Image courtesy of Wisegeek
A revolution has hit the streets of America, and like any uprising it has caused casualties, divisions, and betrayals. Gone are the days of back-door consignment shops as big name thrift stores have risen in the retail ranks and become a dominant force in America’s consumer industry.
The increased popularity of second-hand shopping can be attributed to a number of factors, including a shift in popular culture and the fluctuation of economic cycles. The industry’s biggest boom came during the Great Recession, when down-on-their-luck consumers chose to transition from name-brands to seemingly more affordable merchandise offered at resale stores. The Association of Resale Professionals estimated that the number of resale shops increased by 7% in both 2008 and 2009, a much higher growth rate than the reported 2.3% average between 2009 and 2014*. This ebbing growth reflects an upturn in the business cycle; as consumers’ wallets got fatter, they were willing to spend more money on upper scale items. Nevertheless, the number of thrift shops lining our streets increases every day, and while some only stop by when they need to, there seems to be a serious fad – dancing on the edge of a cult following – when it comes to recycled goods.
The polarity in customer preferences extends into nearly all demographic subsets, but can perhaps be best viewed through the lens of one of the country’s largest consumer groups: its teenagers. I took to the halls of Carnegie and recorded student’s reactions, both positive and negative, to the thrift store revolution.
“I used to really enjoy the Salvation Army, but I stopped going because as thrifting became more popular, the prices rose. Once, another customer complained, by yelling, that the price of t-shirt at Salvation was higher than the original tag.” – Jorge Montemayor
“I don’t want tye-dye shirts with cats on them.” – Nato Sandweiss
“When thrift shopping, you have to spend a lot of time looking for quality items, while regular stores have everything laid out and organized.” – Nina Odegard
“It’s pretty nasty if you think about the people who wear it before you.” – Simay Kilic
“There’s no point in people manufacturing new clothes and putting more into the world when we already have so much excess. Also they (thrift stores) have a more diverse selection and it’s fun; I think being cheap is good.” – Finn McCarthy
In response to Simay… “That’s why there are washing machines.” – Finn McCarthy
“I like Goodwill because they just put the excess donations in their stores and give the rest to charity.” – Jad Moghnieh
It is clear that the fashion revolution rages on, and few can predict whether thrifting will survive in the long run or surrender to the mainstream consumer lifestyle.