Intersection of entrepreneurship, activism and looking fly as heck
When Tiffany Fergeson, known on YouTube as tiffanyferg, started posting thrift hauls at 16 years old in 2012, she was one of few amongst her peers doing so. “I don’t remember those being very popular back then,” Fergeson said. “I can’t pinpoint exactly when thrift content started to gain momentum, but I think Emma Chamberlain played a big role in popularizing ‘thrifted style,’ at least among her audience.”
Emma Chamberlain is an influencer amongst an emerging class of teenagers and young adults with some of the biggest sway in their age cohort—amassing over 8 million subscribers on YouTube and nearly 9 million followers on Instagram.
Many of these influencers post funny vlogs and hauls of their latest purchases and some have a focus on fashion specifically.
Ashley, who only goes by her first name or her YouTube handle, bestdressed, has one of the fastest growing channels in the scope of fashion and lifestyle content on YouTube with 3 million subscribers. This year, she attended New York Fashion Week in almost entirely thrifted outfits. In her vlog of the week’s events she explained, “It’s the most unique stuff in my wardrobe, and I also just really wanted somebody to ask who I was wearing and I could tell them I got it for like five dollars at a GoodWill.”
Many creators like Ashley who have a passion for vintage clothing and rummaging through thrift stores often also start their own online stores through apps like Depop, or even on their own website or Instagram page. Whether it be selling their own used clothes, or shopping secondhand for the sake of selling online, many young people have taken to this entrepreneurial spirit.
Sisters Stephanie, Jackie and Caroline Homan acknowledge Ashley and other influencers and brands as inspiration for their Instagram shop SJC Thrift. Stephanie is 26 years old and works in healthcare in Cincinnati, Ohio, Jackie is 24 years old and Style Editor at Jetsetter.com and Caroline is 18 years old in Cincinnati, studying fashion and retail at The Ohio State University. They launched SJC Thrift in March of 2020 to show each of their individual styles and finds from their own cities.
Scrolling through the sisters’ feed (@sjc.thrift on insta), viewers will find high-waisted denim, long dresses, silk button-ups and knit turtlenecks—some of the most sought after styles that trendy teens look for when setting out for a trip to the thrift store, minus the hassle of spending hours examining each rack. When it comes to finding these pieces “I always look for inspiration before a thrifting trip,” Stephanie said. “I’ll check out Instagram for any posts I saved recently and see what’s new from stores and brands I like. I try to strike a balance between searching for specific trends and keeping an eye out for classic, timeless items.”
Known by her first name or brand, There She Goes, Anna is a content creator and vintage shop owner based in Toronto, Canada, who also uses social media to shop, sell and find fashion inspiration. Her YouTube channel provides her 71,000 subscribers with thrift and vintage hauls, styling tutorials and vlogs. In the last few years, Anna has started a vintage shop on Depop, and then shifted to creating her own online store, There She Goes Vintage. All of her pieces in her store draw from inspiration of Parisian lifestyle and fashion.
“I remember starting making thrifting content back in 2015 when thrifting and reselling wasn’t such a massive thing online and I noticed a shift happening sometime around 2017 and more of a shift in 2018 where people started to notice the effects of fast fashion and global warming,” Anna said.
Like Anna and other fashion–conscious young people, the Homan sisters started to learn about the environmental impact of the fashion industry from college courses, reading articles online and watching documentaries like The True Cost—a film comparable to Cowspiracy in its impact converting meat eaters to vegetarians and Blackfish in cancelling Seaworld—which unpacks the harm that the fashion industry makes in the environment and toward its underpaid and overworked factory employees.
“When we shop for ourselves, we try to limit fast fashion and instead go for ethical brands or thrifted clothing that is more sustainable by nature,” Caroline of SJC thrift said. “Thrifting is an awesome way to refresh our wardrobes without buying something new and to give clothes we’ve already worn a second life with someone else.”
Many YouTube and Instagram influencers have also begun to incorporate thrifting into their shopping habits and encourage their followers to do so as well. This surge of eco-friendly shopping prestige has accumulated 3.2 million posts under the hashtag #thrifting and just over 842,000 posts under #thriftfinds. Each post with users showing off their latest and greatest secondhand finds while simultaneously reducing their carbon footprint.
