This might be long .
History and why:
I started thrifting in university, like some others here. I do think there is a certain kind of person that is attracted to the treasure hunt aspect of a thrift store. I also have very bad images of being mindlessly bored in malls as a kid, and only wanted to go to the bookstore. The endless repeat of the same thing made me want to scream.
I picked up thrifting again when I woke up to style/fashion when my kids were little. This is around the time I discovered YLF. I did not have the budget or the will to spend a lot of money on what I knew would be a long series of experiments, and, at that time, the thrift stores (charity shops) in Israel were gold mines. Truly. I did still buy from places like Zara, but only after I was clear on what I wanted.
As I learned more and more about clothing, I became a bit snobby about quality and could not see spending so much more on a so much less well made and designed item. This all coalesced with growing awareness of the problems with fast fashion and I gradually shopped less and less retail.
I began reselling my overflow at local consignment shops and managed to create a shopping budget for myself that way as a sort of side gig.
At some point about 8 years ago I was first recruited to work as a sorter in a local charity shop. It was very part time, but I did get first dibs on the goods, which were often horrible but occasionally amazing. At that point I was paying less than $2/item.
After I decided to take an office job, that stopped, but my habit continued. I frequented an ever wider circle of shops, began reselling different ways and was quite content. I love an item of clothing that much more if I found it in a thrift store - not so much for the price, but for the pleasure of the hunt and of exercising my discernment.
I was again recruited last year to sort - this time also while tending the shop - and am surprised I lasted as long as I did. To answer LJP above, it is actually a tremendous amount of work to sort clothes. But nothing compared to dealing with customers (for an introvert like me)..
Now I am back to a pleasure thrifter, looking mainly for myself and my family, and reselling the excess. But I shop more and more at consignment because I have a lot, have become even more particular, and the profit margins aren't what they once were on mistakes.
/history over

The current scene has changed a lot. Now my clever idea to resell has spread and, indeed, shops are much more picked over than they used to be. Although I do still find great stuff, mainly because, as RunCarla says, I enjoy it. And, if I may say, picking (in all sorts of contexts) is one of my best skills.
My advice, however, to people interested in second hand shopping and that find their local shops frustrating - and neighborhood and management absolutely matter - is to shop online. The online second hand shopping world has exploded and there are great finds there as well.
In the next week I will try to gather my greatest thrift finds, but that is another story .

Wow, that article Jules is certainly an eye opener and explains a lot about why the quality of the inventory in these stores isn't what it used to be.
Hmm.. not sure what to think about the items I donate now and who's really profiting. I guess if it helps keep stuff out of landfills, it would still be a plus.

I like to thrift for a variety of reasons. I like to shop. So the thrill of the find is part of it.
I am able to find things I could not afford but feel I am worthy of loving a remarkable found item.
In my opinion thrifting is a win /win to keep things from the landfill.
Upcycling seamstress are making amazing high end garments using unused clothing they buy bulk.

Irina if you are looking for a specific item I have had best luck with an online source specifying what you are looking for in a familiar brand that specializes in linen. ie flax, cut loose, Eileen Fisher that has consistent sizing.
White may be a challenge but as you said linen is a strong fabric that should hold up to wear and stain removable.
Thrifting is a more challenging way to shop fer sure...

Dee, I don't see the clothes I "give to charity" (who then mostly sell them to Value Village) as donations so much as an alternate to landfill and paying for extra garbage pick up. Knowing they go into a fairly efficient sorting system is fine by me - I don't think it makes sense for volunteers or even for-profit stores to sort the quantity of stuff being donated, then hope the right customer comes along to their shop, when a good picker has the right market available. The business model that has developed probably makes sense, to a point. The international dumping aspect is another story, I don't feel good about that.

Indigoprint, thanks! I’m not looking to buy second hand online at the moment. It’s difficult to access condition of an item from pictures and I’m too anxious to buy something that might be impossible to return. I’m just curious what moves others to shop from charity shops.

So far everything I’ve read confirms that it’s just not for me. Maybe I’ll try consignment shops once in awhile for fun but that’s about it.

I feel the same Irina. I have happily bought a couple of vintage kitchenware items from Poshmark, but am not interested in risking fit issues with clothes. I do have a couple of clothing items purchased in person from curated vintage resellers that I was checking out with my daughter. I applied the same discernment I would to purchasing a new wildcard item (eg. a random or impulse buy, not from a shopping list) and am quite happy with both.

