The rise of clothing resale platforms may come at the cost of low-income buyers

After spending hours standing, sifting and sorting through endless racks of garments, there is no better feeling than finding that perfectly worn pair of “vintage” jeans or a faded oversized T-shirt from an iconic band. Especially when working around a budget, that feeling only intensifies when a brief glance at the price tag reveals this thrifted find is only five bucks! Shopping on a budget is essential for many college students who turn to second-hand thrift and consignment stores as a budget-friendly and sustainable alternative to fast-fashion shopping. 

Yet, amid the pandemic, many virtual students (especially those who are immunocompromised) are wary of returning to in-person thrift shopping so soon. The coronavirus is not the only thing keeping buyers from thrifting in person. It often takes at least a few hours to have a successful trip to the thrift store; it takes time to drive there (and park — if one is in Los Angeles), go through all of the clothes, try everything on and get back home. Such a process can make in-person thrifting inaccessible to those with limited free time and mobility. 

Enter virtual thrifting! Online resale platforms such as Depop, thredUP and Poshmark make thrifting much more convenient and accessible to those who aren’t able to frequent the physical storefronts. Additionally, it’s a great option for those who want to shop sustainably, since it does not directly contribute to the fast-fashion industry (notorious for its negative environmental impacts) while also reducing the amount of clothing that ends up in landfills. Oftentimes, if a buyer wants to shop sustainably, they are met with brands like Reformation and Everlane that are extremely expensive and not as inclusive in their sizing options. 

ThredUP has even put out an annual Fashion Resale Report since 2017 that highlights the success of its business model, the growth of the online resale and secondhand industry and, in recent years, the positive impacts of its sustainability efforts.

Unfortunately, these apps are still far from perfect. Critics are worried that the increase in prices at chain thrift stores like Goodwill are due to the rise in popularity of such clothing-resale platforms. Oftentimes, the prices on resale platforms are higher than what one would see at a thrift store but lower than if purchased new. These prices usually account for the seller’s time spent tediously sifting through mass amounts of clothing, setting up their online shop’s presence, the fees that the platforms take from every sale and shipping the physical product to the buyer. 

Even given this fact, though, it is still worrisome to see thrifted items going for exorbitant prices, sometimes even exceeding the $100 mark. While there are still plenty of listed options that are affordable and fairly priced, there is a growing concern that prices will continue to skyrocket on these platforms and price out those who utilize these apps as an affordable and accessible alternative to fast fashion and storefront thrift shopping.  

The current market for sustainable and ethical fashion is yielding prices that are significantly higher than fast fashion alternatives. Coupled with current trends in the thrift and resale market, affordable and sustainable shopping is at great risk of becoming inaccessible to low-income buyers. 

To curb the growth of the fast fashion industry and promote sustainability, it is extremely important to ensure that reselling platforms remain accessible to buyers of all income brackets. Popular resale apps need to protect their low-income buyers and marketing accessibility as much as they do sustainability.

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