If you aren’t aware already, ‘thrift flipping’ is the newest Internet trend, with over 704 million views on TikTok. Right from Youtube DIYs to Instagram reels, all the ‘it’ girls are suddenly exposing their intrinsic creative sides by converting an old dad shirt into a plaid co-ord set with minimal supplies from the craft store. While this trend is gaining mass acceptance and seems benevolent in the long run, it would be rather naive of us to view this as the only side to the coin. Is there a far graver consequential social cost to saving a few bucks for your quarantine pet project? Let’s find out.
First of all, What does thrift-flip even mean?
Thrift-flipping is the process of purchasing used or pre-loved clothes at nominal prices and then reworking them to create a unique wardrobe. Fashion enthusiasts started documenting the entire process on TikTok in a mere 15-second video and gave rise to the biggest trend in modern times resulting in a 50% surge in the secondhand market ever seen since 2015. According to various fashion forecasting agencies, the online resale and thrifting business is set to inflate over 400% by the year 2026.
There are several factors in play behind the popularity of thrift-flip. The biggest factor being quarantine boredom, which gave people a lot of extra time to browse through their closets and earn a monetary incentive by selling the surplus. Another reason would be influencers shaming the fast-fashion culture and promoting online thrift stores as the ‘new cool’ instead. The ease of buying and selling with free mobile applications or Instagram stores also added to the entire rage.
While it seems environmentally sustainable on the outside, it is highly debatable to call this fast-fashion alternative an ethical process because of the following reasons:
1. Inequitable for Lower Income Groups
Charity and thrift stores were originally created for people coming from low socio-economic groups as these stores exhibited standard clothes at bargain prices. Now with the rise in popularity of thrifting among the middle or upper class, stores are now lifting their prices to suit the new, more affluent buyers. This supplants the needs of their primary consumers with lower income thereby, deepening the rift between the classes.
2. The Gentrification of Hand-Me-Downs
It might seem that the rise of thrifting as a cultural shift would be an important step towards generalising the trend for people belonging to all income groups. However, we cannot simply ignore the instances when people were shamed for not purchasing the latest styles at a retail store. The stigma associated with buying hand-me-downs cannot be easily wiped off by the recent rebranding of thrifting as a contemporary trend. This somewhere reiterates the fact that almost anything is tolerable if it’s done by the upper class. Be it the acceptance of the Gucci grass-stained denim or the Givenchy distressed sweatshirt, it’s evident that people with money make trends.
3. The Outrageous Re-sale Cost
Apart from making tutorials about these thrift finds, some people have also started selling their ‘flipped’ creations online. These influencers raid the cream section at a thrift store, purchasing the finds in bulk at throwaway prices. Later, they upcycle the garments and create a buzz among their followers through social media contests. People love to participate in online auctions and are ready to shell out as much as five times the original cost of the garment. This seemingly benign practice is ultimately taking away from low-income communities. Thrifting, as a process, is not corrupt but profiting off something that people need in order to preserve their quality of life is immoral and dwells on classist ideals.
4. The Untoward Return of Fat Shaming
When thrift flippers are sourcing clothes for their designs, they tend to purchase garments that are five times oversized in order to facilitate easy alteration. This, in turn, becomes a huge predicament for plus-sized individuals who struggle to find their sizes anyway. Other than that, the creators are evidently judgemental as they show the ‘before’ version or the oversized garments in a negative light. This has an abrogating impact on young viewers who are conditioned to view larger individuals as unhealthy, unappealing and laughable. As the second-hand industry continues to thrive, it is important to maintain receptivity and accessibility for all because isn’t fashion ultimately supposed to make you feel good?