This has been an interesting thread. Thanks Irina for starting it. That was a really interesting article too Jules. It really makes you think about being more aware of what you purchase and where it is going if you donate it.

There is a facebook group called Opshopping in NZ. Op shops are the traditional charity second hand shops here not the consignment shops. This group is for people to show off their bargains from their opshopping. The interesting thing is that some people seem to be hunting the bargain bins every week and putting together entire outfits for events or work etc from their shopping trips. I guess for many of these people the motivation to shop thrift is variety at a cheaper price, but maybe it is a more sustainable way of creating variety without the waste of fast fashion. I had a friend who told me she used to buy an item of clothing nearly every lunchtime with clothes being as cheap as they are.

This experience made me even more determined to donate as little as possible. I don’t want to participate in this very complex and opaque market that is resales of second hand clothing. I will try to sell my good quality items that are in excellent condition. Whatever I can’t sell, I will give away for free locally through Facebook groups. I wish I had friends who were my or smaller size to let them pick what they like.

That was a fascinating article, Jules -- thank you!

TL;DR - I like shopping secondhand for better quality items that usually align with my personal values better (colour & modesty values, for example) + sizing. But it's heavily location dependent - I have very different strategies in the UK/ HK/ PK!

I would gladly pick things up for pennies at the charity shops* in my tiny British hometown, because the quality of donations were fairly good (I tried again when I went home this summer &, whilst I did still find a some gems, much is also now fast fashion).
I wouldn't mind travelling a little bit to the wealthier suburbs/ neighbourhoods when ai was in school/ university because I could find even better quality items (some even designer!) for slightly more money. Those were still charity shops*, though.

Whereas now, I don't really thrift in-person much anymore in HK - whilst I have indeed picked up some great items, a lot of it is either much smaller than my size (local demographics) or a completely different style sold for much more money than I'm personally comfortable with (the 'normcore' & 90s fashions are popular here, so I've seen 'vintage boutiques'* sell things like baggy Fila t-shirts & Champion tube socks (yes, those white ribbed ones) for £30 a pop - not new!)

So whilst I'm not against thrifting, I'll admit to mostly buying my vintage & secondhand clothing from Etsy these days. Just scored a collarless Dior blouse that way, in a very similar silk to a Dior pussybow I already thrifted from a local HK seller


As for the transportation issue, everyone has their own limits - I see it as I'd rather pay to ship something I know I'll use, rather than buying cheap market tat (just because it's local) that will probably have to be donated after a few wears. Sure, some people might say you can travel further out to go shopping instead for better clothing, but isn't that spending (public) transport fuel too?

Just like some people are ok with dropping money & chemicals on regular salon visits VS others who box dye their hair VS me (only natural, handmade henna), I don't think it's fair to shame folk for making different decisions.


*The term 'thrifting' I've noticed can mean very different things to different folk - in the UK, charity shops exist on the high street (alongside other 'normal' clothes shops). I never shopped more 'curated' shops there, so can't compare those experiences - they're sort of like the Goodwills in the USA, but MUCH smaller.
I also miss 'car boot sales' in the UK - most similar to what Americans call a 'yard sale', but actually everyone drives to an empty field (usually a football/ rugby pitch) and literally sells stuff out of their boot (trunk)! You need to get there super early (5/6am) to get the good stuff though - clothes, toys, kitchenware, everything. They usually charge the sellers a small fee but sometimes set up other things for entertaining the kids (like a bouncy castle & food trucks).

I've used Salvation Army in HK, which is similar to the UK concept of charity shops (run by a charity company/ corporation, that does other sorts of fundraising in the area). But HK mostly seems to have those vintage 'boutiques', where local folk have set it up as their business (so I guess it's 'for personal profit'). I haven't asked how they source their clothing, so it's possible they consign too, but I've never bought/ sold consignment.

