The Two Major Problems The Secondhand Industry Is Facing (That We Have The Power To Solve!)

Last Updated on March 31, 2022

Editors note: I am beyond excited to start a new chapter here on My Green Closet. This platform is expanding to now include writers from around the world and I can’t wait to bring you more content, stories, perspectives, reviews, deep dives, and guides!

This piece is by Jazzmine Raine, someone I love following and learning from, and am thrilled to have as a contributor here. Over the next 2 weeks (this is only part 1 of 2!) Jazz is digging into what effect the growing interest in secondhand fashion is having on people and the environment, what actually happens to our old clothes, and how we can each help create a more sustainable clothing cycle! 🔄

Accessing clothing, let alone ethical and sustainable clothing, in the midst of the pandemic last year was kind of a headache.

My hours at work were reduced. My anxieties had increased. My family just had gone through two months of a severe lockdown in Chandigarh, India where we couldn’t even access basic food, let alone leave the house.

You can imagine how uncomfortable and weird it was to think about “needing” clothing (I’m sure this resonates with most of you). But, when you’re sweating through your two pairs of pajamas in the heat of an Indian summer, irritation only fuels your need to buy.

This led me to exploring the trend of Instagram thrift shops popping up across India, and becoming quite obsessed with the experience.

Like the thrill of accessible fast fashion for mainstream consumers, I was constantly reminding myself to check Instagram whenever a thrift account I follow was releasing a new drop. 

I turned notification alerts on so I wouldn’t miss out on killer finds. I found myself browsing items that were so unrealistic for the climate I live in. 

And then…BOOM, it hit me.

I had fallen into the loop. 

The consumer cycle of wants turning into needs turning into overconsumption.

Consumption comes in many forms, both tangible and intangible. 

Think fashion vs. media. Shopping vs. browsing. 

Living in a digital revolution where marketing and ads are constantly being thrown at us on every platform, the impact and influence it has on our lives, even if we think we are “woke”, will loop us in at some point no matter what. The loop is there to make us feel worthy only if we consume, and it takes deep consciousness to escape the cycle.

In the midst of a lockdown when you are lacking connection, community, and freedom, retail therapy quickly becomes an excuse to buy happiness and ignore our most natural needs for cultivating joy.

As a self-aware individual on a continuous conscious living journey, I was able to snap out of it. I identified I was now looking for secondhand items that I did not need, which led me to dive deeper into understanding and studying the actual cycle of the secondhand market (and how sustainable it really is).

And once I started, I couldn’t stop.

Why? Because this hazardous and addictive consumer cycle is actually what is damaging the secondhand industry.

To give you a summary, here are the two major issues I’m seeing:

1. The demand for secondhand goods from affluent markets (aka millennials on nostalgic treasure hunts) is causing a rise in price for secondhand goods making them inaccessible for people who need them most: lower income and marginalized communities.

That’s right—we’re addicted to the past, to 90s style, to oversized sweaters and flood pants. And because it’s more sustainable (and also just way cooler) to find these items secondhand, middle to upper class consumers have inflated the price of secondhand items and are swapping these quality pieces with their cheap, fast fashion finds. These cheap finds now flood the market because they aren’t selling.

You see, since the Industrial Revolution, our “stuff” has become easier and cheaper to make. Following World War 2, citizens had very limited money to spend, but the economy needed a boost. In order to get cash flowing through the system, the economy needed us to buy (and fast!).

Now, decades later, we’re making more money than ever before, but still want more stuff made as fast and cheap as possible.

Constantly making new “stuff” fast, cheap, and in large quantities, is a HUGE threat to the secondhand market, and amplifies the environmental impacts of “fast fashion” and concepts like IKEA. 

You see, as the middle class continues to increase in size, and wants shiny and new, the secondhand market has to keep up by decreasing the price of trendy pieces and increasing the price of quality pieces (which compete within luxury markets). That means we are actually sending a lot more fast fashion items to the landfill than ever before because they can’t hold up in the secondhand cycle.

Why? Well, think about it: why take the time to mend a torn, secondhand, Forever-21 t-shirt if you can buy a new, similar one for $2 more?

This leads the secondhand market to becoming more choose-y about what items get a second life, which die on the first round, and which get funneled toward upscale, luxury second hand platforms. As a result, we are seeing a decline in sustainability across the industry, while adding to the economic barriers between middle and lower income communities.

