Nestled between Mumbai Indian Grill and a Starbucks is downtown Evanston’s Crossroads Trading Company, one of the few pillars of recycled fashion in town. Within walking distance from Northwestern, the store has a strong customer pool of college-aged students deeply invested in the thrifting scene. For Anusha Das, 18, working at Crossroads gave her a closer look at the relationship between herself, Gen Z and thrifting culture.
“I think there's something about nostalgia – especially the pandemic had us really looking within ourselves,” Das said.
As secondhand shopping’s popularity grows — with the industry expected to reach $82 billion by 2026 — the cost of thrifting is also growing. Overconsumption, expensive reseller items and the trendiness of secondhand shopping has presented unique challenges for those who cannot afford to shop elsewhere.
Secondhand apparel platforms like Depop boast millions of regular users, and reselling clothes in bulk has become a lucrative practice for those looking to profit off of the preloved fashion trend. Weinberg first-year Allie Hill said TikTok thrift hauls and Depop resellers promote overconsumption. For her, witnessing thrifting go from a shameful marker of economic class to a trendy fashion statement has been surreal.
“As a person who thrifted because my family had to, I think that can be really toxic,” Hill said. “That makes it really inaccessible for the people who do actually depend on it.”
More people thrifting after the COVID-19 quarantine orders and inflation have also contributed to the rise in secondhand apparel prices.
Despite its pitfalls, thrifting is a well-known hallmark of Gen Z and Millenials. Vivian Killebrew, 65 and owner of the consignment shop Stepping Out on Faith for 14 years, said young people understand the environmental and personal importance of thrifting. As someone who used to work in retail and thrifts quite regularly, she resonates with the younger generations’ movement for secondhand shopping.
“Students, I need them,” Killebrew said. “About 10 years ago, I had a young man come in here who was from California. I had just cut the lights out and he was banging on the door. I'm like, ‘What's wrong?’ He says, ‘Oh my God, I need a coat, please.’ He ended up buying a coat, a pair of snow pants, a bunch of sweaters, jeans. We ended up ordering dinner and I ended up driving him back to his dorm because he had so much stuff.”
NU Thrift co-president Destiny Reinhardt said that, as opposed to fast fashion, thrifting creates a more “circular economy.” Thrifting’s popularity among those who can afford to shop elsewhere can be explained in part by the growing support for mindful, sustainable shopping practices.
“Consumerism has been such a big thing lately, especially with fast fashion,” Reinhardt said. “Mass producing clothing being trendy in the last couple of years increases the amount of clothing that gets diverted to landfills.”
How to go about reconciling these ethical concerns with thrifting’s sustainability is not entirely clear, but being a mindful consumer is a start, SESP first-year Tone Jackson said.
“Reselling is the biggest issue,” Jackson said. “But obviously, if more people are participating in the culture and then are giving to thrift stores, thrift stories are going to have more, and that's going to help drive prices down. The more people get involved, the better.”