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Thrifting isn't just stylish, it's sustainable

By: Nuha Khan

The Toronto Vintage Clothing Show is the place to be on a Sunday afternoon. It’s a marketplace of different booths, each selling eclectic items. One stand has an arrangement of sequin gowns and satin gloves, while the other is a denim factory of Levi’s jeans. Everything is second hand.

The Archies’ hit song Sugar, Sugar plays from the large speakers across the room as I notice a huge crowd around one booth.

About six women, in their early 20s are browsing through leather coats, while snapping pictures on their phones of themselves trying on plaid trousers. Everyone in the group is actively looking and giggling, except a blonde-haired girl who’s holding a Nikon camera, capturing the others shop. She’s wearing a navy skirt topped off with a white loose fitted crew neck sweater with “New York” written in block orange letters across the front.

Her look screams 90s retro, and like many young people, she’s into thrifting. Sarah Dunkleman is a social media blogger who uses YouTube and Instagram to showcase thrifted fashion. She is filming her friends for a video on the difference between thrifted and vintage clothes.

“Thrift stores have a charitable aspect to them, so the money you’re spending is lower. Vintage stores are reselling old clothing for those who are passionate about it,” Dunkleman says.

Amongst millennials and generation Z, thrifting has become a popular means of shopping. A Fashion Resale Report conducted by Thred Up says millennials thrift more than any other generation. In the age of smartphones, live tweeting and Instagram influencers, youth are fascinated with the appearance of second-hand clothes. They aspire to be stylish without realizing that they are helping the environment.

In the world of fashion, styles come back and fade away. Today, with trends from the 90s back in, younger generations are thrifting to find looks that draw from this decade.

The thrifting life

Dunkleman’s day consists of highlighting her thrifting on social media, through posting hauls or helpful tips. She works to produce content that is relatable and unique. “I try to be different, because growing up I always liked being a little different,” she says.

Dunkleman grew up midtown in a wealthy Toronto neighbourhood where thrifting was unheard of. From an early age, she used to sort through her older cousin’s clothes and enjoyed finding rare items. Her thrifting was not only an interest but a necessity.

“I personally needed to find another way to stay fashionable. I loved fashion, but I didn’t have disposable income to go out to the mall,” she says.

Dunkleman is the creator of Thrifted This, an online platform which started in 2017. It encourages individuals globally to share their thrifted clothes. By tagging @thriftedthis on Instagram, photos can be reposted and shared with 36.2k followers.

But before she started the account, Dunkelman posted her outfits on her personal Instagram but struggled to find the perfect tag. “There was no brand, page or tag to let people know that my outfits were fully thrifted,” she says.

Retailers and consumers

It’s Monday afternoon and the second-hand shop Common Sort only has a few customers. Emma Jonas is a buyer and is helping a customer purchase a black dress. The store’s ceiling is covered with wooden panels and the counters are white. Every item in the store is thrifted, but they look like they came from the same catalogue.

“The difference between us and Value Village is that they take donations. We actually purchase from people. We chose the clothes we sell,” says Jonas.

Common Sort functions differently from consignment stores. People come in to give away clothing, and the buyer chooses whether to purchase. A majority of the shoppers tend to be younger, and many sellers are older.

“A lot of older women have given things that they don't want any more, that they don't realize they're stylish,” Jonas says.

Jonas also mentions how thrifting is so popular due to its exclusivity. Younger people who are active Instagram users avoid posting outfits twice so they purchase new clothing just to please their followers. In this situation, thrifting works because it’s affordable.

Thrifting and avoiding landfills

It’s no secret that the fashion industry has many ethical issues connecting to the environment. One major issue is textile waste. According to the non-profit organization Fashion Takes Action, Canadians throw out enough clothing each year to fill up the Rogers Centre three times.

“The best thing we can do is keep the clothes that we have for as long as possible. That's why thrifting is the best — you're not buying anything new, you're buying clothing that is already there,” says Anika Kozlowski.

Kozlowski is a fashion professor at Ryerson University with a PhD in Environmental Science, and specializes in sustainable fashion.

Reader’s Digest reported that Value Village is one of the world’s largest recyclers, saving over 650 million pounds of goods from landfills yearly. Larger retailers have noticed and are using this issue to show consumers they care.

H&M has started promoting sustainability by placing donation boxes in their stores for customers to donate used clothing. In their Garment Collection Program, they accept second-hand clothing, damaged textiles or recyclable fibres. When donating, you are given a discount card for five dollars off any 30 dollar purchase in store.

Kozlowski says companies are attempting to increase their circularity.

“The problem is you don’t know if it’s a genuine initiative. With fast fashion brands, it's their business model that’s the problem,” she says, “They're never really going to be truly sustainable.”

Not always sunshine and good finds

Although thrifting and vintage shopping is eco-friendly and stylish, it’s normal to wonder about the possible negatives.

As Dunkleman is thrifting, she notices that second-hand shops are not as affordable as before.

“Thrifting has become so big on social media that prices have become really high,” she says. Due to its popularity, the future of thrifting is not considered cheap.

“We’re now getting to the point where someone could technically go to Forever 21 and buy something cheaper,” she says.

At the end of the day, fashion consumers focus on the products sold. Mainstream retailers like Zara and Brandy Melville attempt to create clothing that looks used. They sell items like oversized denim jackets or faded concert tees for $30 or more.

Back at the Toronto Vintage Clothing Show, the crowd of young adults has grown. Dunkleman plays with her tripod as her friend twirls in a fitted leather coat with a golden belt she wraps around her waist. The fashion industry will continuously change, although thrift stores will always have a nostalgic element.

“Years later I don’t even want to go into Zara and it feels good that I have come to that,” says Dunkleman.


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