Fantastic thread Irina, thank you. And fantastic article Jules. I knew some of that but not all.
I have felt for some time that some of us Fabbers (and it has included me so I’m not just pointing the finger at others) have been unrealistic with comments about “let someone else make use of it” by donating. Some have been lucky enough to see their items in their own local thrift store after they donated them. So those donations are staying local. But Jules’s article makes it clear that so many donations are not.
In NZ ours can end up in Papua New Guinea which is not a lot better than them ending up in Ghana as per North American and European donations. It can help some people there but also probably stops them developing a clothing trade of their own (I have read a big article on it).
An issue I have here is that our for-profit second-hand store Save Mart, which is similar to the US and Canada’s Value Village, takes both better stuff to sell in their stores and also worse stuff for rag recycling. That’s the only rag recycling available to me. And unfortunately I cannot tell, because they take it all in the same “clothing bin”, if something I think should be rags might be sorted by them for sale. So I might be inadvertently contributing to the problem of worn-looking clothing being sold! I thus try to donate better stuff to a true charity store, hospice or St John Ambulance, but am occasionally lazy and just put it all in the “clothing bin” as that is easier Overall why I am trying to buy less overall and wear it out.

I have been very lucky, living in small towns with excellent thrift shops, typically Christian, local, volunteer-driven charity shops. They even launder and iron the garments before presenting them for sale. And serve free waffles! No stained, smelly, worn out anything.

I never understood the people who went "Eeew, thrift shop smells!!", but guess I have been too privileged. I treasure the shops we have here, and donate quality stuff instead of reselling whenever I can.

Oh Synne our Save Mart store ( for-profit) definitely smells bad! I have read complaints that they do not wash the donations. I wash before donating to them but the occasional item I buy there I wash as well- you don’t know where it has been!
I prefer the true charity stores but we did go to Save Mart specifically to look for yellow clothes for the Haldi ceremony we will attend in Canada late May, and did find a cute yellow dress for $9 which I immediately washed at home!

I think YLF Member Michelle has the right idea, let you hands find the gems on the rack by feeling the fabric. Don't at it, feel it instead. Then look at what your fingers discover. This approach has worked well for me unless looking for specific colors, like black ,white and red coffee mugs.

Thank you, Suz, for the sympathy.

I’m going to try that next time I’m at a second hand store, Joy. I’m not at all sure I have the magic touch, but it will be interesting and maybe I will learn something.
Jenni, same about textile recycling. But I don’t feel very bad about it because I’m not dumping my ‘donations’ on volunteers, etc. It’s going into a system designed to deal with varying quality.
If I want to help people in need I donate money (or brand new clothes). I don’t feel guilty that people of means might waste some time in a thrift shop.

I don’t know how I feel about donating anything now. I used to take my lightly used items to a big Value Village store. I assumed they sort and sell it there. It is a working class neighborhood with lots of students. I thought I’m helping someone.

For the few first years in Canada I bought my clothes almost exclusively from thrift stores. Switching to regular retail was difficult, I was shocked at prices for quality clothing. I bought mostly from the Gap, it still had decent quality. For the last 10 years I thought I’m paying it back. In a last year I became aware of all the issues with second hand market and I’m not so sure. This is the main reason I want now sell my barely used clothes. I don’t expect to make much money but I don’t know any shelters here that accept clothing donations.

No, shelters don't have the capacity to store, sort, etc. They are part of our social welfare system at this point and are staffed by professional social workers with critical skills, rather than volunteers. Rent money needs to go towards space to house people, rather than clothing donations. I could get a lot more political about this! But am getting away from the topic at hand, clothes.

Not that I’ve darkened the door of a thrift shop in a long time, but what brings me in is the ‘leave no stone unturned’ principle. There’s definitely a difference between stores, even big operations. I’ll go to one Goodwill over another. There’s one two territories over where I’ve seen Oscar de la Renta and such. It’s actually in a pretty gritty neighborhood. Not dangerous gritty, but far from the richer hoods… consignment is located in the rich-people places, now that I come to think.

I also like the thrift stores geared towards the college, staffed by college kids. They’re more interested in fashion in those shops. The ‘adult’ thrifts are just oceans of black pants.

Chewy is right too about vintage being 90s now and in my book the entire decade was a wash in all ways, lol.

In the past I have done quite a bit of clothes shopping in large, uncurated thrift stores such as Goodwill. Reasons:
-thrill of the hunt/find
-prefer offbeat styles that may not be as easy to source at retail
-prefer to spend less money on clothes (this is not exactly the same thing as being without financial means)

As my style has developed and my sense of what styles/colors/fiber contents I want to wear has gotten more refined, I have moved away from clothes shopping at such stores. Reason: the stuff I'm looking for is just too rarely found for it to be worth the time/effort. (Partly but not entirely because the quality of what's available in these thrift stores has declined -- probably due to general decline in clothing quality and also the advent of pickers.)