Over ten years after starting her YouTube channel, Tiffany Fergeson has grown to a platform of 546,000 subscribers and creates YouTube videos that dissect elements of internet culture and its greater impact on society—frequently discussing topics including fast fashion, sustainability and consumerism.
“I think it’s overall a good thing,” Fergeson said. “I’d rather thrifting and shopping secondhand be trendy… rather than be something to feel shame over. Especially when you’re young, it’s terrifying to think someone might notice and make fun of you if your clothes are off-brand or not stylish.”
Now, it might even be considered cool to have off-brand clothing, or pieces that are not standardly stylish. Teenagers on Tik Tok post outfit videos showing off clunky boots, cropped polo shirts, newsboy caps, and jackets with grandma-esque embroidery. The strangest pieces are often the most prized finds–and even stranger pieces can be made into something new by getting a little crafty.
Fergeson finds that the trendiness of thrift shopping comes along with conversations about socio-economic class. She said that when she was young, she grew up buying things from consignment and thrift stores and always felt embarrassed. However, a big topic in secondhand fashion is the gentrification of thrift stores.
Middle-class moms that once scoffed at the grit and grime of thrift stores now watch intently as an Etsy resale expert discusses tips on how to find designer items in thrift stores with Hoda and Jenna on the TODAY Show. Instead of finding a new summer wardrobe at Forever 21, their kids may prefer finding unique vintage t-shirts and cropping them by following a Tik Tok DIY tutorial. In most of these cases, these shoppers are popping tags with over twenty dollars in their pocket.
Wealthier areas are turning thrift stores into a more luxurious shopping experience with the additions of Goodwill boutiques. These stores hold inventory of designer and high end brands selected from the batches of donations from Goodwill centers. Instead of getting thrown into the ring with thousands of other items in the megastores with fluorescent lighting and dusty fitting rooms, these pieces get a more glamorous second life. The smaller, curated, and more expensive boutiques attract an older audience that does not have the same ‘hunting for gems’ mentality as younger thrifty shoppers.
Anna said, “My experience for a Goodwill boutique has been great but I personally prefer regular Goodwills since they have a lot more to choose from and the prices are lower and the stores are a lot larger.”
These boutiques started popping up in 2013 and grew alongside the spike in the popularity of shopping second hand via internet culture. This growth has not impacted the standard Goodwill donation store besides limiting the designer supply.
Jackie finds consistency in her Goodwill shopping. She said that the stores typically have a few racks of slightly more expensive designer items and the rest of the clothing remains affordable.
“I personally haven’t noticed price increases over time at the stores we typically shop at, but there are certain types of items that are harder to find because they’re trendy—like Levi’s “mom jeans,” for example. I think those used to be pretty abundant in thrift stores, and now they’re more of a rare find. But pricing at stores like Goodwill seems consistent to me…I’ve found that New York donation-based stores sometimes have prices that are higher than those in Ohio, which makes sense given the overall higher cost of living in New York.”
Stores like Goodwill have standardized prices across their stores, but have the ability to change them independently. This means that in the future stores could raise their prices based on the demand of their products, even if they are a nonprofit.
Anna said that it is up to the retailer to keep prices as low as possible.
“I don’t think the issue is with the consumers massively purchasing at thrift stores…in my opinion, it starts with the thrift stores that need to make prices more affordable for the low-income earners, as I do see a huge spike in prices at thrift stores. The prices are almost the same as purchasing them brand new.”
Jackie and her sisters take these issues into consideration when cultivating their store. Above all, they aim to make their clothing accessible to shoppers and to be aware of their impact in the resale market.
Jackie said that this nuanced consciousness is important because “…environmental issues are intricately tied to social justice issues. Because the increase in people shopping at thrift stores over fast fashion is fairly new, it’s difficult to say what the class implications are, but I do think it is important for us to monitor any ramifications because overall, we hope to make a positive contribution through our store.”
Fergeson believes that while the trendiness of thrifting on social media raises questions about class and privilege, the influx is doing more good than harm. She said, “I understand the frustrations of people who thrift out of necessity because they can’t afford new, more expensive clothes, versus rich people who thrift for style only. But considering the amount of clothing that gets sent to landfills every day, I think there’s more than enough to go around.”
Carly Swanson is a junior journalism major who scours Pinterest for eco-friendly fashion statements. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.