Reselling Thrifted Finds: Good or Bad?

I considered reselling in the early days of this blog when someone asked me whether I a biker jacket I had thriftstagrammed was for sale:

A photo posted by LeahLW (@thriftshopchic) on

The answer was no (because I had already left the thrift store without buying it) but that question and a few other inquiries made me realize there was a market for the thrift finds I was posting on IG. It probably seemed bizarre to the interested parties that I was curating an extensive IG account of thrifted finds not to resell but purely to share great clothes and convince people that thrifting could land you a stylish, chic wardrobe instead of just sourcing your next ugly Christmas sweater party.

Reselling was tempting inasmuch as it seemed like a great way to get really stellar finds into the hands of people who would love and appreciate them, and I thought for a hot minute about doing it at cost. (Ah, the naïveté of idealism.)

But the logistics of resale (photographing, posting, pricing, marking things sold, receiving payment, storage, moving old product, and most of all making it to the post office in any kind of a timely manner) were overwhelming for someone with a full time job and a toddler. I was lucky enough to have a stable income and wanted to spend my thrift time enjoying myself, not stressed about earning money from it. And I realized I could get my share-the-thrift-love fix by keeping an eye out for good finds for friends and fellow thrifters I knew in real life.

I didn’t really think about it again (apart from a few wistful encounters with brilliant finds for which I didn’t have a home…) until I started digging around on the Internet in preparation for our recent conversation about whether thrifting contributes to gentrification (Part 1 and Part 2).  In several of the blog posts I read as I researched for that discussion, the issue of reselling came up. Some people who virulently defended thrifting regardless of income were just as vehemently against shoppers snatching up great finds to resell online or in a boutique.

I thought it was interesting that folks who had declared thrifting an inherent moral good because it helped them save money were comfortable declaring reselling an absolute moral evil because it made money off of well-intentioned donations. The latter still funds the mission of the thrift store (since resellers must first buy the items from which they want to profit) and very well may make money for people with fewer resources who have decided to seize an entrepreneurial opportunity. Somebody receiving disability benefits who can’t hold a full time job or someone staying home to care for kids might have the time and flexibility to make vital supplementary income through resale.

Reselling also extends the audience of a particular find so that the couple of people who might really love a piece that actually fits them are able to buy it even if they don’t live anywhere near the store where it’s sold. Given how much excess clothing thrift stores dispose of, this is a good thing. (Ditto from an economic standpoint – the higher price someone on Instagram might be willing to pay for a piece creates more value and drives commerce.)

Aditionally, reselling  recognizes the value of a thrifter’s skill and the time they put in to go through a dozen (or several dozen) racks and filter out the good stuff. If I had an Instagram resale for every time I heard someone say “I’d love to thrift but I just never find anything good/I don’t have the patience or time/I hate the way thrift stores smell,” I’d be a rich(ish) woman. (Also thrift stores often don’t smell these days – give ’em another chance!)

On the other hand – you knew there was an other hand, didn’t you? – the argument can be made that sellers contribute to the “picked over” phenomenon that sparked this whole conversation and that at least one person experiencing poverty pleaded against on another blog.

When I see folks who appear to be resellers at the thrift store (recognizable by the speed with which they move through the racks and the large volume of clothing tucked over their arms that bears no resemblance to their own height/body shape/current outfit style and which they don’t try on before buying – with 25 garments you probably aren’t shopping for your spouse), I never look at their choices and think “I want that!”; chalk it up to differing tastes or the huge volume and variety of clothes available.

But I know it happens.  Duchesse of Passage des Perles commented on Part 2 that she’s seen her own donations resurface in a vintage shop at 600-800% markup over what the original thrift store was charging.  (Oh, to have a closet with garments, vintage or otherwise, that could support that kind of price tag!) That just seems unfair – that the non-profit thrift store couldn’t get that much for the garment, that the customers at the vintage shop are paying so much more than they could have (unless they’re happy to pay what’s essentially a pricey commission for the shop owner’s vintage-hunting skills, as this commenter argued), and that the original donation is being used to make a profit for something other than the cause for which you intended it.

Granted, resellers of the Instagram kind are usually charging twice as much as the thrift price, not 6x; but I also have not been impressed by their wares. I followed a few resellers just to see their finds until I realized they were charging probably close to retail for fast fashion or “vintage” late 90s clothes, the mediocre construction and ubiquity of which didn’t merit the price tag.

eBay may be a whole ‘nother ball of wax – I haven’t spent enough time on there to know how thrifted stuff gets resold. I do know it’s a good spot for people who don’t have the time/energy/location to thrift, but it’s often unclear whether you’re buying from a reseller or from someone’s personal closet excess. (eBay experts, please weigh in!)

Here’s another wrinkle. I haven’t seen anyone speak out against thrift tours, but you could make the argument that they have basically the same effect as resellers. The markup isn’t in the price tag but in what you pay for the tour, and the volume of things picked over by a skilled someone for resale on IG or in a shop might not be that much more than the volume picked over by several someones under the tutelage of that one skilled someone leading their tour. Thoughts?