2. Although the secondhand market is huge (it made up 4% of Japan’s overall retail market in 2016!), and seen as environmentally-friendly, the environmental impacts over the last 10 years have been immense.

Why? Because the more we buy, the more we throw away.

You see, once you’ve had your choice of what secondhand items you want in countries like Canada and America, the items that you don’t want get shipped out to countries like Malaysia, Vietnam, Philippines, and India. On the positive side, this does present an economic opportunity to entrepreneurs in developing countries. Locals can make a great living by buying and selling in the salvage market (which I’ll cover in my next piece), and secondhand items that can be recovered, can be recycled into yarn in countries like India. 

However, because the secondhand market is now flooded with fast fashion and cheap finds, torn and unsellable items (with terrible thread count) are not worth the mending investment and are sent immediately to landfills (and landfills that they don’t belong to).

So, how do we overcome these problems with realistic solutions?

We have to break our Western consumption habits. We need to stop the loop.

The Industrial Revolution helped fuel the economy and allowed families to get their hands on the “stuff” they needed, but now it’s gotten out of control with the increase in urbanization and globalization. It’s also affected urban planning as families need bigger and bigger homes to accommodate their increasing amount of “stuff”!

There is already so much stuff on this planet just hanging out in basements, garages, storage units, and landfills—we really don’t need “new”. What we need is to make a habit of reusing items NOW, reducing the quantity, upping the quality, and sourcing secondhand locally.

This brings me back to the concept of a “need”. 

What is a need and what is a want?

Understanding your “needs” vs. your “wants” is a huge step in leading a conscious lifestyle.

It’s also important that I note a “want” doesn’t need to be demonized. Often, needs and wants overlap. 

You need and want connection. You need and want love. You need and want food. 

But, the want is where you can actually check myself.

“Do I need this sweater because winter is coming, or do I want this sweater because I saw an influencer wearing it on Instagram?”

“Do I need this bag of chips because I’m hungry, or do I want this bag of chips because it’s more convenient than cooking?”

No one can make the decision of your personal needs vs. wants but you—this is your conscious journey you are leading.

I, even as a mixed raced woman, always check and acknowledge my privilege when consuming. I know I don’t actually need anything. I have a roof over your head. I have food on my plate. I have a warm bed at night. But yet, there is always the thrill of buying something “new” or buying “more”, nurturing a moment of immediate satisfaction through consumption.

The point here is: we have to start making conscious choices at the beginning of the consumer cycle, not at the end when we’re left with trash and don’t know where to put it.

We have slowly turned the secondhand industry into our personal dumps as all the cheaply made “stuff” we’ve been buying over the last 20 years has entered the market. With no value to the tag, and evident wear and tear after just a few months, items as big as couches and as tiny as baby shoes are quickly tossed into landfills.

The good news is: your personal consumption habits (yes, just YOU as an individual!) play a vital role in the sustainability of our world.

In 2015, Americans tossed out 24.1 billion pounds of furniture, and 32 billion pounds of textiles according to the most recent data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. That means there is a very unnecessary 56.1 billion pounds of stuff just hanging around on our planet from five years ago that could have been repaired, reused, or upcycled. 

How did this happen?

Convenience. Accessibility. We got lazy. We got greedy. We have all been part of this looping cycle. which makes us all equally responsible for solutions.

Luckily, the solutions are realistic and accessible.

We need to build a truly circular system. We need to create a sustainable cycle where everyone understands their role and how it works. 

In my next piece, I’m going to walk you through the cycle of secondhand fashion once it reaches its destination country in the global south so we can understand where more opportunity lies in creating a sustainable fashion industry. [Read Part 2]

Until next time, 

Stay out of the loop!

Photos from Pexels
Follow Jazzmine Raine:

Jazz is a social entrepreneur, storyteller, and facilitator.

She is the founder of Hara World, an experiential education and impact travel organization for young changemakers, and Hara House, India’s first zero-waste guesthouse. In 2019, she was named 1 of 35 social entrepreneurs to watch for by Causeartist. Jazz is deeply passionate about conscious living, environmental justice, ethical fashion, and responsible travel. Through the power of story, she helps build influential brands that are changing the world and empowers children and young adults to be leaders of change. Jazz resides in the Indian Himalayas with her husband and two fur babies.

