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Who Gets to Be Sustainable? Exploring Second-Hand Fashion and its Ever-Increasing Prices

  • Culture

By Rebecca Marjoribanks, BA Social Anthropology and East Asian Studies

Charity shops, Ebay, Depop, and Vinted are among some of the ways you can buy clothing second-hand. Most people are influenced by the low prices, the chance to find rare and fashionable items, and the large influence of social media. Second-hand fashion is known by many as sustainable and arguably the morally correct way to buy new clothes. However, criticising those who shop using fast fashion can be problematic as thrifting is not always an accessible industry. This is due to the gentrification of charity shops, extra fees on buyers and sellers, as well as limits on size-inclusivity. 

The gentrification of second-hand clothing is clear when taking a scroll through Depop or Vinted. Using these platforms to find fashionable pieces on a budget has become so popular that some sellers bulk buy items in charity shops. They then proceed to price them at two or three times the original cost. Of course, not all sellers do this, but a notable amount contributes to this gentrification, perhaps best known as ‘Depop Girlies’. 

Over the years, due to the sharp increase in interest, charity shops have also upped their prices, making these stores inaccessible for people on lower incomes who depend on the shops to sell cheap, quality clothing. As a result, people turn to the world of red stickers and sale tags offered by high street brands. Who should we blame for this? The middle-class ‘entrepreneurs’ who are bulk buying from charity shops (which still contributes to overconsumption, whether second-hand or not, as unsold items end up in the charity shops again, or in landfills) and selling them at extortionate prices online.

Certain charity shops have elevated themselves to ‘boutiques’ – hand-picking clothing from donations and charging higher prices due to their new bougie status. It seems charity shops have been overtaken by capitalistic endeavours to appeal to those who will award them with the most income. Once again, forcing their original customers to make ‘immoral’ shopping choices.

In addition, many plus-sized people have shared their experiences when buying second-hand, and they are often faced with limited choices in charity shops and online, compared to people of smaller sizes. This can make thrifting at charity shops, or shopping on Vinted and Depop, an unpleasant experience for people who have little in their size. It can be even more disheartening when their experience doesn’t always match that of social media influencers who share numerous videos of their successful trips. 

Buying second-hand pieces online is also becoming more and more expensive due to excess fees charged by companies. On Vinted, for example, not only do you pay for the clothing item, but you are also charged a ‘buyer protection’ fee as well as shipping costs, which are rarely under £2. Therefore, a £5 item on Vinted will roughly cost a buyer up to £9 after fees have been added, making sustainable fashion even more inaccessible for many who cannot afford this. It’s especially ridiculous when these items are being bought out of charity shops and sold on online platforms. 

“The government’s ‘side-hustle’ tax is just another addition to the mounting expenses on buyers and sellers of second-hand fashion. It makes one wonder about the future of sustainable fashion both environmentally and financially”

To top it all off, the government has recently introduced the ‘side hustle’ tax (try not to laugh at the name –  it’s hard). This tax will affect those with undeclared income if it reaches an earning of £1,000 a year. This means those wanting to participate in sustainable clothing by giving unwanted clothes a new life are being taxed for their efforts. Instead of taxing the rich in this country (some on over 100k a year!) the government has resorted to taxing individuals who could potentially make a humble £1K annually on Vinted. This adds another layer to the inaccessibility of second-hand fashion, which now sees inflated prices in shops, inflated prices of items online, excess buyer fees and taxes on sellers. 

Overall, due to the popularity of thrifting, buying second-hand is becoming a much less viable alternative to fast fashion. Of course, it is ultimately more sustainable than fast fashion, however, we must acknowledge that there are layers to the not-so-obvious and not-so-easy choice presented by the Depop Girlies. The government’s ‘side-hustle’ tax is just another addition to the mounting expenses on buyers and sellers of second-hand fashion. It makes one wonder about the future of sustainable fashion both environmentally and financially. 

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