Style Discussion: Is It Ethical to Resell Thrift Store Clothes?

Posted On Wednesday, May 15th, 2013
Filed Under: shopping, Thrift Stores

Last week a reader commented and asked a question I’ve heard before. Of course I responded directly to her but since this isn’t the first time the question has come up, I decided to blog about it and see what you guys think.
After writing my 3 Tips to Selling Clothes Online {clothes you’ve outgrown or amazing pieces you thrifted}, Vyla asked: “…don’t you think the people who donated that stuff to thrift stores wants someone who normally can’t afford the item to enjoy it? Instead of you reselling it and making a profit?” 
I can understand why some people would have an issue with or feel conflicted about making a profit off of something that was donated as an act of charity.
My direct response was:
There’s no denying the world of thrift shopping has changed. It used to be for people who couldn’t afford clothes. And this used to be me in college and when I first moved to NYC and was earning $27k/year working at a fashion magazine. Though I can shop at major department stores now, I still choose to thrift.
Due to thrift shopping’s popularity, it’s for people of all walks and every income bracket. People who would normally never step foot in a secondhand shop are now proud thrifters who either shop for their own closets or search for gems they can resell.
That’s where the quandary comes in.
Since everyone isn’t there with the same intention, the final resting place of the garments in the thrift store can vary.
I do resell some of my thrifted finds, either after I’ve worn them or if it’s a great piece I can flip for serious cash. At the Salvation Army coat sale last year, I scored a DSquared rabbit fur lined parka for less than 5 bucks. I wore it once, realized it wasn’t my style and then resold it for a few hundred dollars {this coat was originally priced at a little over $1,000}.
When I donate clothing to a secondhand shop, I have no idea who’s going to scoop it up. Maybe my items will end up with a college student on a Ramen noodle budget or a Brooklyn hipster earning $80,000 a year. And maybe the person will wear the clothes or maybe they’ll resell for a few dollars. The only thing I know for sure is I want my clothes to find a good home and not end up in the trash.
But those are just my thoughts…now it’s your turn.
Is reselling thrifted clothing unethical? Do you think it’s fair to make a profit off of a charitable donation? Are people who really need affordable clothing being affected? Does reselling somehow impact thrift stores? 
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21 thoughts on “Style Discussion: Is It Ethical to Resell Thrift Store Clothes?

  1. I’ve resold quite a few stuff from thrift stores. I don’t see anything wrong with it but I guess I understand why some people would.

  2. When people buy EVERYTHING in a shop (well, not evertything, but they grab a ton of stuff, that they’re only going to resell), that’s when I think it’s wrong. They’re not being considerate of others who want or need to shop at thrift stores.

  3. I don’t see anything wrong with it. I’ve resold items from thrift shops and clothing swaps before, and it was always after I realized “yikes, this isn’t for me”. If doing something with a thrifted item of clothing besides wearing it as it was intended is wrong, then I suppose my desire to use thrifted clothing for craft projects is unethical too, in the minds of some. :shrug: Can’t win ’em all I guess, right?

    I figure that thrift stores have a constant stream of things coming in and that if I pick up one single item and sell it a few months down the road, or destroy it in a failed DIY attempt, I didn’t take anything away from anyone, because chances are, something similar or even nicer came along, and someone else was able to buy it and do with it what they wanted/needed.

  4. There is nothing wrong with reselling from the thrift shop. People also don’t realize that many of the clothes that are not sold from a thrift shop end up in a warehouse distribution center and those clothes are sold to people all over the world in bulk–many to 3rd world countries. Those clothes are then resold all over again!

    I sell vintage items and am always at the thrift shop looking for vintage finds. Its a way to find things at a decent cost in order to resell them at a decent cost (unless its a very valuable piece.)

    We are like finders who are paid a finders fee.

  5. Sadly, the people who really NEED to shop thrift stores, cannot afford the prices some thrift stores are putting on things!!!

  6. I think that the people who donate are donating so the non-profit thrift store can make some money by reselling an item that the organization paid zero dollars for. I don’t think donors are giving the items so some less fortunate person can get inexpensive clothing. And even if they are, it’s like six of one/half a dozen of the other. The thrift shop prices the item for what they think it can sell it for, and when it sells, they make money. That’s where the good deed comes in.

    And even if people do resell stuff–the reseller is making a living (they might be broke otherwise) and the person buying the item at a jacked up price is still getting it at a price that they think is fair. it’s a win/win/win/win.

  7. What about the people who get the thriftier items and customize it or show you what you could wear it with? A lot of times we see something, and overlook it..but when someone shines a flashlight on it (like you do) I think that deserves a prize lol

  8. When I donate to the thrift store, they get to sell it, make their profit and then that money services the charity. I don’t really think about the customers themselves as being the charity, because like you said, anyone can shop there.

    Furthermore, I’ve noticed thrift stores pricing designer things a lot higher than anyone with a poverty level income can afford. Like an old Coach bag, for $70 at Goodwill. If I wanted to buy it and then try to resell it for more, who cares? Goodwill got $70 and only someone with a higher income could have bought it anyway.

  9. I recently read an article that approached this topic in a whole new light. Thrift stores are in the business of making money For Their Charity. All shoppers are welcome because whatever isn’t given away directly to people in need, has to generate enough profit to provide Financial Assistance & keep the store Open! It is actually very costly to operate a business with retail space. Providing items to re-sellers affords them a way to make or supplement an income, keeping some of them from welfare or assistance. Win-Win

  10. I think reselling thrift shop items (at a FAIR REASONABLE price), is completely ethical and arguably the most ethical.

    Encourage people to buy used clothes, not support fast fashion brands churning out new clothing using sweatshop labor. (BTW sweatshop labor isn’t just underpaid workers using sewing machines, it’s workers who die because buildings collapse and aren’t maintained all in the name of “low prices” at Forever 21, die in building fires, don’t have money to take care of their children and send their own children away to live with family, people who are so poor that they can’t even live like decent humans).

    Encouraging more people to buy thrifted clothes is incredible for the environment because the more we buy thrifted clothes, the more times the thrift shops will need to restock their shelves rather than dump more clothes in landfills.

    Only a small percentage of your donated clothes will end up in thrift stores because not enough people buy from thrift shops (do the research, you will find most of your donated items end up in landfills or shipped in giant bales to developing countries). In many developing countries that are inundated with donated clothes, native clothing makers and designers can’t sell, because the market is being dominated by a bunch of American T-shirts and jeans that got dumped there.

    Not everyone would consider going to a Goodwill store, but if we help bring out the best in some of these clothes, that people might never otherwise see, we might be helping stock someone’s closet without harming the environment or supporting the horrible fast fashion industry. When a cute top or a beautiful dress is only a click away, AND it’s thrifted, good people will try to use that option. Thrift store clothing needs to be made more visible, so that we can support recycling rather than dumping clothes in landfills and then going to H&M.

  11. I think that it is a fair business venture. If you buy something at a thrift store you are offering them the exact price they asked for in purchasing. They probably couldn’t even sell it at the price you could get for it online. It is a fair deal also, because you are doing the work of selecting, photographing and maintaining the business online.

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