Online thrift stores let Canadian consumers find sustainable fashion from home

As Canadians turn to online shopping, local thrifting accounts adapt to new demands

Brianna Detheridge spends 10 to 15 hours a week sourcing clothes. The time she spends photographing and promoting them depends on how many items she’s been able to source, but her weekly uploads of clothing never falter. Located in Glace Bay, N.S., Detheridge is the owner of Moonrise Thrift. It’s a completely online business that sells thrifted, second-hand clothing.

She gets all of her clothing from local thrift stores and every so often buys from other online platforms such as Etsy, Depop, and Poshmark.

“Only if the price is right,” she told The Pigeon in an interview.

Detheridge has been a part of the online thrifting community since June 2020 and believes the pandemic has helped her following grow.

Online thrifting has gained popularity in the last few years. Consumers trying to find a range of unique pieces of clothing without contributing to climate change see thrifting as an innovative way to buy clothes.

Since federal and provincial governments across Canada implemented COVID-19 restrictions after the spring of 2020, brick-and-mortar retail sales have struggled.

In May, retail sales in Canada only rose by 18.7 per cent. While 10 out of 11 sectors experienced an increase in sales, with clothing and clothing accessories seeing the most success, this rise is still lower than pre-pandemic figures.

With the majority of retail sales taking place online, both sellers and consumers have found new ways to adapt to the digital economy. Buying and supporting local businesses became more important to Canadians as lockdowns continued. With that, thrifting accounts began to thrive.

“It wasn’t something that had crossed my mind […] this was just a way for me to clear out my closet,” Detheridge said.

Before she began her business, Detheridge was a full-time student. She also had a full-time job in a healthcare setting, but found it wasn’t fulfilling. After finishing school and leaving her job for personal reasons, Detheridge struggled to find a satisfying occupation.

Her clothing business began as a way to make extra money on the side, but quickly grew into something more.

After selling the extra clothes she already owned, Detheridge’s followers were still eager for thrifted finds. As a result, she decided to keep up her business and purchased more thrifted clothing to resell.

Her account grew and has now attracted over 2,000 followers.

An aspect of Detheridge’s account that stands out is her devotion to creating a size-inclusive shop.

“Some of my best friends are plus-size so I’ve seen the struggle first hand of finding specific clothing pieces, especially vintage [ones],” Detheridge said.

Size inclusivity has continued to be an issue in the fashion industry, especially when it comes to sourcing older pieces. Sought-after vintage clothing doesn’t always come in extra-large sizes. With the scarcity of special plus-sized pieces, Detheridge always keeps her eyes out for clothes her followers might appreciate.

E-commerce opportunities were exploding for Canadian entrepreneurs well before the COVID-19 pandemic began. Exclusively connecting with customers online has its benefits, especially for small-scale ventures like thrift sales.

Running a business that’s completely online doesn’t require owners to leave their homes or have a physical presence in their stores. Instead of having set working hours or even a commute to work, online business owners can work from home on a more flexible schedule.

These factors mean their businesses are more self-directed, which can have a positive or negative impact. Owners need to put in as much effort into their online presence as they want to get in return.

If sellers want to grow a larger following, they must keep up their online presence. Account owners who don’t log in often or don’t post continuous hauls of clothing won’t be of much interest to consumers on the hunt for clothes.

Like Detheridge, Kyla Mangaser began her business by selling clothes from her own closet. Now the demand keeps her busy. Mangaser has been running her thrifted clothing business on Instagram since August of 2020. She renamed it Thrift Soul this past November.

Mangaser explained how during quarantine, she realized she owned many items of clothing she doesn’t wear anymore. Instead of throwing them in the garbage, she decided to sell them online. For her, thrifting has always been a way of finding new clothes.

“I grew up thrifting my clothes but back then, it wasn’t as popular as it is right now,” Mangaser said.

With her business growing, Mangaser has had to adapt to rapidly changing consumer demands.

