Thrifting gains steam as Gen Z looks for sustainable options


As dressing rooms closed because of the pandemic, shoppers still flocked to the clothing racks found in thrift stores, like Goodwill and Kidz Cloz of Battle Ground.

Thrift shopping is not a new activity, but younger generations have once again picked up the trend, opting to buy used clothing to reduce waste and maintain a sustainable lifestyle, said Dale Emanuel, the public relations manager of Goodwill Industries of the Columbia Willamette.

“Gen Z is the most thrifty of the generations,” Emanuel said. “Parents might think that they want better for their child than to thrift, but someone who is Gen Z sees thrifting as being better to everyone throughout the world.”

Clothing is the number one item Goodwill receives and sells year-round, she said. Every day, employees restock five to eight racks that hold 100 items each.

In 2020 alone, Goodwill Industries of the Columbia Willamette received more than 176 million pounds of donations. Store employees recycled and sold over 77 percent of those items, Emanuel wrote in an email.

Of those recycled donations, 22.7 million pounds were clothing materials. Mixed metal was the second largest with 5.9 million pounds, Emanuel wrote.

Jessica Stenson, the manager of the Battle Ground Goodwill, noticed shoppers come in at all times of the day, even on weekdays, because of the pandemic. Stenson said board games, bicycles and other outdoor activities are flying off the shelves.

Items stay in Goodwill stores for about four weeks on average, Emanuel said. If the pieces don’t sell, they are transported to the Vancouver Outlet store, also known as “the bins.”

Large quantities of items ranging from housewares, toys and clothing are laid out on rolling tables to be sold by the pound for a discounted price, she said.

Many thrifters visit the outlets to purchase clothing they later sell on popular second-hand websites, like Poshmark and Depop.

If the clothing still doesn’t sell at the outlets, items are placed into bundles weighing between 1,000 and 2,000 pounds, Emanuel said. The bundles travel by train and ship, and are sold to other countries that don’t have manufacturing facilities to make textile materials.

“We really try to stretch your donation in different ways,” Emanuel said.

Kidz Cloz owner Brooke Nielsen opened a thrift store almost 30 years ago when she noticed how quickly her 10-month-old son went through clothes.

“Thrifting keeps it out of the landfill. Little people wear items for such a short amount of time that it’s still in fabulous shape,” Nielsen said.

People can bring their used belongings to the shop on consignment where they earn 40 percent of the sale price. Nielsen is currently accepting summer clothes.

Nielsen recommends looking for pieces in smaller and larger sizes because brands each have different sizing metrics.

She also encouraged people to check sale racks because it doesn’t mean the clothing is damaged, it just means time for the item is expiring for the person who consigned the item.

“I think thrifting is the only way to go. It’s how I grew up,” Nielsen said. “I do notice that there’s a lot of more younger people coming in.”

Emanuel suggests these tips while thrifting:

Shoppers should visit stores on Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays because the greatest number of donations come in over the weekend.

Goodwill receives the majority of its furniture donations at the end of the month because leases often expire around that time.

There are certain times of the year where the most valuable items are up for sale, like after Labor Day because it symbolizes the end of summer. Emanuel also said December through February is a prime time for quality items.

Goodwill puts colored tags on its merchandise. If the item features the discount color of the week, the price is cut in half.