Courtesy of Pia Catton
ThredUP is the latest attempt to reinvent shopping by eliminating the store and sending clothes to your door. But in this case, the clothes are secondhand. It seems as if it should be thrifty. So over the past few weeks, I gave it a try. Now I’m skeptical.
If you’re a regular secondhand shopper, you know the pros and cons: Thrift stores can be messy, chaotic, and sometimes a little grimy, but you could wind up with a bargain. Or you could end up with nothing. Except the need to wash your hands.
So here comes ThredUP to disrupt the concept of thrift stores and allow you to shop online for used clothing. But does it live up to the hype?
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ThredUp vs. Traditional Thrift Stores: A Review of Options
In my experience, the site’s main benefit is that it makes thrifting clean and organized. But I wasn’t overly impressed with the prices.
This isn’t like going to the local Goodwill or Salvation Army, where you have to hunt, but often wind up with steals. In nonprofit thrift stores, lower-end items like activewear are super cheap, but ThredUP prices for activewear seem closer to T.J. Maxx’s or Marshall’s.
The real bargains on secondhand clothing are usually at the higher end. And for that merchandise, I felt as if the prices were comparable to for-profit secondhand stores like Beacon’s Closet or Buffalo Exchange.
I wound up buying a cotton A-line skirt by the British brand Jigsaw for $20. I also tried ThredUP’s Goody Box system. You put down a deposit, specify your clothing preferences, and then receive a box of clothes. You can send back the items you don’t like.
I’ve done Stitch Fix, so I was expecting to get something similar to what that online service sends, which is a shoebox size package. Instead, what arrived at my door was a large square box, the size you’d use for moving.
ThredUP sent me 16 items that were impressively close to what I asked for in terms of color, size, and fabrics. Even so, I rejected about half the items right away and only tried on the other half. I kept one item: a pair of black wool pants from Vince for $40.
The clothes were a little wrinkled, but unlike what you can find at traditional thrift stores, they appeared fairly clean and close to new. I didn’t reject anything because it was too worn or old, but because of fit and budget. This raises the question: Is ThredUP actually thrifty?
My ThredUP Review: Is This Thrift Store Worth It?
Don’t fool yourself. You’re spending money, not saving it. ThredUP is another form of shopping as entertainment. And in the case of the Goody Box, it’s a treat to have someone do the work for you.
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ThredUP tries to make you feel better about spending, with messages such as “Save on clothes, save the planet.”
It’s true that secondhand shopping keeps clothing out of landfills. But that’s not new. It’s just effective marketing to millennials.
Clothing sales are steadily increasing while the number of times consumers wear each item is steadily decreasing, according to ThredUP’s 2019 Resale Report. At the same time, the study found that 74 percent of consumers aged 18 to 29 “prefer buy sustainably conscious brands.”
It’s highly debatable how environmentally friendly it is to pack and ship clothes around the country. But setting that concern aside, the real issue for me is the negative impact that ThredUp could have on thrift stores that support charities.
If you’re thrifting online, then maybe you’re not spending at stores in your community, which often support churches, hospitals, schools, or causes, as well as Goodwill or the Salvation Army.
What’s more, if you try ThredUp’s Clean Out bag, you send them your unwanted clothes instead of giving all that stuff to your local charity. I did request the Clean Out bag for this column, and I’ll send a few things in to see if I wind up receiving any cash back.
It’s the same process as at for-profit thrift stores, only instead of going to the store, you’re shipping it. And is that really saving the planet?