Rozette Rago/The New York Times

November 15, 2021

Navigating the World of Thrifting and Reselling

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Due to a mix of boredom and a need to de-stress (and what better cure than online shopping?), I downloaded Depop last fall. I soon became somewhat addicted, pausing from essays and problem sets to scroll endlessly through timer-camera modeled clothing and endless #y2k tags. In a time that felt pretty bleak — first semester of college during a pandemic — I found a sense of power in buying used clothes. If I couldn’t control my biweekly COVID tests or lackluster social life, at least I might have more vintage shirts to choose from. I justified my Depop purchases to myself with its sustainability compared to buying fast fashion. 

Though my Depop phase had mostly phased out by the past summer, I began thrifting with friends more near my hometown. While fishing through the racks of clothes, it was impossible not to imagine their listings on Depop. A $5 tank top at the thrift store would be listed for $30 on the app, and I could picture the predictable caption: “Super cute, lacy, baby blue y2k vintage tank top! So versatile, looks great for brunch or a girls night out!” 

How can we shop at thrift stores or numerous online platforms without overconsuming and being sucked in by the cheap prices and/or flashy hashtags? There’s been a lot of controversy in recent months about resellers on Depop: users who buy clothing from thrift stores to then sell on the app for large profit margins. From TikTok to Reddit, people have criticized resellers for gentrifying thrifting and taking clothes from people who depend on thrift stores. The majority of these resellers are college-age women in their teens or twenties.

There are over 25,000 thrift stores in the US, 3,300 of those being Goodwills. Thrifty Shopper, a network of thrift stores in upstate New York, is run by the Rescue Mission Alliance. Their thrift stores provide affordable clothing and fund their provision of shelter and food for those in need. 

Luana Lovenguth, the Chief Social Enterprise Officer for the Rescue Mission, notes that while resellers are good for business and promotion of their stores, their consumption also comes with consequences. “Resellers tend to select the majority of the ‘better’ items, buy more items than they need, and take advantage of our pricing structure we have in place to ensure those with limited means have resources,” she says. Resellers come in all forms—some see the practice as an easy way to turn a profit, while others depend on it as their sole source of income. Those people may spend hours photographing items, writing captions, and engaging with customers. Lovenguth understands that some resellers depend on their stores to make a living, but feels “it would be [a] full circle moment for a reseller to donate part of their earnings back to the Rescue Mission.”

The movement of thrifting to the mainstream comes at the intersection of two trends: a push against fast fashion towards sustainability and the reemergence of the styles of decades past. Lily Megale ’24,  knows this staying power well, saying that “it’s very part of the culture” in her home, New York City. She began thrifting as a popular and cheap option for clothing, but now increasingly views it as a way to lessen her environmental footprint. She too sees pros and cons to reselling thrifted items: “For bigger products…pants or jackets…I feel like buying that just to resell it is kind of selfish because those are things that people need.” 

So, how do we navigate the world of thrift stores and Depop? Thrifting can be a wonderful way to find unique items of clothing for affordable prices, and shopping at stores like Thrifty Shopper also helps people in our communities. Yet, Megale admits that she finds Depop resellers a bit intimidating and I, for one, am trying to take a bit of a Depop break. 

It’s easy to preach “no ethical consumption under capitalism,” but the reality of our world makes that improbable. Reselling falls into a grey area in our world of consumption; I still don’t have a full answer to the ethics of it. I do know, however, that any thrift store or Depop buy will always be better than a Shein or Forever21 purchase. There’s a lot to consider while thrifting, but ultimately the right choice is that which feels most beneficial for ourselves, our communities and our world.

Eliza Salamon is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected].