Thrifting may be cheap, but it’s not always sustainable

Photo courtesy of Cottonbro, Pexels.

We’ve all heard hyperbolic jokes about college students eating ramen in their dorms and binging Netflix every night instead of spending money to go out, but it seems some of these quips about younger generations’  thriftiness have quantitative support.

In a 2018 survey by the National Retail Federation (NRF), 35% of back-to-college shoppers stated they planned on visiting a “discount store.” The ThredUp 2021 Fashion Resale Report indicated 80% of consumers “were open to purchasing second hand products” and more than 40% of Gen Z and Millennial shoppers bought second hand during 2020. The same report estimated resale would grow 11 times faster than the broader retail clothing sector by 2025.

Overwhelming evidence proves college students are thrifting now more than ever before. The puzzle these numbers can’t solve is why this shift is happening. Every thrifter has their own set of personal reasons, but global circumstances can have an influence as well.

Freshman Savera Zafar spoke about her thrifting hobby. “I go with my friends, I would say, like three times a month,” she estimated. Thrifting can serve as both a social activity and a means for students to refresh their closets without paying too much. “I’ve been looking for good quality but not overpriced shirts.”

Thrift stores are affordable for a large consumer base. The logic is simple, but its effectiveness cannot be denied. “The Ultimate Consignment & Thrift Store Guide” author Carolyn Schneider claims the average discount shoppers find on apparel in thrift stores is over 50% off. Dedicated thrifters who repeat visits to watch an item’s price gradually drop even further are rewarded.

"Many stores offer additional discounts," Schneider said in an interview with DealNews. "If an item does not sell in 30 days, it's marked down an additional 20%, and if it does not sell in 60 days it is marked down another 20%."

Many college students also choose to thrift because it seems sustainable compared to other retail outlets. Thrift store purchases are viewed as diverting used items from the waste stream, giving them second chances instead of sending them to landfills.

What many people don’t realize is that only 10-20% of Goodwill donations are made available for purchase. The rest are sent overseas or become rags and post-consumer fiber. Textile recycling isn’t guilt-free either, as the process is labor — and energy — intensive.

Ramapo students who want to save money and the environment as they update their wardrobes can participate in clothing swaps offered by multiple organizations on campus. Unlike thrift stores, clothing swaps are free and ensure every item finds a good home.

The Women’s Center and LGBTQ+ Services hosts at least one clothing swap each year. Kian Concert, a Ramapo senior and the Student Trans Outreach Coordinator, organized the most recent Trans Day of Fashion. Students were invited to bring their unwanted clothes to the Women’s Center and possibly find replacements.

“Clothing is often inaccessible to a lot of the trans community, especially gender-affirming clothing, so students were able to come in and get armfuls- I had some students walk out buckling under the weight, and they got to wear these outfits instead of… buying fast fashion,” Concert recalled. At the end of the event, he oversaw the donation of leftover pieces to a local charity.

1STEP (Students Together for Environmental Progress) also hosts free clothing swaps and giveaways. Although no one should be shamed for where or how they obtain clothing, these types of events present a comparatively sustainable alternative that simultaneously builds a sense of community on campus.