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Gen Z Questions the Ethics of Thrifting and Resale

Whether motivated by a desire to lessen their environmental impact, interest in vintage styles or simple thrift, consumers have embraced secondhand shopping like never before.

In a report published last June, online reseller ThredUp estimated the total secondhand market—including both resale and traditional thrift and donation—could grow to $64 billion by 2024, up nearly 130 percent from 2019’s $28 billion. By 2029, it projected the resale market would reach $44 billion, surpassing fast fashion. In the same year, it estimated the traditional thrift and donation market would total $36 billion.

Though the secondhand market is booming, some Gen Zers on social media have pushed back, particularly against those who buy cheap items at thrift stores, only to sell them at a markup on resale platforms.

Depop user @babyplanet444, with 299 items sold and 5,768 followers, does just this. Her prices run the gamut, from $18 sweater vests to $130 for a “super rare vintage hysteric glamour woodstock hippie girl tee.” When she posted a video on TikTok boasting of her latest thrift shop haul in December, however, a tweet mocking her soon picked up steam on Twitter.

“Yes what a great job to go gut a thrift store of any cute sh** it may have to resell it for probs double the price on Depop :D,” user @v4mpgrl wrote. The tweet was liked more than 73,000 times.

Some have likened the process to gentrification, arguing that more affluent consumers shopping at thrift stores drives up prices for those who shop there out of necessity. TikTok user @walmart.jenny.humprey, pushed back on the idea that thrift stores are only for the less fortunate, however, calling it “classist as hell.”

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“Depop is not why prices are going up,” she said in a video with more than 45,000 likes. “Reselling has been going on forever. Prices are going up because of corporate greed and because it’s expensive to run a store.”

The idea that Gen Z will abandon thrifting is suspect, not just because social media buzz hardly means something is “canceled,” but also because the vast body of evidence shows they are more likely to shop resale than their predecessors. According to ThredUp’s 2020 report, Gen Zers are adopting secondhand fashion faster than any other age group, with 40 percent in 2019 saying they bought secondhand apparel, footwear or accessories.

Goodwill’s e-commerce site hits $1B in sales

While online players like Depop and ThredUp have bloomed in recent years, one of the most iconic secondhand organizations has seen its own e-commerce channel flourish as well.

A man photographs a pair of Nike shoes at Goodwill of Orange County’s shopgoodwill warehouse in Santa Ana, Calif.
A man photographs a pair of Nike shoes at Goodwill of Orange County’s shopgoodwill warehouse in Santa Ana, Calif. Goodwill of Orange County/Brocoff Photography

Established by Goodwill of Orange County in 1999 and supported by 129 local Goodwill sellers, surpassed $1 billion in sales Thursday. The milestone arrived a little more than three years after the site hit the $500 million sales mark. Last year alone, it recorded $171.3 million in sales, a nearly 22 percent improvement over the previous year. According to Goodwill of Orange County, the site receives more than 21 million unique page views each week and currently has more than 2.4 million registered customers.

“This monumental sales milestone solidifies’s place among top online secondhand sites and demonstrates the desire of today’s online shopper to find retail with meaning,” Nicole Suydam, president and CEO of Goodwill of Orange County, said in a statement. “Purchases made on the site support workforce development programs, job placement services, and educational opportunities for individuals in communities across the country. This $1 billion in sales represents millions of lives changed.”

For the 129 Goodwill organizations that list and sell on the site, more than 90 percent of an item’s final sales price goes back to its local community to support local job seekers’ specific needs. Last year, six Goodwill sellers topped more than $5 million in annual sales, and 48 Goodwill sellers earned more than $1 million.