The Gentrification of Fashion

The Gentrification of Fashion

Sophe Prevallet, Managing Editor

If you’re a member of the Depop community, buyers and sellers alike, it’s likely that you’ve come across an absurd item marketed on the app. One of the most memorable pieces I’ve found was a “Y2K/90s airbrush style, super adorable thermal long sleeve tee (size XS),” which was, at further glance, a girl’s size 7/8 shirt from the Children’s Place. What I’m sure was originally a $5 shirt from the kid’s section at Goodwill–or maybe it had been sitting in the seller’s closet since she was six years old–was now being sold for $45. As ridiculous as it may sound, the shirt had garnered 86 likes. Checking back a day later, I couldn’t believe it–it had sold. 

Don’t get me wrong, I love Depop. The app is a great source for people with an appreciation for fashion–it’s free to download and make an account, where you can then chat with others, buy new clothes, and even sell stuff of your own. Plus, it’s an easy way to transition away from supporting unethical & cheaply made fast fashion brands. I’m sure you know the companies I’m talking about: Shein, Romwe, Fashion Nova, H&M… the list goes on and on. And if you’ve ever bought from one, you’ve likely noticed the horrible quality of their clothing. This comes as no surprise; their garment workers are subjected to unbearably long hours, terrible work conditions, and low pay. Some companies even use child labor to make their clothes. Depop is a hub for sustainable fashion and an ethical alternative to these big name brands. But while supporting small sellers is important, some may be doing more harm than you think. 

Do a quick Google search for “is reselling ethical?” and you’ll find countless articles, twitter threads, and TikTok videos debating the issue–the issue being that many Depop sellers looking to make money seek the greatest selection of clothing for the cheapest prices they can find, in turn reselling what was once a cheap shirt from their local thrift store for up to 10 times the price. The main criticism when it comes to reselling items from low-income thrift stores like Goodwill or the Salvation Army on Depop is that this leads to the gentrification of said thrift stores, in turn leading to an increase in the stores’ prices, which severely damages the ability of low income people to buy their clothes. For reference, “gentrification” is a term usually designated for neighborhoods, referring to the process in which a poor area experiences an influx of middle-class or wealthy people, leading to an increase in value and the displacement of the original lower-income residents. But doesn’t this sound familiar? 

Like it or not, second hand shopping is the future of fashion: a 2019 report from ThredUp found that the secondhand clothing market will double by 2023, with an increase from $24 billion to $51 billion. The report also found that 74% of 18 to 29 year olds prefer to buy from sustainable brands, and more than one in three Gen Z’ers buy second hand. With the fashion industry being one of the most pollutive in the world, everyone buying one used item from a secondhand shop this year would save 5.7 billion lbs of CO2, 25 billion gallons of water, and 449 million lbs of waste. As Elizabeth L. Cline, author of “The Conscious Closet,” wrote, “as the momentum to solve the climate crisis builds, consumers are waking up to the realities of fashion’s impact on the environment. Shopping secondhand is one of the most effective ways for us to collectively lower our fashion footprint and make the most of the resources used to create these garments.”

With this in mind, let’s talk more about reselling. The whole point of resale is to be inclusive and make preloved items accessible to everyone. I’m a big fan of this idea. If done correctly, reselling makes a greater selection of clothing more accessible to people around the world. Say you don’t have a thrift store in your area–with access to a phone, simply downloading Depop, Etsy, Vinted, or any other resale app would give you entry to what is essentially a virtual thrift store. Millions of items, right at your fingertips! But what doesn’t cut it for me? The insanely jacked up prices that countless sellers, especially on Depop, manage to get away with on the cheap thrifted clothes they have found.  That $8 sweater you passed over? Now it’s $60. There is nothing sustainable or accessible about that. Not only is this practice unethical, but jacked up Depop prices contribute to the consumption of fast fashion as consumers will now be more likely to turn to big name companies, where you can find that same sweater for 20 bucks. “But Sophie, how then is it possible to ethically resell thrifted items?” you may ask. Well, when you don’t treat it as a get-rich-quick scheme and instead as a sustainable, ethical, and accessible practice, hopefully the prices of your resold items won’t be priced for 10 times the amount you bought them for. 

If you’re like me and have embraced the practice of thrifting, let’s learn to be mindful and conscious of how we shop. Approach thrifting with the intent to limit your haul to items that you’ll actually wear. Consider donating old clothes back to the stores you love. Research what items are in high demand but low stock, and leave them for those who can’t afford to find them anywhere else. If you’re a reseller, make sure your clothes are accessible and affordable to the general public, not just high income consumers. Let’s embrace the future of thrifting, but add some mindfulness to how we shop.