“Running an online business also requires a lot of my time to be present in my store by posting content and stories daily,” Mangaser said.

How a business owner engages with their customers online differs from in-person sales. Instead of being able to walk right up to someone browsing a rack of clothes, online owners must use the tools at their disposal to communicate with potential buyers.

Posting across different social media platforms and using the available features on apps contributes to engagement with different clients. Whether accounts have 600 followers or 600,000, how they interact with their following is important.

Having strong online engagement isn’t exclusive to businesses that are directly selling products. Other online influencers have used their knowledge of thrifting and personal collections to gain followings, too.

On the video-sharing platform YouTube, creators make content that fuels their viewers’ desire to thrift clothing.

Canadian YouTubers like Melissa Tatti, who runs Threads Obsessed, combine everyday vlogs and thrifting advice for curious viewers, but their content doesn’t exclusively revolve around thrifting. Their channel gives a glimpse into the lifestyle around thrifting and second-hand clothes altogether.

Hayley Isralov, recognized from her channel Hayley’s Corner, has amassed a little over 725,000 subscribers since her channel launched in 2009. She includes ‘day in the life’ vlogs, room makeovers, pregnancy content, and, of course, thrifting haul videos across her YouTube page.

When consumers are watching these thrifting videos, they live vicariously through the creators involved. The excitement viewers get from seeing influencers find those Levi jeans that fit just right or score a vintage Raptors jersey shows consumers what authentic vintage can look like.

Rather than going to Urban Planet or other fast-fashion brands to find clothes that appear to be retro, online influencers can now show you how to search for pieces that are actually vintage.

One of the main appeals of buying thrifted and second-hand clothing is the sustainability factor. Data from the United Nations Environment Programme and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation found that the fashion industry is responsible for 10 per cent of the planet’s carbon emissions. That’s more than all international flights and maritime shipping put together.

The fashion industry is also the second-largest consumer of water in the world. Making one cotton shirt demands about 700 gallons of water, and one pair of jeans uses about 2,000 gallons.

Buying second-hand helps curb the excessive use of resources that the fashion industry uses, and some thrifted clothing sellers are more than well aware of that fact.

Robyn Hobbs is the owner and founder of Le Prix Fashion and Consulting, a business that sells second-hand clothing and accessories in Waterloo, Ont. She has an undergraduate degree in environmental studies and business, as well as her Master’s degree in environmental studies.

In 2016, Hobbs wrote a paper about thrifting and the factors that inspire consumers to buy second-hand instead of new.

In it, she mentions that the eco-fashion movement has risen among consumers over the last decade. With an increase in concern over the production of clothing, the wellbeing of workers, and the environment, second-hand buying has become increasingly popular.

Reusing and recycling clothes prolongs their lifespans—Instead of a pair of jeans being worn for only five years before being thrown away, they may last 10 years because they are being passed on to someone new. More reusing and recycling means less waste.

In an interview with The Pigeon, Hobbs highlighted the importance of proper garment care as a way to contribute to sustainable fashion.

“Your sustainability starts in your closet. There is an element that if you take care of it, it will last longer than just a few washes,” Hobbs said.

Hobbs said she often wonders how people are taking care of their clothes in general. Some bad habits that Hobbs pointed out include washing your clothes in hot water rather than cold. She adds that repairing and tailoring clothes is also good garment care.

Years ago, Hobbs bought a pair of vintage silk high-waisted pants to wear when she wore high heels. Now she rarely wears heels, so she had them shortened so that they would go with flats.

Hobbs said the emergence of online selling platforms like eBay has been a massive contributor to thrifting’s popularity. Founded in 1995, eBay is recognized as one of the first major online shopping sites. Today, consumers use Etsy, Depop, and Poshmark, among many others, to sell unwanted clothes and items.

These stores allow anyone to make an account, take pictures of their products, and control their sales. Account owners decide the prices and can communicate directly with consumers.

