May 19, 2024

“Thrift Flipping” is problematic: here’s how to correct it

People today have become familiar with the term “thrifting,” especially since the viral trend took social media apps like YouTube and TikTok by storm. Suddenly, unwanted clothes that are donated to thrift stores have become a hot commodity; not just for the “less financially fortunate,” but also for business-savvy people in the middle and upper classes looking for a way to make extra money.

It is not difficult to understand that those who fall under the poverty line in America have fewer financial options than people in the middle and upper classes, and thrift stores were created to be a resource exclusively for the direct benefit of low-income people. 

However, when people from the middle and upper classes decided to take advantage of this public resource, low-income people have consistently gotten the short end of the stick.  

A common rebuttal from “thrift flipping” supporters is that anyone of any class status can take advantage of the “thrift flipping” trend, and this trend could be a way for low-income people to make more money. 

However, the implication of this argument is blatantly offensive if one breaks down what is required to successfully “thrift flip”: excess time, expendable income, and some sort of social media influence.  

Most people under the poverty line in America do not have the excess time and expendable income that is necessary for success in the “thrift flipping” industry. 

Successful “thrift flippers” typically buy the nicest clothing pieces in bulk from thrift stores on the day that the thrift stores stock new items in their showrooms. New item stock days are different for every thrift store, and thrift stores also stock the newest items at a particular time on that day. 

For most people who work long hours during the week, especially if those same people have two or more jobs, it would be almost impossible for them to block out time to be “first in line” for the newest items on the stockroom floor.  

Not to mention that the items that are of a nice enough quality to “flip” for a profit margin will cost more than the items that are depreciated in some way (with stains, holes, outdated patterns, etc.). 

With barely enough cash to live off of most months, people under the poverty line are likely not able to buy the nicest clothing in bulk at the thrift store—especially now that the “thrift flipping” trend has created a higher demand for thrifted clothes, and thus also creating price inflation in the thrift store industry.  

Even if a low-income person was able to buy good quality clothes in bulk for the purpose of reselling them, they would also have to have a large enough social media presence (on Instagram, Facebook, Depop, Poshmark, or Decari) that would entice people to shop from them instead of from the thousands of other people who do the exact same thing with thrifted clothes; and these other people, if they are from the middle or upper classes, could probably afford to “flip” the thrifted clothes in a more “upscale” way by purchasing more professional tools (like a sewing machine) and trendy embellishments (like buttons, zippers, etc.).  

No matter how one tries to shake it, low-income people are left with slim pickings every day at thrift stores because so-called “thrift flippers” are buying up all the nicest clothes that hit the stockroom shelves before the nine-to-five workday even ends.  

A solution to this issue could be to limit the clientele of thrift stores based on their amount of available income in their household, much like what state-run food banks do, so as to keep financially well-off people from entering thrift stores. Someone who is financially well-off can easily afford to shop for clothes online or at a department store.  

A household income restriction would inherently cut off the possibility of middle and upper-class people reselling cheaply bought items at thrift stores for a high profit margin. Then, and only then, would people who live under the poverty line in America actually have the practical opportunity to try and “thrift flip” if they wanted to, as the issue of the “thrift flip” trend would come to a quick end (since it was basically just a way for wealthy people to make a quick buck off a public resource). The original purpose and design of thrift stores as a support for low-income families would be reinstated.  

So, until a solution like this can be instituted by thrift stores or our state government, stay out of thrift stores if you can afford clothes anywhere else.  


  • Trinity Langbein

    Trinity is a senior English Literature, Creative Writing and Spanish triple-major. She enjoys all things humanities and loves to learn about different cultures.

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