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Thrift Store ‘Gentrification’ Deprives Low Income Communities of Valuable Resource

Partially due to increased awareness around the drawbacks of fast fashion, thrift shopping has rapidly gained popularity among wealthy, young consumers in recent years.  There are now countless videos on YouTube featuring “thrift hauls” and “thrift flips.”  On the surface, it appears to be a positive thing that more people are buying secondhand clothing and shopping more sustainably.  However, concerns over rising prices and shortages of clothes in thrift stores, which have historically served low income communities, have led many to wonder if these new customers are ‘gentrifying’ thrift shopping.

In Berkeley, gentrification has already greatly impacted lower income and Black, Indigeonous, and people of color (BIPOC) communities in a variety of forms. It seems that thrifting could be yet another facet of the city where these communities are pushed out.  For example, if an influx of wealthy, predominantly white shoppers causes Berkeley thrift shops to raise prices, low income shoppers will likely be priced out. Resellers can be large contributors to this issue. On apps like Depop, sellers will often buy thrifted clothing in bulk, and then resell the items at a steep markup. This practice can be particularly harmful if resellers buy up clothes that are essential to other people, such as plus sized clothing or children’s tops. As a result, the people who need these items at affordable prices will either be unable to find what they are looking for, or be forced to buy a lower quality, fast fashion version. 

Thrift shop gentrifiers can also undermine one of the main benefits of shopping second hand: increased sustainability. Over-consumption of clothing, no matter where the clothes come from, feeds the fast fashion mindset: feeling that we must constantly buy things we don’t need, with no consideration as to how our purchases are affecting others. Thrift shop gentrifiers can be particularly hypocritical when they shame people who buy fast fashion, unaware of the fact that they, the gentrifiers, are partly to blame.   

All of that said, there are measures that wealthy shoppers can take to combat thrift shop gentrification.  Strategies include shopping in areas where the thrift shops already serve a wealthy community, not buying items just to resell them at a higher price, and not buying up essential items. All of these strategies can help shoppers move away from a hyper-consumerist mentality, and embrace a more mindful approach. That is how shoppers can prevent the gentrification of thrifting, and move towards a more sustainable future.