Thrift Shopping on the Rise

By Kaelyn Hale

The second-hand shopping industry reached a record high of $24 billion in 2018. Sales have been on a steady climb from $11 billion in 2012 and are projected to reach $51 billion by 2023 according to ThreadUp, the leading online resale company.

The modern-day ‘thrift shop’ is a relatively new concept which emerged after the Industrial Revolution (1760-1840). Until the past few decades, most people had only a few articles of clothing and used them for as long as they could.

Blanche Hale, born in 1947 said, “When I was a kid I probably never had more than 10 to 12 things to wear. I usually had two pairs of shorts, two church dresses, one pair of shoes… I didn’t have jeans.”

As clothing became more mass-produced, it became more affordable. This allowed people to buy more clothes and get rid of clothes they did not want, therefore creating a market for thrift shops.

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In 1879, Salvation Army came to the US and in 1902, Goodwill was founded. In 1919, the term “thrift shop” was coined and the 1920s saw the rise of consumerism. During the Great Depression (1929-1941), Goodwill opened almost 100 stores. In 1995, eBay and Craigslist were founded. During the Great Recession (2007-2009), resale stores saw sales increase 35 percent. In 2009, ThreadUp was founded followed by many other online resale companies.

“I can’t even remember a thrift store when I was a kid,” said Hale. “We didn’t have Goodwill or anything like that. Heck, we didn’t even have yard sales!” Hale said in the ‘70s they had stores called boutiques, which sold second-hand goods, but they were not very big and did not have much merchandise.

Time Magazine writer Olivia Waxman, said when thrift shops first came out, “there was a stigma attached to wearing used clothes… The items themselves [were] a sign of a lack of money.” Hale’s first impression of thrift stores was that they were “confusing and not very clean.”

Perceptions of thrift shopping have changed. Now people of all socioeconomic classes shop second-hand. Spring Arbor University (SAU) student Caitlin Ackermann said she likes to thrift shop “just for fun, for the thrill of the hunt.” According to ThredUp, luxury shoppers buy second-hand more than value chain shoppers do. In 2018, 26 percent of women either bought or were willing to buy second-hand.

Hale said people have become more accepting of thrift shopping throughout her lifetime. “I know people now that brag about finding something at Goodwill. It has become a status thing if you can shop and find good stuff.”

Thrift shopping is gaining popularity fastest among Millennials and Gen Z. According to ThreadUp, 18-37 year olds are adopting second-hand apparel 2.5 times faster than other age groups.

Many young people buy second-hand online instead of going into traditional thrift shops. SAU student Celeste Fendt said she buys second-hand more than she buys new clothing and does most of her shopping on a resale app called Poshmark. She also sells some of her own clothing on this app. “It’s cheaper, it leaves less of a carbon footprint, and on Poshmark you’re buying from an actual person so you’re helping them,” said Fendt.

SAU student Beth Kulaga started her own Instagram thrift store called Reverie Thrift where she sells clothes she buys at thrift stores to SAU students. She said she started the mini-business because she has always loved thrifting. “People would compliment my outfits and I would say I found them at a thrift shop,” said Kulaga. “They would say they can never find things at thrift shops, and I thought ‘I could find things for you.’”

Kulaga goes shopping about three or four times per month and usually buys about 20 items. She sells about 12 of them as soon as she posts them. “It’s a good way to make a little extra money,” she said. “I sell each shirt for $8 and I get each shirt for about $1 to $3.”

On March 21, the Resident Assistants (RAs) of the women’s dorms at SAU hosted a Ladies Clothing Swap where students gave clothes they did not want to their RAs, the RAs put the clothes on tables, and students took the same number of clothing items as they had donated.

One RA, Kaylee Clayton, started the event last year in her dorm. This year she got the other RA’s together and made it a campus-wide event. Clayton said “It’s a good way to recycle and inform people about the effects of the textile industry.” More than 750 items were donated and about 50 people participated. Clayton said they plan to keep doing it even after she graduates.

Clayton said she is committed to the zero-waste movement and recycling. She said buying second-hand is good for the environment because it creates less demand for clothes. “Just one shirt takes more than 700 gallons of water to make,” said Clayton. Buying second-hand is also good because “you’re not creating demand for or supporting companies that use bad practices like human trafficking, poor treatment of workers, and hazardous working conditions,” said Clayton.

Thrift shopping reuses garments instead of throwing them out, reducing the amount of textile waste produced. According to, the average American throws out about 82 pounds of textile waste each year, most of which ends up in landfills where it produces toxic greenhouse gasses as it decomposes causing global warming.

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