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Is Secondhand Actually Accessible as an Alternative to Fast Fashion?
Limitations and Considerations of Secondhand as an Alternative to Fast Fashion
The secondhand fashion industry has been growing and thriving in recent years. While secondhand makes up less than 10% of the apparel sector, it grew 5 times faster than the fashion retail industry at large in 2022 and continues to be on an upward trajectory. In other words, more and more people are participating in secondhand fashion than ever before. While thrifting previously may have been stigmatized, more consumers are turning to secondhand as an affordable outlet to add to their wardrobes with over half of all consumers shopping secondhand last year.
Secondhand as a Fast Fashion Alternative
Given the increased demand for more sustainable solutions in fashion, secondand’s increased popularity comes at an opportune time. Secondhand offers clothing at a price comparable to fast fashion without the harm of exploitative fast fashion production. Not to mention that secondhand fashion also makes use of what exists and diverts clothing from landfills. However, even with all of its environmental benefits, we should be careful not to think that secondhand is an accessible solution for all.
You don’t have to spend a long time engaging within sustainability spaces to hear “just shop secondhand” recommended as an alternative to someone shopping fast fashion. While thrifting certainly offers a more accessible approach to sustainable fashion than perhaps a higher priced eco-labelled brand, it isn’t a catch-all solution that will work for everyone. If we are going to push for secondhand as a solution to our overproduction and overconsumption problems, we must also acknowledge its shortcomings. When we flippantly suggest that thrifting can simply replace shopping fast fashion, we ignore that some populations don’t have the same accessibility and privileges that make secondhand a good solution.
Barriers to Secondhand
There are legitimate barriers to secondhand. While it may seem counterintuitive to assign privilege to thrifting given the former stigma surrounding it and its prescribed purpose of serving those who couldn’t otherwise afford new, thrift privilege is having the luxury of time, freedom, ability, and experience to shop secondhand in a beneficial way. If you’ve taken even one trip to your local thrift store, you’ll know that browsing the hundreds and hundreds of items can be an overwhelming, laborious, and time-consuming task. Let’s dig into some of the barriers to secondhand:
Time poverty refers to having insufficient time to maintain wellbeing and accomplish your necessary and discretionary tasks. While thrifting is often thought of as a resource for someone experiencing monetary poverty, it isn’t helpful to the person juggling long work hours, family obligations, and other time commitments that make it nearly impossible to spend a couple hours in a thrift store to flip past hundreds of items to find what they need (and risking potentially still coming up empty). Monetary poverty and time poverty are often linked. For example, the single parent working overtime to support a family will likely face both financial and time limitations when it comes to dressing their family.
Physical Ability and Health
For those with a disability (visible or invisible) and other health concerns like being immunocompromised or having germ-related anxiety, thrifting can possess barriers due to store layout, the energy it takes, and cleanliness concerns. Even online, thrifting likely isn’t usable to those with disability given that a majority of websites don’t meet accessibility standards. Getting to the stores themselves can present challenges depending on geographic area, ability to get to the store, the commute, and access to transportation.
Lack of Extended Sizing
Even if you’ve successfully passed the barriers to shop at a thrift store, the inventory won’t always work in your favor. For those that need extended sizing like tall, petite, or plus sizes, clothes can be really hard to find. To begin with, there’s already a shortage of clothing within those categories in the fashion industry at large. Then straight-sized shoppers may purchase those items to wear oversized, modify, or “flip” them. To find what you love in your size can take a long time in an already time-intensive activity.
And Finally, it’s Kinda Overwhelming
Lastly, even if someone doesn’t face the aforementioned barriers, thrift shopping can be an overwhelming experience. There’s a certain level of know-how that makes thrift shopping more comfortable and useful. An experienced thrifter may know the days of restocks and discounts, how to browse the racks without burning out, which stores have the best offerings, and how to leverage resale sites to find what they need. But if you’re new to thrifting, that learning curve may make secondhand feel out of reach.
Here at Beni, we are working to make secondhand a lot more accessible. By showing secondhand alternatives right in the same place people are already shopping new, Beni helps shoppers overcome many of the barriers to thrifting so that more people can take advantage of the environmental and cost-saving benefits of shopping used!
It’s important to have perspective when we suggest that thrifting can replace fast fashion. For some, it can’t. Many don’t have the luxury of time or energy to devote to sourcing secondhand. If someone is facing barriers to thrift shopping, they are likely facing barriers to all types of shopping and, therefore, highly unlikely to be contributing to our culture’s overconsumption problem. So give them some grace and maybe tell them about us! We’d love to help connect them to clothes they need at a price they can afford.