However I have been buying a lot of housewares from Goodwill especially since we moved into our new place a year and a half ago. Cache pots for plants, serving ware, picture frames, etc. The store closest to me seems to get a lot of handmade pottery items -- some really quite nice and some a bit wobbly in a way that I find charming. I have taken to "rescuing" a lot of these bits of clay!

Now, most of my clothing is sourced secondhand online, primarily via Ebay. Reasons:
-thrill of the hunt/find (not as intense as the in-store experience but it's still there a little bit)
-prefer to spend less money on clothes (I have a large collection of 100% cashmere knitwear mostly sourced for ~US$30-40 per item.)
-easier to find my size (as a petite with a short rise I am functionally sized out of most of the pants that have been available at retail for the last number of years. So I buy low-rise pants secondhand online.)
-easier to ensure a good fit (many online resellers provide garment measurements or will do so if asked, but this is rarely available from retailers of new garments. And, because I'm petite my size is not generally carried in stores -- so I would have to order online anyhow.)

Re: durability of secondhand clothing, found in uncurated thrifts and also more generally -- it cuts both ways. On the one hand, yes, I do find that often the elbows of my secondhand knits wear out distressingly quickly! On the other hand I have had items purchased new from mid-range mall brands shrink or bleed to unwearability on the first wash. As Jaime has noted in the past, buying secondhand means the garment has already stood the test of time! I do have a couple of items sourced from uncurated thrift stores that have been in my wardrobe for 8+ years. So it is possible.

I must say that I am a bit puzzled by the distaste for pickers/resellers of secondhand clothing. Maybe this is motivated reasoning on my part, since a fair percentage of my wardrobe comes via this route, but I think it's great to have greater access to a wider variety of items than might come through my local thrift store. It definitely enables me to source a larger percentage of my wardrobe secondhand -- and thus keep things out of the landfill, and out of the problematic international rag trade -- than would otherwise be possible. Picking/reselling is hard physical work and requires skill. Fine with me if people are compensated for that labor.

SarahD8, I think original intend of any donation of clothes or household items to charities meant helping others who is in need. I should have paid more attention and realize that Value Village is a for profit organization. Goodwill has closed its stores in Toronto, it leaves Salvation Army and I have mixed feelings about donating to it. The point I’m trying to make that there is a lack of transparency in this trade. If my donation is resold and someone makes a profit on it, I should know it.

Value Village and the partner orgs that collect items for them have the info on their websites. At least part of Goodwill’s mission with their stores was to provide training and employment opportunities. And personally I believe people in need should have the dignity of choosing appropriate clothes that fit, etc, without needing to spend a lot of time in thrift stores. So I try to make that happen through other means (political and financial).

When I donate, I have a couple of different "levels." The things in decent condition I'll donate to small places that I know will sell the things in my community.

The things that are damaged or stained I put in the clothing bins, where I figure they'll (hopefully) get recycled for rags. If the companies make a profit, fine.

I agree it would be good if there were greater transparency, yes. As consumers, we can also ask questions. If we are donating and have specific desires about where the clothes should go, we can always ask the staff what happens and donate only to organizations the meet our own ethical criteria -- much the way we decide on any monetary charitable donation. But this isn't necessarily easy or convenient. I admit, I don't always do this myself. Some of my retired things go to a family member, so that is pretty safe. But most go to a local donation bin where the claim is that it is going to a women's shelter, but what they mean is they sell it and use the funds. I'm okay with that. They are benefitting from the sale and it is a cause I support.

Just as there are different reasons for shopping second hand, there are different (and sometimes competing) reasons for donation, I guess.

Some people donate primarily to give to the needy. For those people, the idea that the better quality second hand items are recirculating primarily to people who are not in actual need might be especially troubling.

Others donate primarily to keep their clothing out of landfill (even knowing that some of it will inevitably end up there). Recycling their clothing feels better than trashing it.

The rag trade -- as Jules' link suggests -- has been "for profit" since industrialization. So on the one hand, I feel like Sarah DB -- as long as we are aware of this, what is so bad about buying our clothing second-hand, from a good "picker" -- considering it keeps things out of landfill and reduces our own impact on the climate?

On the other hand, if our primary goal in donating is to help the needy, the idea of middle-men profiting off our donations might make us uncomfortable. Especially since the endless churn results in mountains of rags and loss of employment in the global south.

On the other hand, buying new often means buying from companies that countenance what is essentially slave labour, that pollute the environment, and that also result in mountains of textiles. Even bigger ones.

