Think secondhand shopping is fuelled by good intentions? Think again, says thrift-shopping researcher

Think secondhand shopping is fuelled by good intentions? Think again, says thrift-shopping researcher

What motivates us to buy and sell secondhand clothing online? It turns out it’s not because it’s sustainability or environmentally-friendly. According to new research, we do it because it’s easy.

The destigmatisation of secondhand clothing seemed to occur overnight, said Celeste Bunten, who did her master’s research at AUT on the motivations of secondhand clothing buyers and sellers.

She discovered convenience, rather than sustainability, was the main reason Kiwis opted to do most of their thrifting online.

“Thrifting used to be a preplanned and time-consuming endeavour. It required hours of sifting through racks in hopes of finding a bargain or something unique,” she said.

“Social media spurred the growth of thrifting … Clothing was no longer about quality or long-term enjoyment. It was about quantity.”

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The 26-year-old from California was thrifting before it was trendy.

“When I was a child, more than half of my wardrobe was secondhand. It was the most cost-effective option for our family.”

Bunten said she loved buying secondhand clothing, because it was within her budget and she “relished the novelty of having new clothing”.

AUT researcher Celeste Bunten in a thrifted outfit (sans shoes and purse) at Cornwall Park in Auckland.

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AUT researcher Celeste Bunten in a thrifted outfit (sans shoes and purse) at Cornwall Park in Auckland.

“I always thought that I bought secondhand clothes for the environment because I care about sustainability so much,” said Bunten, who surveyed hundreds of Kiwis buying secondhand clothes through Instagram.

“But my research showed that it was more about convenience. It’s a jarring realisation.”

Although cost played a part, it was “way easier” for buyers to find a unique piece in their size, age and style online, she said.

And for secondhand resellers, the top motivation was aesthetics instead of sustainability or making some extra money.

“For an Instagram reseller, they don’t care about the brands too much…Instead it’s about their aesthetic and how they can curate that to people who have a similar sense of style.”

Secondhand fashion is a fast-growing market, estimated to be worth about US$100 billion (NZ$157b) globally and growing by more than 20% annually.

Bunten said the more she got into the research, the more she realised that we were not helping the environment as much as we thought.

“If you are buying way more than you need to, like you are buying five secondhand sweaters, it is worse than buying one new, but wearing it for years and years.”

“As you can get a lot for mere dollars per piece, you are buying for entertainment, not for a good use of clothes for years.”

JOHN KIRK-ANDERSON/STUFF

Michelle Anderton loves finding pre-loved clothes to give a second life. (First published December 5, 2022)

Christchurch woman Susan Davis said buying and selling on the secondhand market was a pain, but she couldn’t stop.

“I am a frequent seller and buyer of secondhand clothing on Facebook Marketplace. I am a transgender [woman], so I have lots of men’s clothes to sell, and lots of women’s clothes to buy,” she said.

“Secondhand buying is cool, as you can always find something interesting. But selling generally sucks.”

“Annoying moments” included getting notifications at midnight from a potential customer asking if an item was still available, or from someone who wanted to pick up immediately in the middle of the work day.

“It is time-consuming, and you need to constantly check the notifications online, which sometimes makes me wonder if it’s worth it,” Davis said.

Lynne Dreaver has owned Lasting Labels, a consignment store in Christchurch, for 28 years. The store sells clothes for members of the public, taking a commission when they sell. If they don’t sell, they’re either donated or taken back by the seller.

“We help our clients turn their unwanted clothes into dollars, and give the perfect opportunity to recycle,” Dreaver said.

“It’s fashionable to be doing secondhand clothing… We don’t call ourselves secondhand or an opshop. We are completely consignment.

“We like absolute quality items. The pieces we take need to be only a season or two seasons old. We are taking quality consignment stock from people, like Jane Daniels, Paula Ryan and Jac+Jack.”

Dreaver, left, with her daughter Jasmine Dreaver, who is involved with social media marketing for the family business.

JOHN KIRK-ANDERSON/Stuff

Dreaver, left, with her daughter Jasmine Dreaver, who is involved with social media marketing for the family business.

The rigid requirements did not turn sellers away, she said. The store had “always been incredibly busy” and it was not unusual for someone to “bring 300 pieces in at a time”.

People needed to be “more mindful” when buying fast fashion, opting instead for “quality fabrics to pass the pleasure on and make some extra money”, Dreaver said.

Aucklander Lily Zheng said she preferred to go to a Sunday market to sell her unwanted clothes, as she could “get rid of them in bulk”.

“Having a pop-up stall at a flea market saves me lots of time and gives me great fun,” she said.

SUPPLIED

Hamilton fashion designer Gina SInclair upcycles unwanted clothing into new garments and save money in the process. (First published March 13, 2023)

“I met lots of nice people there. I was too shy to approach passersby and sell my stuff. My neighbouring sellers bought a dozen from me and taught me lots of sales tips.”

About 175,000 tonnes of textile waste goes to landfill every year in New Zealand.

In 2022, 6.32% of Christchurch’s waste was clothing and fabrics, according to Ged Clink, a senior project manager at the Christchurch City Council.

The council accepts small amounts of good quality secondhand clothing at its EcoDrop Recycling Centres, which are then sold as its EcoShop.

Lily Zheng sells her unwanted clothes at Takapuna Market in Auckland in 2022.

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Lily Zheng sells her unwanted clothes at Takapuna Market in Auckland in 2022.

The clothing bins across the city are run by charities that were “now desperately looking for warm winter clothes”, St Vincent de Paul retail manager Polly Fisher said.

“We don’t want holes, rips, or stains on them. Unfortunately people usually clear them out at the end of winter.”

St Vincent de Paul has 14 clothing bins across the city, which it empties twice a week.

“Our busiest drop-off is in Sumner. There are two bins there. They are usually full,” she said.

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