a purchase, ask yourself if you really need it. Think about its durability and necessity. Instead of donating or tossing damaged clothes, try to repair or repurpose the item. Think of new ways of styling something that’s no longer trending. And be mindful of buying things that become trendy too quickly, cause chances are it’ll be out of style soon enough. Invest in your wardrobe: buy better quality garments that can last more than a couple wears.

One of the best parts about thrifting is it allows people to break away from the trend cycle and define their own personal style. So instead of thrifting for trending pieces, take some time to decide what you want your style to say about you, and try to find clothes that you love, not just because everyone else loves them right now.