Thoughtful Thrifting (Part 2): Becoming A More Ethical Thrifter

Welcome back to another ‘Thoughtful Thrifting’ article! In Part 1, we shared our thoughts on the conversations around whether thrifting is becoming gentrified and being mindful of our privileges when thrifting. To continue the conversation started in Part 1, we wanted to share a few ways that we can all become more mindful and ethical thrifters. Let’s get into it:


There are certain items, in thrift stores, that are in higher demand than other items. These include men’s clothing, plus-sized clothing and children’s clothing. This is most applicable in charity stores, where the price points are significantly lower than curated vintage/thrift stores, which means they are often the most affordable places for lower-income people to access these categories of clothing. Ask yourself why you want the item and if you really need it. If you don’t specifically need these in-demand items, it’s best to steer clear of them.


If you’re a straight-sized person (S-L), don’t unnecessarily buy larger/plus-sized pieces. Plus-size people have less access to clothes in general, but especially in the slow fashion space. Sometimes thrifted clothes are the only place they can access slow fashion. As Emma explained in our cnscs_ people interview with her:

“The second-hand markets are still not particularly size-inclusive, because there is less plus-size stock out there, to begin with. Also, when we do find clothes that work for us, we tend to hold onto them for longer. So, by the time the garments reach the second-hand market, they are not in a good enough condition to resell. It’s the same with men’s second-hand clothes, because men tend to hang onto their clothes differently from women.”

We understand that some straight-sized people feel more comfortable in oversized clothing and it is a part of their personal style. But, be mindful of unnecessarily buying beyond your size range, especially if you aren’t certain that you’ll get loads of wear out of the item, because it can make it difficult for plus-sized people to find thrifted clothing in their sizes.


This is the ultimate no-go. ‘Thrift flipping’ refers to the process of buying a second-hand item and altering it to become something else. This is particularly problematic when it comes to people thrift flipping plus-sized, thrifted garments so that they fit a straight-sized person. As we have mentioned, larger/plus-sized second-hand garments are already pretty scarce, but adding a viral thrift-flipping trend to the mix makes it even harder for plus-sized people to find thrifted items in their sizes. What makes it even worse is that often, content creators make thrift flip videos, but don’t even end up cherishing and wearing the item that they converted.

It’s important for straight-sized people (including us) to be aware of our size privilege, be grateful for how easily we are able to find clothes that fit us and acknowledge that we shouldn’t be unnecessarily buying clothing way out of our size range on a whim, or for a viral trend. This quote, from an i-D article that explains how the thrift flipping trend that has taken TikTok by storm has its roots in fatphobia, perfectly sums up the ethical issues with thrift flipping:

“‘Before’ and ‘after’ shots in thrift flip videos echo an ugly truth about the way society thinks about bigger clothes and the bodies that fit them. In these videos, the usually thin creator slouches in the ‘ugly’ garment. After the garment has been ‘fixed’, suddenly it’s considered attractive. It’s also much smaller.

Fat bodies and aesthetics have always had plenty of negative connotations, explains Amanda M. Czerniawski, an Associate Professor of Instruction in Sociology at Temple University and author of Fashioning Fat: Inside Plus-Size Modeling. “[These videos] conform to our societal expectations and beliefs about bodies, particularly fat, larger bodies, as being unhealthy, undisciplined, lazy and undesirable.”


This is just a reminder that sharing infographics on social media is important, but what is just as important is that we all need to find sustainable ways to extend our anti-racist activism into our offline lives too. Celebrating, supporting and uplifting Black people and People of Colour should go beyond our social media presence. Investing in Black and POC-owned businesses, even when you are thrifting, is a great way to use your money as your vote.

If you’re based in South Africa and you are looking for a Black or POC-owned online thrift store to browse through when you are next in the mood to go thrifting, you can check out this list compiled by HADEDA and this article compiled by Alyx Carolus.


Just because it is second hand, doesn’t mean we should over-consume. A few years ago, we used to tell ourselves that we could buy as much as we wanted to, as long as it was second hand. But, we’ve since had a change of heart and realised that in telling ourselves that, we were still stuck within the mindset of over-consumption and constantly desiring more, more, more, instead of healing our relationship with fashion and learning to love and style what we already have.

Especially when you are in a charity store and the prices are a bargain, it can be tempting to buy whatever catches your eye, even if you’re not 100% sure how much wear you’ll get out of it or whether it will actually go with the other clothes in your wardrobe. If you are unsure about it, that probably means that you don’t really need/want it – be honest with yourself. Take this as a sign to leave it be and let it spark joy in someone else’s day. Buying something just for the sake of it probably means it is going to sit in your closet and go to waste anyway.

One way that could help you thrift with more intention is to create a thrift wishlist or moodboard. By creating a list of things you need or things you are specifically looking out for, you’ll have a mental image of what to look for when you walk into a thrift store and (hopefully) this will help you to not make too many impulsive purchases.

But, we also know that thrift stores are often filled with so many unexpected gems and something catches your eye that you didn’t even know that you were looking for. That is totally fine too and is part of the beauty of buying second hand. This is more of a reminder to be mindful of your own relationship to fashion and consumption when thrifting than it is a guilt trip for buying a thrifted gem that you never knew you needed.

We share these articles with you because they are based on lessons we have learnt throughout the years. We have made many of our own mistakes, and so our intention is never to make you feel guilty or ashamed of past mistakes, but instead for us all to be aware of the little ways that we can be more thoughtful and conscious people.  Thrifting is a joy that we both love and always encourage, but we are learning that there are ways for us to be more thoughtful while we do it.

Happy thrifting, cnscs_ people!

With Love,

Masego and Stella


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