Seattle’s New Teenage Thrifting Culture

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Fashion trends are constantly shifting and there seems to be a new favorite clothing store amongst teenagers every year. Brandy Melville, Urban Outfitters, and Pacsun have all had their moments of being the most popular attire, but now there’s a new place that Seattle teens are obsessing over: Goodwill. 

It’s hard to say how this “trend” began. Thrift clothing has been around for decades, maybe even centuries. One organization that has provided thrifted items since 1902 is Goodwill, the prime example of what thrifting represents. This nonprofit takes donations from all who are willing to give and sell those items to anyone who needs them at extremely low prices. Goodwill also trains and employs people who are met with barriers of all kinds surrounding employment. This is exactly what thrifting culture is about. Recycling clothing in order to reduce fast fashion and be environmentally conscious, while simultaneously providing underserved communities with both employment and inexpensive clothing options. Thrifting is about granting opportunities to people, especially those who are vulnerable or in need, and this is what Goodwill does. 

For the past couple of years, there has been growing interest in thrift, consignment, and vintage clothing amongst mainstream teenage culture. Thrifting was well on the rise before Covid, but in the past 8 or so months, aided by viral Tik Tok clothing trends, this interest only grew, and now, it isn’t uncommon to encounter a teenager adorned only in clothing they got from a thrift store. This is very prevalent in Seattle and The Northwest School. 

Teenagers developing an interest in thrifting and Goodwill is not necessarily an issue. There are many aspects of this that are quite positive. Firstly, by buying clothing from Goodwill, anyone who shops there is supporting the organization financially. The majority of other thrift stores that teenagers may shop at, such as the plethora of options on The Ave in Seattle’s University District, are small businesses that need to make sales in order to stay afloat. So by thrifting rather than shopping in their normal retail stores, Seattle teenagers are giving money to more deserving, vulnerable businesses and people. Another reason that the popularity of thrifting is positive is due to its environmental impacts. Fast fashion and normal retail stores are major contributors to climate change, responsible for over 8% of climate impacts globally. Teenagers who subscribe to fashion trends and often buy new clothing or reinvent their wardrobe are, in doing so, contributing to climate change. By shopping for recycled, previously owned clothing, either at Goodwill or other stores, teenagers are reducing their environmental impact. 

That all being said, the rising popularity of thrifting in white, affluent communities can be problematic. Stores like Goodwill are created in order to provide affordable options to people who need them, and while these stores should be open to everyone, it can become a problem if these cheap options are co-opted by people who could afford to shop at other places. Of course, we all would prefer to buy the cheapest option to get a deal, but some people cannot afford anything else. Buying up the inventory at inexpensive thrift stores, as a person with money, is taking an opportunity away from someone who needs it. It is also taking advantage of those who are donating their clothing in the first place. This is specific to nonprofits, rather than normal thrift or consignment boutiques. But if someone donates their clothes to Goodwill, for example, they are expecting those items to go to someone who really needed them and needed them at that price. If that clothing is bought by someone who could have afforded it at twice the price, or even worse, bought and resold at a higher price by someone who isn’t in need of money, then that is disrespecting the organization’s goals and purpose. 

When it comes to this issue, the lines are extremely blurred. There is no quota of who can and cannot shop at Goodwill stores, and this is not to say if you shop at thrift stores, you are a bad person. What we can learn from this is to act in moderation. If you shop at Goodwill, maybe limit the items you buy to keep yourself in check and make sure enough items are left for others. If you participate in fast fashion, ensure that every item you buy, you intend to keep for over a year. It is important that we recognize the consequences of our actions, both positive and negative, even if the action is just shopping for clothes. 


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