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'Looking for buried treasure': The benefits and pitfalls of thrifting

October 2, 2020

Whether it is searching through the racks at Volunteers of America for a vintage tee or going to thrift shops like Metro Retro in Old Town, Lansing, there has always been a niche for thrifting. When Macklemore and Ryan Lewis dropped hit song "Thrift Shop" in 2013, saying “I'm gonna pop some tags, Only got twenty dollars in my pocket,” thrifting remained a niche.

Nowadays thrifting offers not only an outlet for creativity to students but provides a much more sustainable and affordable way of doing so. But, thrifting isn't thrifting for some. For those of lower income, thrift shops are key to getting essential clothing at an affordable price, so hobby-thrifters have to find where that line is drawn.

The reason junior international relations major Samantha Merritt started thrifting was due to the lack of big malls in or around her hometown, it was really hard for her to get clothes from stores such as Forever 21 because they were far away.

Merritt was inspired to thrift because she wanted to wear different things than everyone else. Initially, it was hard to find things that worked because she didn't feel like she unlocked the thrifting creativity to piece together outfits.

“As I got older, I kind of started to realize the greatness behind it in the sense of going against fast fashion and being sustainable,” Merritt said. 

Merrit began to see the niche clearly as she realized she was buying clothes with bigger price tags that would get ruined, thrown away or lost. She figured it would be much more sustainable to buy clothes with a smaller budget at a local thrift store, then donate whatever she would grow out of.

According to Merritt, thrifting can be a little chaotic for someone who has never been. She believes it is something that you need to go into with an open mind; You can’t always just go into a thrift store and expect to find something right away. She sees the beauty of the process is taking the time to look for things.

Now, Merritt upcycles; giving life to old items by creating new clothing with different pieces and fabrics from things she finds.

Much like Merritt, junior psychology major Morgan Smith started to pursue thrifting due to the affordability of it. She enjoys going thrift shopping because of the unique things she can find at lower prices.

While Smith has found that thrift stores have similar items to stores such as Urban Outfitters at a fraction of the cost, she can feel that thrifting can be overwhelming and at times.

“It can be overwhelming but once you find something it’s the most rewarding thing when you find a really good piece. For me it always improves my mood when I go thrifting,” Smith said.

Sometimes Smith spends five hours in a thrift store and comes out with only one piece, but for her, that’s still a success.

“Finding that one thing, even if it’s just one thing, it’s definitely rewarding,” Smith said.

But, sometimes finding that one thing can come at an expense.

With the increase in thrifters and younger generations thrifting for fun Merritt has noticed that prices at places like Goodwill have been going up on simple things. This is where Merritt realized the problem in thrifting for fun: It takes away from the actual purpose of these stores.

Smith has seen the same problem. She doesn’t like reselling because people tend to sell clothes as they find them at thrift stores then hike up the prices. She knows that for some people, especially those with lower incomes, thrift stores are the only places they can shop.

She feels it’s unfair to resell clothes and then keep that money when someone else, who needed it, could have bought that piece.

During the wintertime especially, Smith avoids buying items such as coats, jackets, boots and more because she knows that for some people their only option is to buy essential clothes at thrift stores. She feels that if people can afford to get those essentials elsewhere then they should.

Thrifters, like Merritt and Smith, have had to find where to draw the line, but Smith thinks there is room for hobby-thrifters too and that everyone should try out thrifting at least once.

“I think everybody should thrift, I think it’s a really fun experience and it’s really cool finding something and turning it into your own.”

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Some stores Smith recommends for thrifting are Goodwill, Volunteers of America and Salvation Army.

Brielle Mangles is a sales associate at Plato's Closet in East Lansing, a popular thrifting location, and to her, the thrifting experience is unlike any other.

“It’s very unique, you have to be looking for something and it’s kind of like looking for buried treasure,” Mangles said.

“If you’re looking in the right spots you can find some really nice stuff and it’s also like bargain shopping so it’s fun to find really good deals on really cute items.”

Mangles has learned some helpful tips when it comes to thrifting, from her job. If something is discounted she suggests double-checking the zippers and making sure there are no stains. And for selling, Plato’s discounts based on that along with the latest trends, so look for things in your closet that are in season or fashion.

“I would just double check if it fits right, if it feels right, these are second-hand clothes, they’re not going to shrink, just make sure they are perfect for you,” Mangles said.

She feels that a big part of thrifting is the bargain and finding good deals. Most of her customers nowadays tend to be broke college students. In order to help everyone Mangles thinks that those students should take the initiative in donating their clothes.

“If they have clothes they can donate to people who can’t purchase or go thrifting all the time then they should totally do that, that’s going to help all of us in the long run,” Mangles said.

Students have found that thrifting can be an affordable and creative way to find clothing and establish their own fashion. Merritt recognizes that when it comes to fashion, a lot of people may be intimidated by wearing something different or something they feel others won’t like as much. When it comes to this, she believes that thrifting is a great outlet. 

“I think thrifting is a good way to explore your fashion senses and what you’re into because it’s cheaper. I feel like it’s easier to make that decision and purchase it and you might actually really enjoy what you get,” Merritt said.


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