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Thrifting: The Revival of an Age-Old Love Affair
What used to be some select few audiences of a rather niche club, driven by vintage aesthetics of pre-loved books, records of forgotten bands and retro-chic clothing, the thrifting culture has now broadened its boundaries.
25 November, 2020

As consumers become increasingly conscious of their purchasing habits, the growing resale market helps navigate their way during a pandemic, restoring faith on a local level to customers; all amidst a harsh economic climate and a heightened need for mindful market practices

With uncertainty looming over everyone’s mind, in a damp, stagnant manner, the luxury of interactive shopping would be counted by many, as the least of anyone’s concerns. The well-tailored visual of a leisurely stroll, amongst London’s nicest boutiques, while sipping on a freshly whipped brew, has been swiftly replaced by the dreary plodding of fingers, back and forth on a label’s website, fine-tuned through various categories of style, budget and relevance. Hardly a compensation for the missing thrill of spontaneous finds and glamorous window displays.

Despite not looking as bleak as a still from The Hunger Games, with the recurrent lockdowns and curfews imposed on a moment’s notice in almost all metropolitan cities, the shopping experience has been reshaped to fit into more restricted moulds, with customers going in, already knowing exactly what to buy, or buying only what they need. There is also the obvious lack of events and occasions thereby ruling out many spontaneous buys. Seemingly, these consequences would only affect high street fashion and luxury brands, however, bookshops, restaurants, furnished goods, and all items that require our physical presence and attention when being purchased, have severely suffered. But just how virtual can our shopping experience become?

Yet, in a typical phoenix rising from the ashes kind of way, the 2020 pandemic has allowed for new shopping practices to be adopted such as thrifting. What used to be some select few audiences of a rather niche club, driven by vintage aesthetics of pre-loved books, records of forgotten bands and retro-chic clothing, the thrifting culture has now broadened its boundaries. Localised stocks of clothes, accessories, books,  kitchen appliances, skateboards and even PlayStations can now be found at such stores. Previously, there was a monopoly of certified sellers like eBay and Depop, however, the recent localisation of thrifting has helped transfer the agency into the hands of the sellers themselves. The revival has made items not only more accessible but naturally more relevant since consumers end up buying what their friends already owned or recommended. The stigmatisation of hand-me-downs has in turn been replaced by an imperative need to create, lend and share, aided by the need of the hour to limit expenditure and waste. 

My batchmates at King’s regularly shared stories on their Instagram and Twitter handles, selling books/textbooks, dorm posters, fairy lights, study lamps, rugs and everything else that made their journey as a fresher a little less intimidating. This custom is certainly not new, but till now college students would usually sell their items on a Facebook or WhatsApp group. Yet, with the ongoing pandemic, there has been a spiked growth in the demand for such items, especially as students can’t go themselves to pick out the best options.

Similarly, another example of upcycling is the use of websites reselling college books (like worldofbooks.com), that has seen steady growth during this time when e-books became the only options offered by libraries. An option that was certainly not preferred by students who found it more helpful to buy second-hand books in comparison to glaring at a screen for endless hours. These buying practices come at a time when the general idea of creative reuse – recycle and upcycle is normalised, as witnessed by booklovers across the globe who took on the trending  ‘‘book challenge’’ which required participants to exchange ten of their used books and send them by post to their friends. 

Moreover, London is not the only city where thrifting has become a popular practice. In Amman, Jordan, thrifting of books, accessories, guitars and skateboards are extremely trendy. What is rather interesting in these cities, is the fact that despite increased sentimental value in proportion to their vintage status, the items are sold at relatively cheap prices. In Delhi, India, the trend of online thrift shops is new but has caught on feverishly amongst various social media platforms, mostly because of the current mall restrictions and the need to make some extra money. From ethnic clothing to trendy sportswear, buyers have an array of options to choose from, with new people joining the online thrifting experience every day. 

With time spent on our mobile phones steadily increasing, apps like Tik Tok and Instagram have a more sustained and attentive audience than they did before. Therefore, making their reach even broader. Thus, the use of such platforms makes advertising for online thrift stores cheap and very efficient. Moreover, the whole process is simple and direct without the commission of an online retail website like eBay, with shipping charges being considerably less, and customs tax being redundant since thrift stores are run by locals 

These trends indicate that shoppers are trying to be as self-reliant as possible, which is by no means surprising. Local businesses are on a steady rise, as sellers try to make the most of their time in lockdown while finding innovative ways to make earnings. Be it homemade food or self-designed jewellery, there is a growing use of social media for advertising in an economically advantageous way, allowing businesses to develop despite travel bans and lower GDP.  

At a time when countless jobs have been affected and a growing global consciousness of wasteful expenditures spans people of all age groups, the resale market has garnered its due attention. Even high-end labels like Gucci are taking notice of the booming second-hand market and thus partnering with luxury consignment stores. Also, the idea that sustainable shopping represents a niche market is currently being challenged by the revival of the second-hand industry. More and more consumers are becoming increasingly mindful about companies utilizing eco-friendly production methods and upcycling natural materials, therefore thrifting seems appealing to a growing majority of people.

Thrifting is a local, handy and convenient method for sellers to make extra money while clearing out their closets and dorm rooms, and a way for buyers to find authentic and perhaps vintage goods. It’s this change of agency – from online consignment stores to locally-based shops in neighbourhoods –  paired with the rise of economic consciousness and sustainable buying practices that ensure the thrifting trend will be here to stay even after the pandemic will end. 

English Literature, Year 3

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