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Secondhand Clothing - Online & Thrift Pt. 2

Last week’s Blog provided some insight into the growth of thrifting (and unfortunately fast fashion). This week, let’s continue to look at this trend and create a list of factors that might be driving up costs for secondhand clothing.

clothes in closet - Cropped - Photo by Ron Lach from Pexels
Too many clothes. Cropped Photo by Ron Lach from Pexels

A recent Vox article takes a deep dive into one #secondhandclothing debate and why pricing may be increasing. The conclusion? The debate that the gentrification of used clothing is depleting options of lower-income people has been going on since the 19th century. And, it is likely not the reason (or only reason) prices are rising today.

Giving isn’t always Godly

“Everything in excess is opposed to nature.” Hippocrates

The new fashion market is driving secondhand clothing donations to new heights. Even with resellers exploding in the e-marketplace the last several years, donated clothing is still being burned, buried, and sent in bulk overseas. Resellers can choose from a glut of available clothing. This may be caused by the hip feeling of purchasing used and feeling sustainable while donating clothing still wearable. The hipness factor may be driving higher pricing from some resellers targeting specific populations, but unlikely for the overall market, as it is still saturated.

End result: giving your clothing away to purchase more isn’t really moving the needle on fast fashion, it just moves the clothing into new streams of overconsumption that can’t handle what it is receiving. The challenge is to slow the flow of new clothing into closets. This is where to focus attention.

How can this be Bad?

Control and manipulation are not love; the outcome is a life imprisonment ultimately leading to deep-rooted feelings of resentment.” Ken Poirot

It was easy while reading the Vox article to think that these teen ‘haulers’ of thrift clothing, purchasing bagfuls at a time, are demonstrating consumerism and overconsumption. But then reselling to their peers after cleaning and mending mades it feel like they are saving clothes from the dump or incinerator.

Seemed like a good deal for everyone as long as the resellers are actually making some profit for their efforts and people are purchasing these items in lieu of new fashions. That is where the rubber met the road. Fast fashion purchasing is increasing as well, so it appears that fast fashion is driving this secondhand market - the tide of fast fashion in adding to the stock of used fashion quicker than it can be resold. The overconsumption of new fashion is leading to an overabundance of secondhand fashion with no end it sight. The resale market isn’t large enough to keep donated clothing out of our waste cycle nor slowing new clothing purchases.

But if there is a glut of clothing to resell everywhere, why are prices rising? Other online articles suggest that one company, Goodwill, increased its thrift pricing due to increased salaries for their CEO. Since Goodwill is the company most cited as raising prices, let’s see if we can unearth anything more.

Old Tropes and New Trash

The sooner we remove ourselves from overconsumption, the sooner we realize our truest potential.” Joshua Becker

Although this seems convenient, and the Goodwill CEO commands a high salary, this may simply be a recirculation of ideas from a 2006 email falsely stating that many nonprofits (including Goodwill) were actually for-profit businesses, and that the CEOs were being paid millions of dollars each year. Neither is true, Goodwill is a nonprofit and the current CEO of Goodwill salary from 2017 was just over $700,000.

More recent news stories from Wisconsin, Illinois and Maine paint a different picture. Resale stores are seeing increased donations during Covid, and much of it is trash. The increase in trash is forcing volunteers and workers to spend more time separating salable items out of the mix. And, leading organizations to pay more to throw the trash away. In fact, the article from Maine suggested that people are doing this to “unload” their trash removal costs onto organizations.

Getting Personal and Personnel

Gluttony is mankind's exclusive prerogative..” Jean Anthelme Brilliat Savarin

When asked about recent price increases, Goodwill stated that 92% of its income goes directly to programming, not really an answer. If trash donations were costing the nonprofit more, I can understand not wanting to publicize it. A 5OnYourSide story quotes a Goodwill South Carolina marketing executive saying just this, she won’t “shake a finger at donors” as they are their business model. Instead, she wants to educate donors on what to give away and what to throw away.

There is another clue for price increases at Goodwill: payment of workers. Goodwill has been under scrutiny since in 2013 for its labor practices and compensation for people with disabilities. Statewide organizations under its international umbrella are moving toward a more just payment of workers. Although many workers have seen pay raises, not all disabled workers are yet receiving minimum wage. Goodwill stores in VA and WV also announced an increase in 2020 for all its entry-level workers ranging from $11-13. If more locations are paying their people more, it could impact the bottom line.

Drivers - Unlikely All and Not in Order of Importance

Rising prices are likely due to a combination of factors. It may be impossible to list them all especially without some insider analysis.

This list shows those discussed and one more.

  • An overall market adjustment in reaction to resellers targeting audiences with preselected garments at higher pricing. As anyone knows that has thrifted, it takes time to find the gems.

  • Too much trash in donations leading to increased costs for disposal and workers’ pay to sort through it all.

  • Increased salary for entry level workers and many workers with disabilities.

  • Could it even be a reduced level of donations to nonprofits such as Goodwill from the change in the federal tax laws from 2018 on charitable giving?

It may be impossible to capture all the links in the chain that are driving up prices but one thing is for sure - there is sufficient clothing exists today to outfit the nation’s people. And, secondhand markets, like new fashion markets, are being driven by fast fashion and overconsumption. We can’t resale our way out of this dilemma.

How much of your closet is secondhand vs. newly purchased? Tell me in the comments or send me a Contact message!

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