Over the past ten years, thrifting has grown from Salvation Army donation boxes to Instagram accounts dedicated to reselling vintage clothing.
The fashion industry is changing, and at the forefront of the evolution are second-hand and vintage stores online.
At least 52 percent of shoppers bought clothes from op-shops such as Vinnies, 33 percent used online platforms and 15 percent thrifted at flea markets or dedicated vintage stores.
The demand for online, affordable thrift stores has never been higher. Just last year, US online designer thrift store The Real Real earned close to $300 million in online sales alone.
The new face of vintage fashion
Cara Weinstock has always loved fashion, but as an 18-year-old high school student, she couldn’t afford expensive, high-quality things.
So she turned to savings instead. Picking through loads of clothes at flea markets and op shops paid off – and she quickly realized she could sell the rare items she found by thrifting.
“I got to the point where I was buying things that I knew didn’t fit me, but they were such good deals…like $20 for a used Versace dress…who wouldn’t?” she said.
After a corporate stint as a lawyer, in 2012 she opened her second-hand vintage shop on Instagram. Eleven years later, he has 24.9 thousand followers on Instagram.
Instagram has become a popular platform for vintage thrift stores to promote their clothing, but for Weinstock, she had no other option.
“It (Instagram) was it, in 2012 it was a big social media platform to promote the fashion business,” she said.
“Instagram was a really great tool to promote a business at that point, it was much easier to grow organically and reach an audience. I think it’s much harder to do that now.”
She also opened a website, but continued to use Instagram to promote her store. Today, Cara Mia Vintage has become one of the most trusted places to buy designer pre-owned in Australia.
The store is run entirely online, with the occasional pop-up store. When Cara Mia Vintage started, it was one of the first vintage shops to break into the online market.
“I’ve experimented with other apps, I think the best way to do it is to maintain your own website and use Instagram as a promotional tool,” she said.
“If you decide to sell exclusively on Depop, for example, what happens if one day Depop decides to shut down your account? It’s the same thing with Instagram.”
There are now hundreds of dedicated vintage and second-hand shops in Australia, most of which use social media as a means of advertising.
“Social media has made it easier for people to access affordable and second-hand fashion,” Weinstock said.
“It’s even good for educating people about brands they may not have heard of before…that information is now more accessible.”
Thrifting’s role in the fight against fast fashion
Up-and-coming designer and founder of sustainable slow fashion brand Jas the Label, Jasmine Ypermachou, says saving is key to stopping fast fashion’s environmental damage.
“Thrifting drives a circular fashion model and allows others to reuse and repurpose discarded fast and slow fashion pieces,” she said.
“When we feel that a piece is no longer ‘our style’ or lacks timelessness, thrift allows fast fashion pieces to retain more value and that means fewer garments are bought, slowing down the harmful cycle of fast fashion.”
How Australians dressed before fast fashion
However, the increased demand for quality used clothing has led to a significant increase in the prices of inexpensive items over the past decade.
To help meet demand, St Vincent de Paul Society today opened its first town center store in over ten years in Surry Hills.
“It’s more than just a commercial presence, it’s a social presence. We are a place people turn to for help and we will never give up on that,” she said.
“I think the situation has changed – nowadays it’s harder to find high-quality vintage clothing for a decent price, it’s not impossible, but it’s harder,” Weinstock said.
Ypermachou said consumers should be aware of lower-income families when thrifting or reselling items.
“Just have more awareness for those in need about the options they have and create safe spaces online to share with these communities,” she said.
“There are so many used circles and online groups where used clothes are sold cheaply.”
Even if thrifting isn’t for you, consumers can still reduce their carbon footprint by buying new clothes in an environmentally conscious way.
“You don’t have to buy 50 pieces of fast fashion, buy less, but buy better quality that will last you longer,” Weinstock said.