N.B. thrift shops are seeing a sharp sales increase, and say 2 key factors are driving it
A new demographic of shoppers is turning to environment-friendly thrifting, shop owners say
Several New Brunswick thrift shops say they've seen a spike in interest from consumers in recent months, thanks to increasing environmental awareness and a new demographic of shoppers.
Betty Blanchard opened My Closet Consignment in Fredericton four years ago and says business has increased significantly since stores reopened following the onset of COVID-19.
Blanchard, who sells used clothing and gives a portion of sales to consignors, said her overall sales have grown 20 per cent since 2019.
"We are seeing incredible increases," she said.
Blanchard attributes this spike largely to consumers' stronger desire to shop close to home and growing concern for the environment.
"Just by the conversations that we've had, that is definitely top of mind," she said. "People are shopping more locally."
Blanchard said she's also seeing a lot more people wanting to sell their used clothing.
Prior to the pandemic, she said, her wait times to meet with would-be consigners was typically about three weeks. Now, she sees about 42 people a week — and it takes about eight weeks to get an appointment.
During the pandemic, Blanchard opened a new Fredericton store that sells consignment home decor and furniture. With business still booming, she's now opening a clothing and furniture consignment store in Saint John.
Nathan King who owns the Clothes Mine thrift store in Saint John, said he too has noticed an increase in thrifting's popularity.
Prior to the pandemic, King relied heavily on tourists for business, but even with the massive cuts in tourism brought on by COVID-19 restrictions, his store is still seeing stronger sales than in 2019.
"Over the last six months, we've noticed the community really coming together, people getting into the trend of buying second-hand instead of buying new fast fashion," King said.
King said he has also noticed that more consumers are conscious about being environmentally friendly.
Thrift stores offer an "amazing" option for environment-minded shoppers, he said, noting "every item we sell" is an item that doesn't go to a landfill.
'Whirlwind' sales for online thrift store
Niki Burnham began selling thrifted furniture and home decor on Instagram in January of 2020.
Throughout the pandemic, despite the pinch COVID-19 put on retail, Burnham's business kept growing, with consumers claiming repurposed and vintage furniture items minutes after she posted them.
"It's been amazing, a complete whirlwind," said Burnham, owner of Homegrown Studio, which operates solely online.
Burnham said she's always loved thrifting, and is excited to see it becoming a trend.
She said she's received many messages from consumers who say they never considered thrifting before they noticed how many quality pieces you can find.
"There's been a huge uptick," she said.
"It's been coming for a long time, we see a huge shift ... especially with (younger) people, to choosing second-hand instead of buying new and I think that comes a lot with awareness for the environment."
A new demographic
Amid the rising numbers of customers perusing items in her stores, Blanchard has noticed a new demographic: teenagers.
That's an age group she rarely saw prior to the pandemic.
Blanchard believes the environment is driving that trend, with that age group clearly showing a desire to lower their personal carbon footprint.
King said he's also noticed more young consumers taking a liking to his thrift shop.
"It's really, really exciting to see, because not even 20 years ago, thrift wasn't all that popular – and was almost seen as a faux pas," said King.
That's definitely changing, he said.
Now, he said, he often witnesses crowds of teenager shoppers in his store, excited about expanding their wardrobe and snatching up vintage pieces.
Fast fashion impacts
Muhannad Malas, a senior climate campaigner with the environmental advocacy group Stand.earth, said the fast fashion industry has long been known for its devastating impacts on water use and labour rights.
Fast fashion, a profitable industry that mass-produces trendy, low-cost clothing as quickly as possible, accounts for between five and eight per cent of all global climate emissions, Malas said.
"That's more than what Canada, Germany and France combined contribute in terms of climate carbon emissions," he said.
Malas said fast fashion companies often use cheap materials like polyester and cotton that strain the planet's resources, contain plastics that release carbon dioxide emissions into the air and don't last.
But awareness of how this industry impacts the environment is growing, he said.
The rising popularity of thrift shopping is an example, with more vintage shops opening and more influencers promoting thrift shopping on social media, and with that popularity comes power.
"Increasingly, people have been going to thrift shops to purchase clothing that's been used before, and that definitely has an impact in terms of lessening our individual footprint," said Malas.
"But what I think is more important is that it sends a very critical signal to brands and companies that consumers want to see them take serious action to cut their climate emissions."
- A previous version of this story said My Closet Consignment purchased used items of clothing and fixed them for resale. In fact, the business only accepts clothing already in perfect condition.Aug 27, 2021 10:07 AM AT
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