12 Responses

  1. Kathy
    | Reply

    I worked in a very busy and very popular thrift store in PA. We would get inundated with donations ( a lot of it was fast fashion). We had all types of clientele visit the store…from those with lots of money to those coming in with vouchers. The store made a point to offer quality clothing from anywhere from $1 to $100 which went over well with the general clientele. The amount of clothing we were able to provide at a variety of prices to the public was non-stop because people donated their used clothing non-stop! And a majority of the proceeds went back out to communities in need.

    It’s tricky when we live in a world that we are told is succumbing partially due to the environmental wear and tear of fast fashion (sweat shops/out-sourcing to poorer countries that provides cheaper labor/using laundry machines to wash plastic aka polyester). So we think we are doing the right thing by second-hand shopping. And we partially are. But I also feel saddened when I go to a vintage flea market and see someone selling vintage clothing at $150 that would probably go for way cheaper at a thrift store. They are most likely upselling and probably got the piece for a bargain. But I guess that’s capitalism for you.

    The truth is we don’t need more. We need so little. The people who have quite little are actually truly surviving…and that is why so much of us who have access to so much feel miserable. We are surrounded by things that we really don’t need and that are probably made by someone who is being paid pennies. We are also surrounded by the constant pressure to buy more and be more.

    I don’t know what the answer is but I do think that the people who need it the most should have first dibs…or that proceeds from thrift stores should be donated back to the community. I know a lot of thrift stores that do that, including the one I worked at in Seattle. Nothing will ever be perfect but I think that’s a good start.

  2. Leah Wise
    | Reply

    I ran a thrift shop for five years. An important nuance here is that prices aren’t raised passively: a nonprofit board decides to raise prices. Higher income shoppers are only nominally complicit in that decision and the majority of blame should be placed on the way the nonprofit structures itself. I always advocate participating in public board meetings and checking the financial records of the shop you support; it may be that they have raised prices as a direct result of higher expenses or a perceived need to balance charitable income with appropriate price points for shoppers. Thrift stores always have a choice – they don’t have to price luxury goods at market value. Stakeholders should be able to discuss mission and values in a robust way rather than responding to market trends.

    I cover this and more in a lot of detail in the post I linked to under my name.

    • Verena Erin
      | Reply

      Hi Leah, thanks for sharing your experience. That’s a good point and great suggestion!
      What do you think about the increase in re-sellers and Instagram stores though? So many of the good quality pieces and brands seem to be quickly snapped up from thrift stores and resold much higher, which I think maybe more-so has the effect of overall price increases.

      • Leah Wise
        | Reply

        I think that it may be a problem at the macro level, but it’s really hard to get hard data on it without someone taking it on as a research project. I know at the shop I managed that resellers were often lower income themselves and were using resale as a stop-gap, so it seemed strange to demonize them. The mass resellers didn’t frequent our local store, but occasionally traveling resellers would buy us out, and what they bought were often items we couldn’t sell very well to our regular customers.

        As a manager who was obsessive about our mission to stay accessible, I was sensitive to these scenarios, but I just didn’t see a reason to place blame. The real issue, as it always has been, are systemic issues like low wages, racism, and sexism. I think there are ways to tackle the issues in the secondhand industry without blaming Poshmarkers, in large part because the actual effect is that people like you and me feel guilty about buying secondhand when we’re not actually a problem at all. The number of middle class white women I’ve seen decide they’re only buying new goods so as not to gentrify thrift stores is unproductive from a resource and waste perspective, and based largely in anecdotal ideas.

        • Verena Erin
          | Reply

          Oh I hope that’s not the take-away people are getting from this piece!
          I agree that we shouldn’t be placing blame or making people feel guilty about buying secondhand. However like Jazzmine says in the piece, it is good to examine our consumption habits with secondhand clothing also, because consuming secondhand fashion at a “fast fashion’ rate isn’t really the sustainable solution it can appear to be.

          • Leah Wise

            Definitely agree. I’m not speaking to Jazzmine’s piece with my last comment at all, just the sentiment “in the air” of the ethical fashion community. I hope it’s clear that I’m trying to have a broad conversation here, not diminish the basic arguments of this piece.

          • Alex

            I did kind of get that take away to be honest. Not entirely from this piece alone but there is a resonanting message going around implying secondhand shopping is problematic as the middle classes artificially inflate prices with their shopping.

            This message can provide an extra reason for a regular consumer to be put off. It’s almost like you’re being shamed for trying. I’ve unfollowed a sustainablity, vegan and low waste YouTuber recently as they give this message alonside other ‘you’re not good enough’ messages and it’s too disheartening for me.

