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  • Writer's pictureashley song

The dark side of thrifting- Over-consumption and indulgence

I still remember the first time I went thrifting back in 2019. The fifth floor of Lucky Plaza was decked with rows of thrift stores. As I sauntered my way through the many stores, the flashy posters screaming the lowest prices I’ve seen for clothing caught my attention immediately. Thrifting has become a very popular and sustainable practice among people these days, as more and more young people are opting for upcycling and secondhand “re-commerce” to create and update their wardrobes. I don’t discount the experience that comes with thrifting, but the wrong motivation could undermine it all.

My experience

I always knew that thrifting provided me with an alternative to second-hand clothing priced affordably, where I can engage in a sustainable practice. Thrifting reduces the demand for fast fashion, which in turn minimises the environmental impacts that production in the textile industry brings about. Going through every single piece on every single rack in the stores was a workout in itself. I really enjoy thrifting with my friends as well, it’s a fun activity- striking conversations while scanning through the racks and bonding over quirky finds, ranging from colour-block sweaters to a Subway employee shirt! My recent trip last November to Johor Bahru had thrifting on the list of activities I wanted to try out. To my excitement, the price points there were even cheaper than in Singapore. Here are some pictures I’ve taken of my friends and I throughout the times we went thrifting over the last few years!

Let’s dive deeper into the issue at hand.

Overbuying because of attractive prices?

As I continued thrifting over the years, I came to a realisation that more often than not, while I frequented these thrift stores, I bought things for the fact that they were cheap and didn’t really think about what I was looking out for. As long as it was a piece I liked, didn’t own, and a price I would pay for, I would most likely get it. Nothing wrong with wanting to save some dollars, but it subconsciously led to over-purchasing habits and under-utilised pieces of clothing. It made thrifting feel no different from fast fashion. With a functional wardrobe in the works, I reflected on my purchasing habits and have learnt to understand my motivation to thrift.

“I’ll buy what catches my eye since it is cheap.”

Yes, one of the prime reasons to thrift and why it is so popular these days is because of its attractive prices, as these clothes serve as an alternative to the ever-increasing prices in stores. We often believe that by shopping in a secondhand store, we’re automatically being sustainable and mindful in our fashion purchases. So, the more we purchase, the more sustainable we are. That is how I felt, but this might not be the case. Instead, it is very easy to get caught up in over-consumption and over-thrifting.

The all-sustainability venture and how over-consumption undercuts it

“How many times are you going to wear this?”

If these piles of second-hand clothes are going to be worn once, end up in the depths of your cupboard, and are eventually thrown out or even land in dustbins as textile waste, that itself is unsustainable and damaging to the environment. The “purchase first, think later” mentality is less than ideal when it comes to thrifting. As much as I was a supporter of the perks thrifting brought to the environment, purchasing more than I really needed was instead counterproductive and unsustainable. I could have left those items back on their racks for people who would have valued them more than I did. Individuals who have lower accessibility to day-to-day items and clothing, who needed them more, could have gotten their hands on these cheaper alternatives.

What now?

Setting certain small expectations when thrifting can be helpful to prevent overbuying. If you go in without much thought, you might be more susceptible to purchasing whatever catches your eye, leading to an excessive “thrift haul”.

Nowadays, I try to find versatile items that I can style in different ways. For example, I’ve been styling this flowery green cropped button shirt I thrifted from Bangkok with formal dresses, casual pants, and even to the beach!

I’ve also created a Pinterest board of all the outfits I’ve worn in 2022 to get a general sense of the kinds of clothes I wear more often and to observe how I can manipulate some of the pieces. It’s been really helpful!

Whenever I want to try out a new style, I’ll focus my attention on potential pieces that can elevate and match the look. This will filter out a whole lot of clothing pieces that simply do not align with these expectations, preventing me from purchasing pieces that might end up sitting in my cupboard. I also gave some of my clothes another home by donating to the Salvation Army and family friends who would cherish them more than I did.

My recent few visits to the thrift stores allowed me to practice thrifting consciously. At Function-Five thrift shop, I focused on functionality and practicality. I was extremely tempted by the many outerwears and jackets for sale but knew that it wasn’t as appropriate for Singapore’s weather. As such, I managed to control myself better and told myself that when the time comes, perhaps a trip to a winter country, then I’ll consider those pieces.

Maybe there’s a special occasion or an upcoming event, or maybe there’s a certain colour you want to try. Having something in mind helps.

With all that I’ve said, I still love and will continue thrifting and only wish for everyone to enjoy their experiences. What I hope is for everyone to take a more mindful approach to it, consider and only purchase what you need and truly value. As thrifting becomes more popularised, it’s important to take a step back and reflect on our actions. Social media has been the main source of influence, as platforms such as TikTok are saturated with thrifting-related videos. The cyclic nature of trends has undoubtedly driven a culture of excessiveness, as the appeal of certain styles comes and goes over the fashion seasons. I was thrifting “blindly”, thinking that I was being environmentally friendly but ironically adding to the over-consumption and unsustainable practices. I hope that I will stop needing to justify my purchases every Chinese New Year closet clean-out, probing myself with questions like “How can I style this?”, “I’ll style this the next time I go out,” but very rarely actually getting to it simply because it was a spur-of-the-moment purchase.

Here are some videos I came across on TikTok which resonate with me and reiterated my points in the article! Mandy Liddle, a fashion creator on TikTok, with 35k followers, opens up on her over-thrifting tendencies and shares how she overcomes these habits. She created a series of videos on TikTok that she calls “Reframing my relationship with thrifting”:

Here are key tips from the video:

  1. Make a list of things you need while getting dressed - open your notes app, record it down- eg. sweatpants, hoodies

  2. Use Pinterest boards with the aim of being frugal and realistic - save things you will wear

  3. Figure out your personal style - this will help stop you from buying random pieces you know you won’t wear

  4. Be picky when thrifting

  5. Allow yourself to purchase pricier pieces- Would rather spend on a solid piece that you will wear than impulse buy many thrifted pieces that you may not end up wearing

Let's continue to thrift more consciously and take care not to over-indulge unnecessarily!

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