Is the Newly Found Guilt Around Thrift Shopping Necessary?
We always seem to be talking about thrift shopping as if it only applies to the fashion industry, but this is only the trendy new form of thrifting. Isn’t buying a second-hand car essentially the same thing?
It’s hard to deny the benefits of second-hand markets for the environment and consumers, or as in economics we like to call it positive externalities, that refers to non- money related benefits. We all know that manufacturing generally causes harm to the environment through creating pollution and wastage, bringing us closer to the peak of no return in regard to global warming. Consumers benefit because the prices are lower therefore, they can satisfy more of their needs which colloquially means they are able to buy more stuff.
However, recent trends in the fashion thrift shop industry have indicated that there may be a trap to second-hand markets. Using the fashion thrift shop industry as an example, we notice this pitfall when we think about its origins. Thrift stores were originally run by charities to provide lower income earners with affordable purchasing options. However, now middle- and higher-income earners are also purchasing from these stores increasing the demand for its products. Suppliers are also able to charge a higher price as the market now includes individuals who are able to afford higher prices. As a result, prices have risen and private businesses have entered the market, this phenomenon has been coined the “gentrification of thrift stores” by TikTok. The disadvantage of higher prices means that the lower income earners can’t afford to shop at thrift stores anymore which is precisely the trap.
On the surface this makes sense, but this isn’t the full story. Let’s split thrift stores into three categories of suppliers: non-for profits, private sellers and business. Non-for-profit organisations use the profits towards initiatives to help lower-class income earners, although the price increases so does the benefit. Private sellers, in non-niche markets, simply are recycling money. They have used up a certain amount of value of the item and are now receiving back the value of the item that they have not used. It gets interesting with business; you may be familiar with the numerous retro stores on King Street which all boast high prices for second-hand clothing. Although lower income earners do not receive any benefit from this model because they cannot afford the items and do not receive any donations, it is still beneficial for the environment and helps drive the economy.
However, the sentiment behind the TikTok movement does address the lack of support for lower income earners which has been growing apparent during this pandemic. Reforms in regard to thrifting could include governments placing price ceilings on privately run second-hand markets, this means enforcing a maximum price. While charities can use smart initiatives like letting lower income earners have the first pick at a lower price and then selling the remaining stock.
By Sabrina Mock - 2nd Year Bachelor of Economics and Advanced Studies
(Economics and Italian Studies)