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Is Reselling Thrifted Clothing Sustainable or Selfish? TikTok User Sparks Ethical Debate

by Emmaly Anderson

Hike up your ‘90s Levis – social media users are in a heated debate concerning the ethics of reselling thrifted clothes online. Reselling, or “thrift flipping,” particularly on the app Depop, has been wrought with controversy for years, but the discourse has been re-ignited since one seller posted a now viral “thrift haul” video on TikTok. 


the first jacket is everything

♬ original sound – Jack

 Jack (@jbwells2), who posted the video that has garnered nearly 6 million views, runs the online store Jack’s Vntg on the Depop app; Much of her TikTok feed features “try-on hauls,” where she puts on and styles recently thrifted pieces that will later be put up for sale – at a price point much higher than what she purchased these items for. Given that search suggestions include “jbwells controversy,” “jbwells is a bad person,” and “jbwells overconsumption” when you look up her TikTok profile, many are questioning the ethics of Jack’s business practices. 

Words like “greedy” and “scalper” have been thrown around. Some have gone so far as to compare resellers like Jack to landlords who buy out and flip properties in lower-income areas, like this Twitter user who referred to reselling as “the gen z version of being a landlord.” 

 While users have criticized this comparison for its lack of nuance, the conversation conflating the “flipping” practices of clothing and real estate isn’t new. Since at least 2020, journalists and social media users alike have shared the opinion that thrift flipping is a smaller-scale aspect of gentrification, wherein lower-income people are pushed out of access to resources due to wealthier individuals moving in on those resources. Prices at thrift stores have gone up in recent years, at least in part due to the increasing popularity of secondhand shopping and reselling – the secondhand fashion market is projected to be twice the size of fast fashion by 2030 – and some are worried that this shift is making affordable second-hand clothing less accessible to low-income people who rely on it.

 The argument that bulk-buying and reselling thrifted clothing online takes away resources from low-income individuals is somewhat buffeted by the fact that there is actually an excess of clothing being donated to thrift stores, and much of that clothing is still ending up in landfills. Last year, in since-deleted TikTok videos, Jack addressed criticisms from users calling out her “overconsumption,” saying that she’s seen truckloads of clothes dropped off at her local Goodwill. “There are more clothes being donated than can be sold,” she said. “While the demand resellers have for thrifted items is high right now, it’s still not higher than the supply of thrifted clothing.” Following the most recent backlash, Jack reiterated this sentiment in an Instagram caption, writing “Where i live, there are 20 goodwills. All overflowing, all restocking hourly, and all sending truckloads of excess clothing to the bins. It’s terrifying to see the amount of clothing going to waste, while fast fashion continues to pollute and abuse their workers.”

 There is no question that the clothing industry, particularly fast fashion (think Forever 21 and SHEIN), is extremely wasteful and damaging to the environment. The garment industry is the second biggest polluter on the planet behind oil, contributing 10 percent of global carbon emissions. 85 percent of all clothing in the U.S. is burned or ends up in landfills, and the average American throws away 81 pounds of clothing per year. For these reasons, supporters of Jack and other resellers argue that reselling popularizes secondhand clothing over fast fashion, possibly relieving some of the fashion industry’s wastefulness. Venetia La Manna, a fair fashion campaigner, told BuzzFeed that, “A lot of these people that we’re getting annoyed about for thrifting and then jacking up the prices on Depop, these are predominantly young women who are ultimately not doing anything that harmful. They’re not working for Amazon or Shein. This isn’t an influencer using an affiliate link to get you to buy from Nasty Gal or Revolve. They’re not forcing you to buy anything.”

Even so, further criticism of Jack and her online store fueled debate as to whether or not the practice of reselling thrifted items online for profit counts as “real work,” with one Twitter referring to Jack’s – and many other resellers’ – business model as “inconsiderate exploitation.”

 Aja Barber, a fashion consultant who writes about sustainable fashion, argued that the curation that goes into running a shop like Jack’s is hard work, and isn’t as easy and glamorous as critics seem to think. “The problem with not respecting and acknowledging the labor of others is rife in our society but ESPECIALLY in the conversation about fashion,” she wrote. “It is there when people expect unreasonably low prices for clothes. It’s there when people get mad at resellers.”

 Barber also made the point that, “the vast majority of people do not know the labor that goes into sourcing clothing for resale,” and that “[she] couldn’t do it for a living, which means that if a reseller finds something that [she] like[s], [she] is happy to pay for their labor.” She went on to explain that “resellers can tell you some stories. Miscellaneous stains. Dirty underpants. Dirty diapers. It’s not for the faint of heart.”

Other supporters of Jack pointed out that what she does for a living is not new or any different than what antique and vintage stores have been doing for decades.

 Jack says that, since starting Jack’s Vntg at the age of 16 when she was living on her own, thrifting and reselling is how she could afford to get through college. In her Instagram post, she writes, “like most resellers, i am not rich. I grew up thrifting and relying on secondhand clothing.” She goes on to explain that she started Jack’s Vntg with “$100 to [her] name” and that it is the reason she was able to “pay [her] bills, eat, and survive on [her] own as an 18 year old.” 

The online debate concerning the ethics of thrifting and reselling continues, and given the nature of internet discourse, likely won’t be going away anytime soon, but many supporters of the practice echo Jack’s sentiment that, “Reselling pushes circular fashion, sustainable consumption, and helps low income individuals earn a living wage off of endless clothing.”

Top Photo: Screengrab from TikTok

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