“The golden age of savings is over”

Tina Koeppe grew up saving. When she was younger, she spent weekends in thrift stores with her mother, looking for trinkets and unique clothes, but especially looking for quality items to fit into her family’s tight budget. Now in her 40s and with a daughter of her own, Ms. Koeppe has carried the economy from her youth into adulthood. Most of the furniture and decor in her home came from thrift stores. All of her clothes, except for her socks and underwear, were bought second-hand.

But lately, “there are fewer and fewer desirable items,” Ms. Koeppe said in an interview. At the start of the coronavirus pandemic, she began to notice that her local thrift stores in Lincoln, Neb., were filling up with items from Shein, LuLaRoe, Fashion Nova and other fast fashion brands, whose clothes have tend to be relatively inexpensive, often adapting designs from small boutiques and high-end brands.

At the time, she assumed it was because people were cleaning out their closets while stuck at home.

“I would go in thrift stores thinking I might find a few things for my wardrobe or for my family, and it would just be absolute, you know, garbage on the shelves,” Ms. Koeppe said. “Like stained fashion clothes that no one wants.” But even now, she still finds fast fashion items, sometimes with tags still on them, hanging on the shelves.

The rise of fast fashion has changed the way young women shop for clothes, according to sustainable fashion educator Megan McSherry, 25. It’s “almost impossible”, she said, to scroll through social media without coming across so-called transport videos showing hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars worth of clothes from Zara or Shein.

“These transports only encourage overconsumption,” Ms McSherry said. “And there’s no way all of these items are constantly being worn.”

Because of the boom in savings, what isn’t worn ends up being given away, Ms. McSherry said. While it’s a better option than sending clothes straight to the landfill, she says, a thoughtless donation can direct lower-quality items to people who really need them, while increasing the costs of running businesses. thrift stores.

“If you donate trash to a thrift store, it doesn’t just go away,” Adam Minter, author of “Occasion: Travels in the New World Garage Sale,” said in an interview. He added that smaller stores in particular could easily be overwhelmed with incoming clothing, which would make it “much more difficult to run a thrift store”.

He said his research had shown that thrift stores had no shortage of donations, especially in recent years. But an increase in donations has led to increased costs for businesses. Stores need more employees and more time to sort clothes. Inventory and space issues mean more clothes must be sold on the export market at lower cost or disposed of, which comes at a financial cost, he said. This means that what is sold on the store floor – which is usually 20% of donations – is more expensive to offset the cost of running the store.

But more choice doesn’t necessarily mean better quality. Last year, online consignment store ThredUp received more clothes than any other year since its inception in 2009, with many of those items coming from fast fashion retailers, the company said. Compared to 2020, there was a 186% increase in the number of items listed from Shein and a 75% increase in items from PrettyLittleThing, a ThredUp spokeswoman said in an email.

“There are all these clothes out there, but it’s just that they might not be as durable as you would like,” Minter said. Due to fast fashion, more than 60% of fibers in fabrics are now synthetic, derived from fossil fuels.

This is alarming for generations of women who have saved for decades to stock their closets cheaply with clothes made of high quality materials.

“I would say the golden age of saving is over,” Megan Miller, 65, said in an interview. “The ability to find high-quality, well-made things is definitely on the decline.”

She said the dominance of fast fashion items in stores where she lives in Lake Havasu City, Arizona, on the banks of the Colorado River, has become hard to ignore. Encountering so many fast fashion items while browsing frustrated her, she said, because likely “they were made by someone making pennies on the dollar in terrible conditions” to fuel “change. seasons or trends”.

Despite the less desirable options, Ms. Miller still ventures into savings.

“There’s something ingrained in me about not paying exorbitant prices for something that I know I could – if I’m just patient – find at the thrift store for a fraction of the price,” Ms. Miller.

Angela Petraline, 52, owner of Dorothea Vintage’s Closet, a Des Moines-based online store, has been a thrift store since the 1980s. “It would take minutes to find something cool,” she said of the old days. “Now I’m lucky to find something cool.”

“Before, you could find high-quality vintage items: silk, cashmere,” she said. “It’s rarer now.” Ms Petraline said that while she rarely finds items in thrift stores for herself, she has started visiting them to find clothes for her teenage son. During the summers, they traveled to nearby towns to prevent cheap clothes from crowding their local stores.

“But even then, it becomes almost entirely fast fashion,” she said. “Which is incredibly depressing: you drive 60 miles and you’re like, ‘Well, why did I do that?'”

For Ms. Koeppe, the glut of fast fashion has recently become more troublesome. At the beginning of this year, she started looking for work clothes in preparation for her reintegration into the labor market. (In May, she earned her master’s degree in instructional design and technology.)

She said that while it was considerably harder to find the items she needed this year than the last time she had to shop for work clothes, she wasn’t interested in other affordable options in her region, such as Target or Vieille Marine. Unimpressed with the big-box store pieces that are made of synthetic fibers and sometimes start to fray after a few washes, she craved the linen, wool and cashmere she was used to finding.

“I like my clothes to last and I understand how clothes are made,” Ms. Koeppe said. “I want clothes that will still look good after wearing them many times.”

“It shouldn’t be harder to find good stuff,” she added.

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