 

Alright, I’ve blabbed enough. What do you all think??  Is reselling thrifted clothing good, bad, or indifferent? Under what circumstances? Do you wish I were reselling so you could get a crack at my thriftstagram finds? Scroll down to comment!

 

 

 

6 thoughts on “Reselling Thrifted Finds: Good or Bad?

  1. Hi! I am a recent retiree who started an image consulting business that has yet to make any money – I’m still in the getting started phase. I’ve always loved shopping the thrift store for my own use, and I discovered that I can made a few extra (much needed) bucks reselling thrifted items on the shopping app Poshmark. The most I’ve made was on a vintage (1980’s) VS gold nylon thong bodysuit; I bought it for $1.50 at my local Goodwill and sold it for $15.00 to a woman in southern CA. It was a size 34B – very tiny everywhere – and not likely anyone here was going to want to even try it on, much less wear it. I work really hard to find quality items without any flaws and sometimes I still get things home to find the zipper doesn’t work or a small hole; I take a loss and don’t resell those things. I love a bargain, and I love passing that bargain on to others as much as I love contributing to a healthier environment. The woman in SoCal was not likely to find that bodysuit at that price in San Diego! I buy used/thrifted items for my own use too, at the thrift store and on Posh. Posh takes 20% so I’m planning to make my website into a place where I can sell the thrifted items. The credit card companies will still take 20%, so keep in mind if you’re critical of this practice that not all the amount being charged goes into the pocket of the seller. All things considered, I’m a fan!

    1. Sarah, I would LOVE to see a picture of that bodysuit! With pieces like that, it’s a pretty sure bet that the market will be small and therefore the chances of the person wanting to buy it running into it in that store are pretty slim – although you will probably still face the counterargument that the good quality stuff that is less “out there” than a VS bodysuit should stay where it is for local shoppers to find at the lower price.
      Do you have any criteria on what hard-to-find gems should be redistributed to folks who would never otherwise see them (and which would otherwise go to clothing recyclers) and which should stay behind or local thrifters, or is anything good quality fair game in the name of expanding the reach of the secondhand economy?
      It’s great that thrifting gives you some fiscal flexibility to pursue your dreams. Good luck with your new business!

  2. I have this idiosyncratic “thrifting ethic” for myself where I will sometimes resell (on Ebay) things bought new or on Ebay, but I always re-donate things bought from the thrift store. (And, though I will shop at for-profit Value Village, I always donate to nonprofit Goodwill.)

    That said, I don’t have a problem with resellers per se and frequently purchase from them. I shop often on Etsy and Ebay (in the case of the latter, the sellers I buy from seem to be a mix of cleaning-out-personal-closet, resellers, and large-scale consigners). I agree with what you and the commenter above are saying about resellers extending the audience of a particular find. These days I tend to have a VERY specific idea of what I’m looking for, and it would often be very difficult and time-consuming to find these items if I were limited to my local round of thrift stores. So overall this strategy helps fill my secondhand wardrobe with items that I’ll love and wear over the long-term, rather than a rotating series of almost-rights that might occur if I were limited to local stock.

    And, sell just a few things from your own closet on Ebay or the like and you quickly realize that reselling is time-consuming work! I get (and have felt) the frustration of the picked-over thrift store, but I think the assumption that reselling is “easy money” is misplaced.

    I have never heard of a “thrifting tour”!

    1. Sarah, your second paragraph highlights that we may be in the middle of the shift from local thrift stores dominating to a majority online secondhand market. (It will be interesting to see how this shapes up – I think there will always be a local secondhand scene because Joe Shmoe cleaning out the basement will not be interested in selling each item online, but it’s starting to shift).
      To your point about specificity – thrifters seem to also be making the shift from “I found this crazy awesome thing, I’ll make it work!” to “I want a curated closet and I won’t take any old thing.” My blog obviously tends toward the latter although I’m not nearly as specific as folks with eBay alerts out for certain brands/sizes/styles. Reselling makes that easier, although I still love being able to be surprised and inspired by unexpected finds in the thrift store that I would never have thought to search for on my own.
      Thanks for commenting!
      PS x100 on the “reselling is time-consuming” sentiment.

  3. I love thrifting and find that I need to cull my belongings regularly. All my castoffs get donated to organizations that help our community. This might sound odd, but I think the items (in general ) are provided by God to serve a need. So, I feel like it is good stewardship to have an open hand to give and to receive.

    1. Lana, that doesn’t sound odd to me at all – in addition to being too lazy for all the hard work involved in reselling, I skip it because I share a similar philosophy. This stuff is all intended for a good cause so I’m happy to give it back (or give it to friends) if it doesn’t work out for me.

      That being said I have yet to run into a $3,000 Marc Jacobs suit like the one a thrift store manager/neighbor of ours told us about – a customer bought it for $7 and then showed him the price tag his employees had missed. That might be harder to skip over – even if I just resold it and donated the money!

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