While eBay uses an auctioning method, newer online stores resemble bigger companies in how they present items online. Social media sites like Instagram also let sellers create a unique platform to sell their items or engage with customers.

Hobbs said another reason people enjoy the online element of thrifting may be because they don’t have to go out and search through the clothes themselves—it saves them time parsing through racks of second-hand clothes to find good-quality items.

At Hobbs’ store, products are cleaned with environmentally friendly products. She also offers consultations for styling tips, giving customers a next-level experience.

While there are many new strategies to achieve sustainable fashion, others have always been present.

Dr. Anika Kozlowski is an assistant professor of fashion design, ethics, and sustainability at Ryerson University. Kozlowski recalls when she was a teenager in the ’90s, she thrifted clothes regularly.

“That’s what I preferred, and I never stopped,” she told The Pigeon in an interview.

Although thrifting has always been available, consumer interest has continued to grow in recent years. In a 2019 survey conducted by Prodege, about 73 per cent of Canadian respondents said they shopped at thrift stores in 2019. In 2020, that number increased to 82.9 per cent.

Kozlowski made a point to highlight that sustainable fashion has always been present, just in different forms.

“We’ve just repacked it this way, but if you step outside of North America or Western culture […] the solutions that we propose are not new,” she said.

She explained that understanding sustainability also means demanding diverse solutions.

“How we see sustainability is very white-washed, the aesthetic is very particular. It’s not a diverse space, just like fashion isn’t either,” Kozlowski said.

When she’s not studying for school or balancing her other part-time job, Shaira Guzman works on her online thrifting business. She takes to her account on Instagram, Sustainable Thredz, where she posts item drops, behind-the-scenes details, and “follow-for-follow” chains. She likes to highlight other accounts that sell thrifted clothes, and they often do the same in return.

Guzman sees this as the beauty of the thrifting community.

“We are just supporting one another and we all have the same purpose […] to contribute to sustainable living,” Guzman said.

Based in Toronto, Guzman is a student at Seneca College. She’s always loved thrifting and recognizes it as a sustainable way to shop.

“I am also aware of how much damage fast fashion does to our environment,” Guzman said.

Guzman’s process for getting clothes for her business isn’t complicated, she said. The rule that she continuously follows is to never overbuy for her inventory.

“I have to curate the clothes I buy according to what most of my followers are interested in or what type of clothes they are in search of, and also their sizes,” Guzman said.

She does this by doing Instagram polls on her story and takes that as direction. Guzman engages with her followers not only for their benefit, but for her own as well.

Since it isn’t sustainable to overstock clothes she won’t be able to sell later, Guzman limits inventory so she can avoid throwing away items that don’t get purchased.

Buying what she knows will sell is important so that it limits the waste Guzman creates—curating her clothes to her following’s demand also helps her avoid people who back out after claiming items.

Guzman’s business has her curating and taking the time to learn more about the clothes she sells. Seeing that more people are interested in thrifting clothes and how trendy it’s become has been a motivation as well.

When asked if she feels as though there is a sense of competition between other thrifting accounts, Guzman disagreed, as did Detheridge and Mangeser when interviewed. This idea of community is something they all have in common.

Doing shout outs, spreading news of other drops, and congratulating one another is what these small businesses do, and it makes running a thrift business all the more appealing.

Detheridge is always present to guide her followers to other size-inclusive accounts, and Mangaser said she’s even bought items from other sellers before. Just as brick-and-mortar shops support each other in their community, the online community does the same.

Moving forward, Canadians seem to be putting the planet first when it comes to their closets.

Kozlowski explained that there is no right or wrong way to be sustainable. Since there’s no article of clothing that is perfectly sustainable, there is more to being environmentally friendly than simply buying second-hand.

“Wearing what you already have, repairing, reusing, [and] trying to keep what’s in your wardrobe circulating for as long as possible [is important too].”

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