Thrifting is gentrified, so clothing shoppers should think sustainability, industry voices say


Clothing rack at local thrift store located in East York.
Clothing rack at local thrift store located in East York (Jessica Lopez/Toronto Observer) 

Clothing is constantly evolving. Whether you’re team oversized or team crop-top, styles frequently fall in and out of fashion.

However, the most noticeable recent change in the clothing industry isn’t design-focused, it’s money-focused: consumers’ wallets are shrinking. In April of this year, inflation in Toronto increased by 6.8 per cent year-over-year, making it hard for Canadians to afford basic necessities like clothing, according to Statistics Canada.

The more affordable option has historically been to shop at thrift stores like The Salvation Army and Value Village. Thrift stores like the Salvation Army have been helping economically ever since the early 1900s by helping the increasing amount of immigrants during that time period.

Now, thrift stores are becoming less affordable. In April, popular second-hand chain, Value Village, faced backlash due to their price increases. What was once the more affordable way to purchase clothing is now very popular, and thrift stores are hiking their prices.

The resale and consignment industry now includes global online platforms like, Depop, Poshmark and ThredUp, a popular consignment store, which has sold over 65 million garments for their “resale revolution,” according to Retail Insider, with sellers often buying items for low prices and reselling them for more on the site.

Despite this, independent shops in East Toronto are trying to combat the clothing-price and consumerism crisis. 

Quality over quantity at Papa Love Vintage

Papa Love Vintage on Carlaw Avenue is a small vintage shop owned by Kez Garber. At Papa Love, their vintage clothing is curated, whereas thrift shops offer a less-edited selection of secondhand items. Thrift-store items are generally inexpensive, and it takes time to find hidden gems.

At vintage shops, owners or staff take time to find high-quality items, clean them and designate the price, which would not be as low as prices in thrift stores, according to the Vintage Around Town Guide.

Papa Love Vintage sign
Papa Love Vintage sign outside of their studio at 276 Carlaw Ave. (Jessica Lopez/Toronto Observer)

Although vintage clothing might be more expensive initially, the quality and sustainability make the difference from fast-fashion retail stores and even thrift stores, where quality can vary, Gerber said.

“It really depends on how you define affordability,” Gerber said. “Like, if you’re looking to buy a handmade t-shirt that’s super high quality and lasts you three years but costs 10 times more than a t-shirt at ZARA, technically, if you do that [cycle] month to month, that’s not going to be affordable. But over time, that [process] would be affordable and sustainable.”

Stretch Thrift Store, located on Pape Avenue, stated in an interview earlier this year that, in order to price their products, they have to remain competitive with bigger companies like Value Village. However, they want to make their prices affordable for their local customers. At Stretch, they gather intel on prices at larger brands like Value Village and compare their prices to theirs. However, they always think of the quality of items passed on to Stretch and how affordable it should be to their local customers.

‘We are part of the problem’

Thrift stores have become especially popular with younger millennials and Gen Z shoppers. Many social-media influencers, who specialize in fashion, cater their content to thrifting.

Letitia Kiu is a Toronto-based content creator who has been curating content specifically about thrift-store hauls and DIY projects.

“We [influencers] are part of the problem,” Kiu said. Kiu said the young demographic of shoppers in thrift stores and the rise of popularity in thrifting are part of the reason prices have increased since she first started in high school. The privilege and disposable incomes of these young shoppers also plays a part.

“Whether it’s class or race, we tend to the people that are more privileged, [and we] tend to just take up space more and more. Or we’re not aware of how much we [content creators] take up space. I think it trickles down to the same thing, where neighbourhoods get gentrified, and places like thrift stores get gentrified.”

Letitia Kiu’s Youtube Playlist for her thrifting content (Jessica Lopez/Toronto Observer)

Kiu said that because the fast-fashion industry is so prominent, people are consuming more than what’s being produced in brand stores, and it’s starting to influence the buying process in thrift stores.

“We’re living in such a fast-moving society. With trend cycles moving so quickly, it’s easier for us to say, ‘I’m going thrifting, and it’s eco-friendly,’” Kiu said. “ But, it’s incredibly easier for us now to dispose of our clothing. We consume in ways that are so different from other generations. Even though it’s secondhand, the lifetime of clothing we purchase is much, much further than what it used to be, so I don’t know if it’s truly eco-friendly.” 

Kiu is unsure of a possible solution to help with affordable clothing, but said sustainability should be a focus. 

“In an ideal world, the biggest solution would be to produce less clothing. For companies, too, there are too many clothing brands existing in the world. If we could just make better quality items and focus better on wearing clothing for a lifetime versus a quarter of a year, that can be a possible solution.” Kiu said. 

Shoppers unsure, but optimistic about the future of affordable clothing

Millions of influencers on social platforms like TikTok and Instagram create thrift-centric content on their page to promote affordable clothing. On Instagram, with the tag #ThriftToronto, 13.6 thousand will show up. On TikTok, using the same hashtag, 1.4 million results will show up. The amount of thrift-centric content being created and consumed on social media it’s become one of the most prominent reasons thrift stores are increasing their prices.

“I think thrifting becoming really popular is a bad thing for the people that actually need to shop at thrift stores for all their clothes,” Spencer Rae, 21, a shopper at YSM Double Take located on Gerrard Street East, said. “The people that can’t afford retail price clothes shop here [thrift stores] ’cause it’s affordable. But, if you have people that can afford retail prices coming here and taking even more and more inventory, supply will go down and demand will go up.”

Deloitte, an international professional services network, said younger generations like Gen Z like thrifting because many of them grew during the 2007 – 2009 recession. Many of them grew up with financial hardships, so they strongly connect with thrifting.

“With a surge in popularity of bulk buying and re-selling thrifted clothes for arguably outlandish costs, I think the biggest concern is that lower-income consumers, who already struggle to find clothing in the thrift market, may end up with fewer affordable options.”  said Randi Benson, 21, a shopper at Value Village located on Danforth Avenue.

Tips on how to reverse consumption and gentrification

Gerber’s tip to help reverse the high consumption of clothing is to focus more on the quality of your clothing. Although quality clothing can cost more than the average thrift item, she said it will pay off over time because the quality should sustain a longer closet time before the need to repurpose or replace it.

Kiu suggests repurposing some of the clothes in your closet. On her YouTube channel, Kiu alters some of her old thrifted clothes to create a new way to wear them. By altering old clothes, she shows you can revamp your style, save more space in your closet, and save more money than buying the same style in a store.

There are other ways you can build a more sustainable wardrobe that can reduce the consumption of new clothes. Even the way you wash your clothes can help maintain their quality. Sustain Your Style has more tips and resources for those rethinking what they keep and add to their closets.

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Posted: Dec 20 2022 12:30 am
Filed under: News