Shopping secondhand an exclusively North American trend?

A thriving North American thrifting scene is not the same once you cross the Atlantic.

A thriving North American thrifting scene is not the same once you cross the Atlantic.

As a lifelong thrifter, I’ve seen an increase in young adults embracing the term “thrift-store junkie.” On any given day, in any given thrift store, it is almost guaranteed there will be at least one young person sifting through hoards of handkerchiefs, ’80s pantsuits and other used clothing. In Canada, it seems thrifting is a growing trend, as more and more groups of teenagers opt to go to secondhand stores instead of the mall.

But if you were to travel halfway around the world to the United Kingdom, it’s be a different story. Thrift stores are tiny, mostly vacant and cater almost exclusively to the elderly. What is it about Canada that has inspired young adults’ fascination with thrifting? And why hasn’t it caught on elsewhere?

Buying secondhand has many benefits, such as keeping clothes out of the landfill while saving money. It seems strange that it is still not enough to win over the people of the UK.

Darien Ross of Edinburgh, Scotland, explains: “I really don’t see the younger demographic shopping at thrift stores. When you have stores like Primark as a main retailer, where you can get brand new clothes for the same cost as at a thrift store, why would you go to a thrift store? It loses the appeal.”

Primark, a huge retailer of clothing, accessories, and home decor is huge competition for the rare and tiny thrift stores. With pyjama sets for £3 (CDN $6) and shirts starting at £2 (CDN $4), it is the same, if not cheaper, to get it new from the store.

Two hours away in London, England, Sunny Anadil manages his stall in London’s famous Brick Lane Vintage Market. It’s a scene overrun by fashionable teenagers looking to dish out cash for pre-owned goods, most of which are cleverly relabeled “vintage” instead of “thrift.” Is London’s fashionable reputation to blame for the fall of thrift, but the rise of the more expensive vintage clothing? According to Anadil, “The buying power of the new counterculture (a.k.a. hipsters) is the drive for all of the start-ups in the Shoreditch area in London. There are a few thrift shops near central London, but vintage clothes are quite popular. Especially designer and reworked vintage clothes, which have been redone by new local designers.”

It is possible that chain retailers and people’s willingness to spend more money for “vintage” is partially to blame for the lack of a secondhand clothing movement in the UK. As long as these factors are in effect, it’s unlikely it will ever catch on. In Vancouver, however, it is in full force.

Daniel Reddy of Community Thrift and Vintage, located in Gastown, is excited about the continued growth of the movement, especially now that young people are taking over, creating a new generation of environmentally aware Canadians. “Thrifting is especially popular in the city of Vancouver because of the green movement,” he said. “There’s an increase in reduce, reuse and recycle, which helps keep clothes out of our landfills, but it’s also especially great for younger people that are in post-secondary because the prices are definitely not as expensive as they are at retail stores. It also gives a sense of individuality because the clothing is one of a kind, which would appeal to any young person.”

Vancouver’s green reputation, along with the fact that we have easy access not only to small, independent thrift stores, but also large, mainstream corporations such as Value Village, no doubt contributes to the thrift movement. Easily accessible, with tons of selection, thrift stores in Canada have made it easy to shop secondhand.

Perhaps the UK needs to provide its residents more opportunities, or perhaps more information about the environmental benefits of shopping secondhand. However, the reality is that as long as the UK has stores such as Primark, there will never be a high demand for thrift or even a need for it at all.


Journalism student at KPU.

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