Current market for secondhand apparel is unregulated & out of control

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Headline Graphic by Hannah Hadley

The idea of reselling clothes seems good to today’s more environmentally conscious consumer. Have any clothes you do not wear anymore? Sell them to somebody who wants them. Want to cut down on clothing waste? Buy second-hand clothing. Want a unique piece? Check out apps like Depop or Poshmark. However, the rise of reselling clothing—especially thrifted clothing—has led to some questions about ethicality regarding resellers. 

If anyone has browsed second-hand apparel sales apps, the first thing they may see is a steep price for something like a used brand-name or vintage shirt. According to magazine Dazed Digital, e-commerce apps allow resellers to set the prices for items by their own discretion, which could create an unregulated market full of lofty price increases. A few days ago, I opened a second-hand shopping app in order to look for a “vintage” Ed Hardy shirt, only to see that the cheapest option was a wrinkled, worn shirt for almost $40—not including shipping.

Another ethical dilemma that comes with reselling clothing is the new phenomena of “resellers” going to thrift stores in order to “thrift” pieces just to resell them. According to The Link newspaper, critics argue that resellers are buying all the quality items from second-hand stores, leaving low-income buyers the leftovers. Unsurprisingly, this contributes to the resale market growing eight times faster than the apparel market, as seen in a 2022 fashion resale market report by online sustainable clothing retailer ThredUp. When people cannot find any quality pieces at their local thrift store, they either have to deal with what they have, buy environmentally damaging fast fashion or go on a resale app and face the steep price markups.

Reselling clothing has even contributed to the price increases at local thrift stores as well. According to Medium, corporate thrift retailers have noticed the spike in used clothing sales and subsequently raised the prices on them in their store. The current demand for second-hand apparel is so high that it has resulted in many resellers buying large quantities of clothing. The Medium said that resellers have contributed to the spike in thrift store prices due to the fact that they purchase a plethora of clothes—more so than the average person. This dilemma also promotes a culture of mass buying, as resellers see an easy way to make a large amount of money due to the small investment and high yields.

Some people may argue that reselling clothes is still ethical as many thrift stores throw massive quantities of unsold clothing away. This is true, according to Reader’s Digest, as nearly 90% of clothing donated is thrown away or sent to textile recycling centers. However, what they fail to realize is many of the clothes being resold are being bought in a manner that is unsustainable in of itself. According to The New York Times, thrift stores actually have seen an uptick in both the donation of fast fashion items and the sales of these clothes. The market for fast fashion is far more environmentally damaging than clothes being sent to textile recycling centers, as fast fashion has seen an uptick in water consumption and the production of microplastics, according to

Others may also argue that reselling clothes is a good way for low-income people to make money. While a good-hearted thought, this could be debated. According to The Week Newspaper, a lot of wealthy individuals are going into thrift stores with the sole purpose of reselling clothing. Since they usually buy out the quality clothes from thrift stores, they appeal more to prospective buyers as compared to someone selling a shirt that they do not want anymore. I do, however, appreciate the sentiment behind this argument.

I do not hate the idea of reselling clothing. In fact, it is a wonderful concept that allows people to have access to items they really want that they might not have been able to get otherwise. In theory, if someone is struggling with finding some decent clothes at their thrift store, they can use apps such as Depop and Poshmark. However, the current market for secondhand apparel is extremely unethical and inflated.

Why should I pay $40 for a name-brand shirt someone wore, tore up and sweat in? The normalization of paying more for something used than something new needs to stop. If resellers truly want to make a profit, they should focus on the long-term and sell multiple pieces at more accessible prices—not make their selections unaffordable and, frankly, unappealing.

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