In a world driven by fast fashion, thrifting should be our saving grace. However, second-hand shopping is quickly being taken over by upsell culture. “Thrift store gentrification” is a phenomenon in which affluent shoppers voluntarily buy merchandise from second-hand clothing stores like Goodwill and Salvation Army to resell those same items at much higher prices. When this happens, Goodwill and other thrift stores raise their own prices to meet the demands of their consumers, essentially defeating the purpose of buying second-hand items in the first place.

Why is this a problem?

The main purpose of thrift stores and Goodwills was originally to both provide jobs for poor and disabled people while also providing a place for immigrants to find clothes and become more “Americanized.” As time went on, wearing second-hand clothes went from being a sign of poverty to being chic as more people caught onto the thrill of finding vintage pieces at low prices. 

Now, in the 21st century, thrifting is not only trendy, but is promoted as a form of recycling. Nowadays, shoppers don’t even need to leave their homes to find a vintage bargain. Online shops like The RealReal (an authenticated luxury consignment store) and Depop make it possible to shop second-hand on your phone. 

All of this sounds great! Recycling clothes, easy access, erasure of stigmatization, what could possibly be the problem?

Well, the original purpose of thrift stores was to serve low-income families. Now, with thrifting becoming “trendy” with the rise of YouTubers, TikTokers, and other vloggers, thrift stores have become a $14.4 billion industry. 

Say you’re a college student with a Depop shop. You list clothes you haven’t worn in a few years. It’s a great way to make a quick $25, selling a homecoming dress from sophomore year. Then you think of hitting up a Goodwill to find some basics at cheap prices that’ll fit your budget. You find a flannel being sold for $5. Then it hits you–Forever21 sells shirts just like these for $15 or more. Why not do the same thing? So you take the shirt home, upsell it on Depop, and boom. You’re in business. 

This is exactly what thrift store gentrification describes. The original demographic for thrift stores is being driven out by more affluent shoppers hoping to make their own money or fit in with current trends. 

Second-Hand Turned Luxury

An extreme example of the thrift store gentrification phenomenon is Patrick Matamoros. Matamoros is a vintage t-shirt dealer living in New York. In an interview with HYPEBEAST, he talks about how he made ends meet when first moving to New York by selling his own t-shirts. On his first day, Matamoros made over $400. As Matamoros says, “There’s the dealers that are in it for money, and then the dealers that are in it because they love it.” Matamoros puts himself in the latter category. 

On top of curating vintage t-shirts rummaging through flea markets and thrift shops, Matamoros customizes the shirts by distressing them and staining with bleach. He claims he sometimes goes overboard with distressing and sometimes even needs to repair the shirts before reselling.

“If you’re passionate about something, if you really care about something, eventually people are going to notice.”

Patrick Matamoros

He works on a single t-shirt for up to a month. What began as a last-resort to keep food on the table turned into a thriving business. Matamoros now regularly sells to rapper Kanye West, fashion designer Jerry Lorenzo (with whom he has a collection), and others. When describing his process, Matamoros says “People think it’s just like ‘Oh buy a t-shirt at a thrift store for a couple of bucks and then put it on a rack.’ Maybe that’s what some dealers do, but it’s not what I do.” 

The most expensive piece Matamoros sold was a $17,000 sweatshirt.

A simple sweatshirt, usually valued at about $30, now a luxury item far beyond any average person’s budget. 

Where Do We Go From Here?

It’s hard to say. We live in an age of consumerism and social media. On the one hand, we have second-hand shops to recycle, reuse, and donate clothing, promoting sustainable fashion. On the other, we are bombarded day after day by fast fashion sites like Wish, SHEIN, Romwe, and Forever 21 that promote affordable, trendy clothing items that, while great for your wallet, are made possible through fast fashion. High-fashion runway designs are replicated at low costs and mass produced–usually at low quality to keep up with the speed of consumer demands. 

With that said, you may think “Why not just buy from sustainable brands?” While sustainability is a great goal, it can get pricey. Notable sustainable brands like Reformation or tentree’s prices range anywhere from $60 to $300 for t-shirts, jeans, dresses and more. Because these clothes are built to last and are made from eco-friendly materials, their prices can skyrocket.

With all of that in mind, shopping may seem like an impossible ethical conundrum. 

So what do you do? How do you avoid breaking the bank on a pair of jeans while also avoiding sweatshops and fast fashion? Well, the simple answer is: research. 

Luckily, there are a decent amount of sustainable brands at more affordable prices. You may be surprised at how many you know and already shop at. 

Levi’s

Levi’s is an American clothing company known for its denim jeans. They use eco-friendly and recycled material in their clothing.

ThreadUP

ThreadUP is an online thrift store with prices as low as $5 for anything from dresses to accessories. All items are second-hand and at discounted prices.

H&M Conscious

The H&M Conscious collection features products made with at least 50% sustainable materials like organic cotton or recycle polyester.

What are your thoughts? What sustainable fashion brands do you love? Let us know down in the comments.

This article originally published on GREY Journal.