As Jenni says, the only real solution is to buy less, period. Or not buy at all! Which is hard to reconcile with a love of fashion.

It is very hard to give up our dearest pleasures for our convictions. It takes a certain cast of mind and character to do that. I don't think I personally have the will or maybe the sense of certainty about what is right to stop buying clothes or caring about fashion.

I was thinking earlier today that if we all sewed and learned to design our own clothes and did so from scraps then perhaps we could feel less guilty. But am I going to do that? Nope. I am not.

Suz, sometimes it is hard for me to explain, I’m coming from a different background. For example, I’m reading your last paragraph and thinking about my late mother who wasn’t very skillful seamstress but had to sew my summer clothes from cheap cotton fabrics in her very limited free time. She did it out of necessity, as a single, working mother of two, who wanted like any mother, her kids to have nice things. So, no, although I have basic sewing skills, I would not want to make my own clothes, I have different associations with homemade things.

I’m from the first group you mentioned - I want my donation to help someone. When I see a thrift store full of cheap, disposable, worn out clothes, I can’t help but ask “where people in need can buy good quality clothes?” They will not be going to curated second hand stores and pay their prices. I mistakenly thought that there are thrift stores and consignment stores with defined roles, purposes and inventories. I now know it’s not the case.

I suppose the worst of what is happening, is happening in a small number of generations. So many of us older Fabbers ( I am talking say 50+ who may have children in 20s/30s), may have parents or grandparents who had to either sew or buy secondhand because they could not afford to do otherwise. My grandmother was a dressmaker and supported her whole family because her husband was too ill to work, and back then (before 1935) there was not a good social welfare system in this country. And my mother could not sew but did sometimes buy secondhand for financial reasons- in her case often furniture. And as a university student I bought secondhand clothing for financial reasons too, as did many of us. Now my older daughter is doing the same, but partly also because she thinks she is helping the environment more with secondhand purchases of clothing and other things like toys for her baby. And the cot, etc.
So I appreciate because of my family history the buying thrift because of being poorer. It makes sense. But feeling poor or not feeling poor is a whole ‘nother field of psychology, is it not?

I get it, Irina. My mother was not in as straightened circumstances as yours was but she did need to economize and she sewed most of my summer clothing and some of her own. I also learned to sew, but never liked it. So I don't want to make my own clothes, either, and only the direst necessity would drive me do so! I admire our sewist members on the forum and know that for some, designing and sewing can be creatively fulfilling but it's not a task I want to take on. I don't think it is terribly economical any more anyway -- so if one were doing it for that reason, the reason is gone.

Your question in the second paragraph is the subject of an essay a student of mine wrote last year. It was nuanced and really interesting. As a. young child, she was poor. They shopped thrift because they had to. Eventually, she got pretty good at "picking" and began to garner compliments for her finds. Now, she is economically better off (though still very far from middle class) and she is still good at finding interesting pieces in the thrift store -- and has even done a bit of reselling to supplement her fairly meagre student's income. But she feels very guilty about this, for exactly the reason you mention. What happens to the little girls who are like the little girl she once was?

I have made my peace with money being made off my donations to Save Mart. They do and always have given money from what they make to the Child Cancer Foundation. That is prominently displayed on the “clothing bins”, but I never thought that everything they made went there, one issue was that many donators did think that. I felt that because I had benefited from other people’s donations since my now 31 y old daughter was a teenager and I could buy formal dresses for a church dance for her very cheap there, then if other people could get something good of mine relatively cheaply that I no longer wanted, but the store also made a profit, I could live with that.

Another option I have considered doing is paying someone to make my clothes. It can be expensive but I know people who do it. I guess in previous days people didn’t have as many clothes and they mended what they had. I grew up in handmade clothes because my aunt was a tailor and my mum liked sewing. It was fun to pick a pattern and material at the fabric shop.
I used to do clothes swaps with friends but people are not always the same size. They do have swap events which I have considered going to and donating to.
I know we can’t change the world but I’m trying to buy less even second hand, perhaps tailor and fix what I have and being more thoughtful when I do need to buy clothes.

Irina I keep thinking about your thread! Here is a link about what happens in Australia and NZ- not all great. The Doonan brothers have this market stitched up ( pun intended) - the NZ one is Tom Doonan mentioned in the article, and at one stage he was also taken to task about poor conditions for his workers which I think has now been sorted.

Jenni NZ, thank you for the article. I’ve learned so much from this discussion!