By: Maggie Fipps
Walt looked for mistakes.
He methodically scanned the rows of junk stacked in the driveway, the detritus of someone’s life sorted and piled up in the sun. He looked for errors of oversight, treasure in the trash that the previous owner had overlooked.
He gravitated toward an orange vase – the cut glass engraved with the shadows of black trees. He paid the $20 scrawled on the sticker tag and returned home to uncover the history of his find. As he unwrapped the vase, a small piece of paper tucked inside fell out which revealed the artist’s name: “Daum Nancy.”
He later sold it for $2,500.
When people picture thrifting, some picture a day like Walt had. The thrill of the hunt, combing through random items to find the one thing to rule them all. However, this isn’t the only reason people thrift.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics points out that inflation is at its highest in the past 40 years, so many people need to shop at thrift stores to have clothes to wear. Others do it as a hobby or side hustle. Some even do it to help the environment – their own small stand against the onslaught of fast fashion that floods the clothing scene.
Within the past five years, thrift stores have risen in popularity among Millennials. A resale site, ‘thredUp,’ found that in 2021 the resale market in both brick and mortar and online stores grew by 58%. In all, it is expected to be an $82 billion market by 2026. In researching this story, I calculated that I’ve personally spent hundreds of hours in St. Vincents, Goodwills, Salvation Armys, and the like.
There are many, just like me, on the hunt for new finds. A few even search for pieces so others can diversify their wardrobe.
Olivia Stipe and Ellie Norman, two sophomores at Cedarville University, are the co-owners of Greyhound Thrift, the Instagram thrift account they began in January. Here, they cater to fellow student’s fashion, which they describe as granola – picture your camp counselor from summer camp – and make a bit of cash on the side.
“We were both just sitting in our beds, talking about thrifting, it happened in a moment,” Norman said. “It was very impulsive.”
After a small bit of market research, they decided to go into business together.
“There was a little bit of a gap in the Cedar-businesses, and there wasn’t really anyone else doing something like that,” Stipe said.
Over the Christmas break, they began to build their inventory. Stipe, a studio art major, designed the logo, and posted their first clothing ‘drop’ on January 20. Their followers can purchase items by commenting ‘sold’ on the post, and the clothes are then delivered to them.
Norman and Stipe have the unique ability to influence people’s fashion and show them the possibilities of second-hand items. They can share their thrift store obsession with the rest of the student body.
“I feel like people are more likely to dress outside of their comfort zone if somebody says: ‘You should wear this,’” Stipe said.
Both Stipe and Norman grew up shopping secondhand with their families, which gave them a natural eye for the right pieces and finds. Their biggest advice?
“You just have to look at every single thing,” Norman said.
“I feel like I have to touch everything in the thrift store,” Stipe said. “You have to go consistently, too.”
They join the growing ranks of resellers that buy cheap items at the thrift store, then sell them for profit. Now, it is easier than ever to resell items with services like thredUp, Poshmark, Depop, and The RealReal. ThredUp, an online consignment store, reported 57% of consumers resold items from their closet. This creates a ‘revolving closet’ phenomena, where consumers constantly revitalize their wardrobe with secondhand items and resell the rest.
“Closets today are filled with secondhand as we’ve collectively embraced a more circular mindset and learned to do more with less,” said fashion stylist and writer Julia Gall in the same thredUp article.
However, this consumerist approach to thrifting rubs some people the wrong way, especially those who use secondhand clothing as a greener approach to fashion.
Another reason to thrift
The decay showed slowly. The white bleach of the coral showed inward death as the ocean acid slowly ate away at it. Sara McElroy, a Cedarville sophomore, who snorkeled for the first time on an environmental conservation trip, felt shocked at the visible effects of global warming. In the past, global warming concerned her as she researched personally, but here was a visible reminder of her choices on the environment.
As she emerged from the water, she received a new perspective and resolve.
“I decided then to thrift all of my clothes.” McElroy said. “It was one thing I could do to stop the effects of climate change.”
McElroy couldn’t deny it any longer. The outdoors, which she grew up delighting in, is decaying due to human misuse. Individually, she couldn’t change the climate situation, but she could try.
“The main point is we have all the scientific evidence that the earth is warming,” McElroy said. “We can’t avoid that. At the end of the day, this is still happening. Are we doing anything to care for the people affected because, especially as Christians, we are the ones who should be doing that.”
In the past, McElroy had never enjoyed thrift stores. Frankly, they grossed her out. But she had made a pledge.
“It was a cool experience because I went from being grossed out by it to that’s my only source of clothing,’ McElroy said. “I even thrifted my prom dress.”
On the other end of the spectrum, if you do a quick search on YouTube, and you can find hundreds of videos labeled: “HUGE SHEIN TRY ON HAUL!” These videos are the epitome of excess and consumerism. $2 baby-doll tees, $6 jeans, and $8 dresses turn into virtual carts stuffed with all the hottest Tik-Tok fashion trends.
Such companies release 700-1000 new items per day. Each day, hundreds of people could purchase a totally new closet. This cycle is known as fast fashion, where brands quickly create new trends and styles for cheap to satisfy the growing demands of the public.
Lillie Kromer, a senior at Cedarville University, became interested in websites like Shein when her friends would drop $200-$300 on their clothes. As a preteen, she combed through the thrift stores with her family, doing her best with a small budget.
“As somebody who, since I was younger, just made my own income on top of my parents, I wanted to spend my money wisely,” Kromer said. “I recognized that while Shein might have been the cheaper option, it really ended up not being that much wiser financially to buy that.”
Kromer also turned to thrift stores to fight back against the deluge of fast fashion she found in the marketplace. It also helped her to practice mindfulness at the store as she considered what she needed, versus the constant allure of the new and exciting.
“As big as some people make it where they go to a thrift store and buy 50 things that’s overconsuming as well,” Kromer said. “I get it if I can see myself wearing it five to 10 times in the next couple of months. If they’re sitting there collecting dust then they’re not even fulfilling their job as clothes, which is to be worn.”
McElroy agrees, arguing the buzz words “sustainable fashion” only matter if you buy things that you need.
“I think it’s easy with thrifting to justify: ‘Oh, it’s cheap or it’s not a big deal if I get this because it’s so cheap,” McElroy said. “I think that defeats the whole purpose of sustainability it’s about ‘Do we need this?’”
There are probably as many reasons to thrift as there are the number of crusty mugs at your local Goodwill. Whatever the motivation, the easiest way to thrift: just start.
“If you really love it, get it,” said Kromer. “That’s the great thing about thrifting. You’re not spending $70 on one skirt, you’re spending $7 or 70 cents. It’s freeing.”
Maggie Fipps is a sophomore journalism student and the sports editor of Cedars. She enjoys playing the piano and thrifting, and you may spot her around campus sporting Packers gear head to toe.