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Conscientious Consumption: Tips for Thrifting ethically

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Northwestern chapter.

Buying clothes second-hand at thrift stores is a good way to avoid contributing to the global negative impacts of fast fashion, and a great way to find cheap, cute pieces to spice up your wardrobe. However, while thrifting is an ethical buying option, it can be easy for some people who could afford to buy clothing elsewhere to take advantage of the low prices of thrift stores. Here are a few tips to make sure your thrifting is ethical the next time you pop by your favorite local thrift store.

Skip the winter coats

While some thrift stores carry cute winter coats that you might not want to resist, I suggest you refrain from buying your winter coats from thrift stores if you can afford to buy them elsewhere. People who rely on the inexpensive prices of thrift stores need winter coats too, and you could be taking away their options for this winter necessity if you buy them. Winter coats aren’t the same as a cute pleated skirt or y2k tank top you find on a random rack of clothes, since those are not a necessity. But low-income people, especially those in Evanston and other cold climates, need warm clothing for the winter.

Limit the reselling of thrifted clothes

Look, I have the utmost respect for Depop sellers who are constantly turning out cute pieces for sale on their in-app shops, because it’s time-consuming, stressful and complicated to keep up with a large and popular online shop. That said, I have less respect for sellers who rely solely on thrifted pieces bought for cheap and sold for prices raised to the moon. It’s just not ethical to buy so much clothing from thrift stores for cheap prices only to turn around and charge over double the price for the same clothing item. And I’m specifically talking about those who dedicate an entire day to picking every last remotely cute item off of thrift store shelves and racks to sell for high prices, not those who occasionally sell a thrifted piece. The point is to not resell thrifted clothing in excess.

Save some cute clothes for others

This point goes along with the last. But whether selling thrifted clothing or keeping it for yourself, try not to buy every single cute item you find. I’m sure we all know the feeling of how difficult it can be to find cute pieces of clothing at certain shops. But if we really needed to, most of us could afford to buy specific cute pieces from other (hopefully ethical) shops. Some people don’t have the luxury of being able to afford cute clothes when and where they want, however. And just like you or me, so many of these people have distinct senses of style, enjoy fashion and finding cute pieces. Since a second-hand store may be their only option to buy cute clothing, it’s probably best to leave them some cute options. Once again, the point is not to avoid buying cute clothes from thrift stores altogether but to avoid overindulging and buying excessive amounts of cute clothing. Just as it’s easy to overindulge on websites like Shein, it’s easy to overindulge in clothing from Goodwill, which ultimately raises prices due to demand and takes options away from the needy.

When in doubt, leave it out

If you’re second-guessing whether you really need that XXL Van Halen t-shirt or that chunky green knit cardigan, don’t buy it. Think of it this way: you’re not quite sure whether or not you really love this piece of clothing and you’re not sure you’ll wear it often, but someone else might look at that piece and instantly fall in love with it. Pardon my economics, but that person’s utility (or benefit) of buying that piece will be greater than the utility you would get for buying it. This helps prevent wasteful impulse buying and letting an item sit in the back of your closet for ages, when it could be worn all the time on someone else.

The gentrification of thrift stores is a real, pressing issue today that needs to be addressed. It is a privilege to be able to use thrift stores as your own personal warehouse and we need to be respectful and responsible when thrifting, or else the ethicality of thrifting will continue to decrease. Hopefully these tips will help you find cute clothes with a clean conscience!

Morgan is a first year student at Northwestern studying Psychology and Economics. She loves horror movies and she could talk to you about Taylor Swift for hours. When she's not studying, she enjoys going on adventures with friends, watching TikToks and discovering new music. She also saw Nicki Minaj in an airport once.