According to ThredUp’s Global Data Marketing estimates, the second-hand market is set to hit $64B in the next 5 years online second-hand is set to grow 69% between 2019 and 2021. It would be lovely to be optimistic and believe that the loss of stigma and shift to thrifting comes down to a lesser emphasis on socioeconomic status and clothing as a symbolic status in opting for a shift for sustainability. Surely everybody opting for sustainable, second-hand options can only connote a positive shift, right?
But the trend, to me, has taken a turn with insidious consequences. For one, people are bulk-buying second-hand clothes from charity shops and vintage sales to re-sell on Depop under y2k and vintage tags for double the price. This is particularly important given the projected rise in online second-hand (as purported by ThredUp) especially as a result of Covid-19 which may necessitate working-class people relying on charity shop prices to be matched online. When second-hand clothing prices are inflated by well-off people online, sustainability becomes the gentrified option, and, in the midst of a second lockdown, fast fashion may be the only affordable option.
Plus-size working-class people are also disproportionately affected by the trend of buying oversized vintage clothing. Plus-sized people in general are limited when it comes to fashion since most retailers have limited plus-size clothing and, by proxy, limited options of style. When it comes to vintage, the options are even more drastically reduced and with oversized vintage jumpers and tee’s becoming a staple, it’s next to impossible for a plus-sized person to opt for sustainable second-hand fashion.
While a move towards reducing our carbon footprint and away from fast fashion which is, of course, exploitative in their own right, we need to be cognizant that romanticising second-hand clothing and, worse still, re-selling clothes for profit detracts from the lived reality of working-class communities who have a genuine need second-hand clothes rather than merely opting for them. This sustains a socioeconomic divide before it sustains the planet. Remove the stigma around sustainability, but don’t remove access for working-class and marginalised people.