In with the old: Calgary second-hand stores say demand high for thrifted wares

Despite off-and-on closures and uncertainty caused by the pandemic, Calgary thrift stores say the second-hand business is booming. 

Fashion management professor says second-hand growth competing with fast-fashion

Tulsa Williams, a Calgary thrift shopper, shows off one of her second-hand purchases. (Axel Tardieu/CBC)

Despite off-and-on closures and uncertainty caused by the pandemic, Calgary thrift stores say the second-hand business is booming. 

Goodwill's sales and donations have increased compared to pre-pandemic levels, says Doug Roxburgh, manager of brand, integrity and marketing for Goodwill Industries of Alberta. 

He says demand is up — in part — because some people want to keep clothes out of landfills. But he says the industry has also seen a change in perception. 

"If you look 20 years ago, there would have been a huge stigma around buying second-hand. That isn't so much the case anymore," he said. 

Roxburgh says Goodwill has also seen an increase in donations during the pandemic, while more people spent time at home. 

Like Goodwill, Man of Distinction — a men's consignment store with locations in Calgary and Okotoks — has seen an influx of people bringing in clothes during the pandemic. But what people are looking for has changed. 

Mariella McMahon, store manager at Man of Distinction in Inglewood, says more people have brought in clothes for consignment during the pandemic. (Supplied by Mariella McMahon)

"We used to sell a lot of dress wear… used to sell a lot of that for men going to the office, or to weddings or parties," said Mariella McMahon, store manager at Man of Distinction in Inglewood. 

"We sell a lot of casual clothes right now. A lot of athletic wear, like Lululemon, are big sellers for us."

McMahon says she's worked in second-hand stores for six years, and in that time she's seen more men embrace thrifting. 

"There have been ladies' resale stores for years and there's at least 20 of them in this city alone. I think men have slowly started to catch on that this is an option for them as well," McMahon said. 

Tulsa Williams, a Calgary thrift shopper, says she hits the racks about once a month. But when she goes shopping she tries to get a "haul," so she can spend a lot of time looking through each piece, and visit multiple stores in a day. 

She's drawn to buying second-hand so she can find unique pieces. 

"I know thrift shopping has gotten a lot more popular in the past years. But when you go to a thrift shop, it's one of a single piece. It's not like you're going to look at a rack and see all the exact same sweaters. So it just kind of feels like you're not a clone," she said. 

"When you do find something really good, you feel so much more fulfilled."

Professor says increase part of global trend 

Francesca D'Angelo, professor and program coordinator for the fashion management program at Humber College in Toronto, says what second-hand retailers in Calgary are experiencing is part of a bigger global trend. 

"In the last five years, we've seen an increase in both the second-hand shopping experience, as well as donations in the field," she said. 

Rows of second-hand clothes. Goodwill staff say the organization has seen an increase in donations during the pandemic. (Axel Tardieu/CBC)

D'Angelo says Canada is one of the top five markets for resale shoppers in the world. 

Globally, she says, the thrift market is growing "exponentially," and the second-hand market is competing with fast-fashion. 

She says second-hand stores often tout the ability to shop sustainably, but she says social media plays a role too. Younger adults and teens often see online influencers push short-lived trends that change quickly.

"I think the key thing, first and foremost, is the accessibility to current trends and value," she said. "Thrift shopping alone enables you to be able to purchase a lot, and to stay on trend." 

She also says many people are looking for items that make them stand out. 

"This sense of uniqueness, or a thrill to find something unique," she said.

With files from CBC's Axel Tardieu


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