          • Verena Erin

            Hm it’s a tricky conversation to navigate. I think our human nature really likes things to neatly fit into “good” and “bad” boxes, but it’s almost always more complicated and nuanced. So I totally get that reaction to hearing about issues, but I think the conversation also needs to be balanced with the benefits of secondhand but also how, like with any clothing, it too needs to be consumed consciously.

      • Elizabeth
        | Reply

        I have heard the argument many times that the middle class is making second hand clothing inaccessible to those who need it more, but I’ve never seen anyone cite an actual source. Does the author of this piece have one? Is there actually data on this? Ultimately, that message conflicts with the idea that there is massively more secondhand clothing than stores can even sell. If the latter is true, then there should be secondhand clothing available at many price points to everyone who wants it. I don’t know if millennial desires for “oversized sweaters and flood pants” are actually an issue for someone who is looking for an affordable office wardrobe for a new job, for example. But if it is, I’d like to know more. The way I see it, resellers are ultimately keeping more clothing out of the landfill/rag market and that’s a good thing.

        • Verena Erin
          | Reply

          I don’t know if there is data specifically on price increases, but some stats we do know are:
          – Demand for secondhand clothing is going up pretty fast – from 2016 to 2019 the % of women who have bought or are interested in buying secondhand clothing jumped from 45% to 70%! (
          – More traditional retailers are selling secondhand clothing – which almost certainly means a price increase (
          – Reselling has also increased (for example Depop saw a 300% increase in items sold from from Jan – April last year with a seller even making over $1.25 million on the platform 😲 and 22% of Poshmark sellers do it as a full-time job which also typically means a higher price point
          – With the pandemic, online secondhand shopping is predicted to grow 69% from 2019 and is considered a “lucrative market” (
          – and another more direct example is in the last 10 years Goodwill switch from a flat-rate pricing system to different pricing based on the items

          Like Leah mentioned above I’m sure there are thrift stores trying to be conscious of their pricing and keeping products accessible, but anecdotally I definitely have seen prices going up over the last years and almost everyone else I know who shops secondhand has noticed this too.

          And there unfortunately is still way too much clothing for stores to sell. This can be due to quality issues and that most people don’t want to buy, for example, a $5 fast fashion top for $3 at a thrift store, and also capacity issues because there is just so much clothing in the world and 80-100 billion more garments produced every year.

          However keeping clothing in circulation is of course a wonderful thing! And shopping secondhand is a good sustainable option.
          Just like with new clothes though, the issues really come from the amount of clothing being consumed in general. The middle class buying more secondhand clothing isn’t necessarily out of sustainability motivations but as a way to get more, better-quality, cheaper clothing, and to turn over closets “guilt-free” (couple sources: and

          It’s a tricky conversation but I hope with discussing price increases the focus isn’t on “we shouldn’t be buying secondhand clothes” but that all clothing, secondhand or new, needs to be consumed consciously and we can’t take our “fast fashion” or “binge shopping” habits and just transfer them to secondhand fashion.

          • Elizabeth

            Yeah I don’t disagree with any of that, but I do think there’s a big leap from that to the idea that it’s harming low income people. It may be, it’s just wrong to make that assumption without, you know, actually talking to low income people about it. Assuming we know what other people need is wrong and leads to a lot of efforts to “help” that do more harm than good. In my experience, most second hand stores have mechanisms that greatly reduce the harm of price inflation, including half off sales or other sales based on the time something has been in the store. I live in a major urban area and have never found there to be a shortage of high quality items available for cheap. Your point about the need to consume mindfully is well taken, but it needs to be carefully framed. Thanks for your reply.

          • Verena Erin

            I don’t understand how it’s a “big leap” that price increases of a product negatively affects low income people?

            It’s honestly really great to hear that the shops in your area have good practices around pricing and there are lots of high quality pieces available. That’s unfortunately not the case where I live (most of the sales are on products no one actually wants, or in the middle of work days, or randomized so you have to shop there all the time to get products on sale) and I’ve heard from many others (including low income people) both locally and from around the world about how prices have gone up but also overall thrift store quality and selection seems to be going down.

            But the point isn’t to “help” people or assume what people need, it’s to encourage slower and more conscious consumption, think about the greater impact our decisions can have, and understand that shifting our mass-consumption of new fashion to mass-consumption of secondhand clothing is not the solution.
            It’s a complicated and nuanced issue (like any sustainability and social issue!) and while I do try to be conscious and careful of this, the way I communicate about it can for sure always use improvement.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *