Ring up the old — Environmental benefit, vintage popularity boost interest in thrift stores

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Arvada resident Eddie Marin has a passion for finding vintage items, and he shops at thrift stores at least twice a week. He looks for vintage sports T-shirts, old VHS tapes, hats, sweaters and more. Marin has found Star Wars lunchboxes from 1980, original Wheaties cereal boxes that feature Michael Jordan and vintage golf cleats from the early 1990s.

He’ll keep some of the items he’ll find at thrift stores, usually Denver Nuggets and Jordan apparel, or he’ll sell them at ThriftCon, a vintage clothing and collectible convention that takes places in Denver.

“Every vintage T-shirt or piece of clothing is unique. Nowadays, everyone uses the same designs and same material for their items,” said Marin. “Everything (from) back in the day feels much better, I think.”

Marin’s passion for vintage apparel and items is an example of why thrift stores have become more popular, according to Elena Karpova, a professor at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro’s Department of Consumer, Apparel and Retail Studies.

The online resale marketplace thredUP estimates the resale market in 2018 hit $24 billion. Other than vintage apparel being trendy, Karpova says there’s another drive for interest in thrift stores — helping the environment.

“You continuously hear about climate change and people realize, in my opinion, that we should do something about it. While few of us are able to make big sweeping changes in regulations, all of us as consumers and citizens can do some small changes in our daily lives that will help us to be more sustainable,” said Karpova. “Food and clothing are things we use daily. We can make a big impact and people realize that more and more.”

Social media has charged consumers to purchase new and cool trendy items, Karpova says in the book she helped co-author “Going Global: The Textile and Apparel Industry.” The demand for those items has led to fast fashion — cheap clothing made by mass-market retailers responding to what is trendy. Think of stores like H&M, Forever 21 and others.

The result of fast fashion leads to clothing becoming disposable like plastic bags, plastic utensils and paper plates, and according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, a charity that works to accelerate the transition to a circular economy, one garbage truck of clothes is burned or landfilled every second.

“What is fashionable? Our perception has to change,” said Karpova. “If being sustainable and environmentally friendly becomes fashionable, it will completely change the consumption patterns. Just shopping secondhand isn’t going to solve it, but if I’m not buying new and I’m buying secondhand instead, I prevent clothing from going to the landfill.”

Thrifting to connect and make a difference

You never know what you’re going to find at a thrift store. At Treasure Trunk Community Thrift Store in Wheat Ridge, which supports the human-services organization Family Tree, a pair of vintage handmade spurs came in this month, according to Rebekah Hawthorne, the store’s manager. The spurs were made in Colorado and featured a woman’s leg, complete with crosshatched fishnets. Treasure Trunk Community Thrift Store put the spurs for sale on eBay, and they sold for $500.

“Beyond the benefits of reducing and reusing, being involved in your local thrift store is a great way to connect with your community. Donating items you no longer need is a very direct way to help your neighbors and frees up your space in a positive way,” said Hawthorne. “Plus, it’s fun to see your stuff get new homes.”

Becky Watson, manager of Global Thrift in Arvada, says she sees familiar faces walk through the store’s doors regularly, making the location more personal.

“It’s their own community thrift store, and that’s kind of special,” said Watson. Global Thrift is operated by volunteers and benefits Global Refuge, an organization that carries out international projects for refugees.

“When it’s a thrift store that has a mission behind it, the community comes together, and it becomes a special place for the community as well,” she said.

Watson said she has seen books, tools, records, furniture, purses, toys and more come through Global Thrift. Instruments like guitars, organs and pianos have also been donated to the store.

“It’s always interesting when you have someone’s personal things. I think a lot of people are trying to simply their life and their spending as well,” said Watson. “(People) realize you don’t always have to buy a brand-new item when you can buy something at a lower cost. It’s reusing and being wise with your finances.”

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