Five years ago, at the beginning of my personal ethical fashion journey, I committed to only shop at thrift stores because I recognized the many ethical challenges in the garment industry from worker exploitation to tremendous environmental impact. At the time, with a new baby, huge work/life transition for me and my husband, moving homes, etc, I didn’t have the mental capacity or finances to explore what ethical fashion could mean. I only knew that I didn’t want to keep shopping for clothes at Target and that none of the clothes in my closet fit my new post-baby body.
As a young mom, it was challenging to bring my son into a thrift store to spend the amount of time needed to sort through the racks of clothes to find items that fit. Not to mention the challenge of figuring out which of those items were the right style for me! While there are great finds in thrift stores, it takes a good eye and knowledge of exactly what you are trying to find to score the deals. I had mushy mom-brain, so this was not something I had my finger on. Enter online thrifting options.
ThredUp* is based in San Francisco where they focus on creating meaningful jobs in their local economy and help build awareness about sustainable clothing practices and the environment. They work to inspire a new generation of shoppers to think secondhand first.
We use ThredUp* in two different ways.
1- Selling Clothes
First, you can send in good quality clothing that you no longer wear with their clean-out bags – defect-free, on trend, and top brands (hey, Target brands count here!). I found that this was a great option after I had my son and had a lot of business clothing that was in perfect condition but I was no longer wearing. As with most thrift stores, the payout is not particularly high, but I like the peace of mind knowing that clothing will go on to live life in another closet. Learn more about what they accept, how much they pay out, and their consignment program on their website.
Once your clean-out bag has been processed, you receive an e-mail that states what has been purchased at what cost, as well as what has been refused (you can select ‘return assistance’ when ordering your clean out bag if you would like them to send items back that aren’t accepted). You can choose to use the earned money to buy items on ThredUp, cash out via PayPal, or donate to a cause partner. Their current cause partner is Feeding America and these non-profit partners rotate over time.
Now because they are looking for items that will be easy to resell, they typically accept less than 40% of the clothing sent in. Items that are still in great shape but don’t meet the thredUP standards are sold to third party sellers. We e-mailed their team to ask for more description on their third party sellers, but they did not answer our question here (we know, that could mean it’s fishy…). Items that are no longer in wearable condition are passed on to textile recycling partners and upcycled. The proceeds recouped through this process help cover some of the shipping and labor costs incurred for the unaccepted items received. Much of the items sold to their textile recycling partners end up as carpets, pillow stuffing or building insulation.
2- Buying Clothes
When I discovered shopping on ThredUp*, it seemed almost too good to be true. I could target brands I already liked, but secondhand. Searching with an internet filter for size, color, and style was so much more efficient than rummaging through thrift stores. Additionally, they carry children’s clothing, which solves a small piece of the dilemma of an Ethical Kid’s Wardrobe. This was a great way for me to target the holes in my wardrobe and not blow my budget. Anything that doesn’t fit, you can send back with two return options: 1 – free ‘print at home’ return shipping and you accept a ‘store credit’, or 2 – you pay return shipping and the refunded money is returned to your credit card. I generally take the free shipping since I know I will continue to purchase secondhand items for my son as he grows out of his clothing at a scary rate.
I will stress that when you are purchasing secondhand and the prices are lower, there is a tendency to try something on and think ‘that’s good enough’, and find yourself several months down the line donating that item back, or passing it along to a friend. I am very guilty of this and I am actively working to stop this behavior! It is a holdover from a fast fashion mindset. The key is to really know what holes in your wardrobe you are trying to fill and to go with your gut! If you put something on and your first reaction is not 100% positive, take it off and send it back – that item is not for you. Don’t make exceptions – only purchase items that you need and that you feel great wearing! And absolutely NEVER buy something just because it’s cheap or secondhand!
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