Style, Substance, and Sustainability
How young fashionistas are leading the way to a sustainable future – and looking good while doing it
In this new era of sustainability, younger shoppers, in an effort to not only express their unique selves but live by their beliefs, have turned to resale shopping as a means of accomplishing both. Alarmed by the rapid increase in climate change and informed on the role the fashion industry plays in contributing to it, millennials and zoomers (members of Gen Z) have opted to shop more responsibly.
According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, it takes close to 1,000 gallons of water to make a single pair of jeans. This includes the entire production cycle, from growing the cotton to delivering it to the store. But it’s not just the creation of clothing that impacts the environment, UNEP also reports that out of the total fiber input used for clothing, 87% is incinerated or disposed of in a landfill.
Young fashionistas, acutely aware of the condition of the planet they are inheriting are making conscious decisions on how they live, including how they dress, in an effort to lessen their impact on the environment. Merging substance and style and combined with the current gender fluid fashion movement – 56 % of Gen Z consumers shopped “outside their assigned gendered area,” according to Rob Smith, founder of the gender-free fashion brand Phluid Project in a June 2021 article on Select, the NBC News commerce website – makes shopping thrift, second-hand, and consignment, more popular than ever.
“There’s always been a play with gender in regard to fashion,” said Neil Cohen, the fashion stylist responsible for the looks on the accompanying pages. “But there’s a sense of fluidity that didn’t exist in the past.”
“Freedom to be yourself has continued to evolve in the last 5 years,” he added. Young people are, in general, more politically and socially aware. There is a sense of hope and optimism when you look at young people today. They’re making it a better, more equal world.”
Shopping resale has other advantages. By including resale in their repertoire, shoppers are no longer constrained by what is currently on the racks in major department stores. They have more choices and a wider range of styles by which to express themselves. Once thought of as the domain for those who couldn’t afford to pay full price, thrift stores have seen a surge in consumers from across the socio-economic strata.
“This is the first time consignment is cool,” said Mia Casey, a New York-based womenswear designer and patternmaker. “People started to gravitate towards second hand because the fashion trends found there have stood the test of time. Shopping resale carries more weight not only emotionally but also because the clothing is just made better.”
Cohen concurred, adding, “There’s been an evolution in thrift shops. For those who love fashion, they’ve always been a source of inspiration, but now there’s more meaning behind them.”
Revivals, the popular Coachella Valley resale store, is well positioned to meet this growing trend. Opened in1995, the thrift store that supports DAP Health – 100 % of sales goes to funding programs and services at the health center – now boasts four well-stocked locations, and a loyal following.
“Most of our apparel is coming in from customer drop off at any one of our four locations,” said Dane Koch, director of retail, “We have volunteers in the warehouse who are processing the everyday product. Then we have specific volunteers who focus mostly on the designer finds because they have a better knowledge of brand names. They have a better knowledge of value. The big thing for us is we want to make sure that we’re giving everybody a fair value. We have a really, great group of volunteers who just have a real understanding now of everything that comes in,” he said.
John Bingle Thompson is one of those volunteers, A seven-year warehouse veteran with over 5,000 volunteer hours to his credit, he focuses on special acquisitions and high-end designer finds. “We’ve been getting a number of really nice things,” he said. “We’ve gotten huge donations from Bob Mackie, Wil Stiles, and a company called Cache. We got resort wear – I think it was like 80,000 pieces – and it’s all really good. Tommy Bahama, stuff like that.”
Thompson has witnessed the retail/resale blending trend first-hand. “I brought my [22-year-old] granddaughter in [to Revivals] about four months ago,” he said. “I had taken her to Wil Stiles and Trina Turk and got her a couple outfits. One was a skirt, but she didn’t want to wear it as a skirt. She wanted to wear it as a top with a shawl and pants.”
“We bought her pants and a shawl,” he continued. “She loved them. And that’s typical of what I found when I’m on the floor. A lot of [the shoppers] are younger and I’ve sort of been able to try to understand what it is they want. I have to think outside of the box with a lot of them, as far as what they’re mixing. It’s bizarre.” he laughs. “It’s bizarre what they’re doing, and I love it!”
Designer Casey explains, “Since resale includes a lot of vintage and older silhouettes, there’s a lot more to choose from,” she said. “Things that you wouldn’t traditionally put together, can be combined.”
Added Cohen, “You might find a cute dress and earrings at a resale shop, but you’re still going to wear your own shoes from Saks. It’s all in the mix.”
Conscientious shopping extends far beyond fashion to include housewares, furniture, electronics, art, and accessories, “Once I became more conscientious about the clothes I was consuming, I became more conscientious about the furniture and other products I was buying,” Casey, a millennial herself, said. “Buying resale can snowball into affecting other things.”
And fortunately, at Revivals there’s a lot of other things to choose from. Laid out like a traditional department store – clothing is displayed according to size, not just thrown together by category – and with easily identifiable specialty areas, Revivals resembles the feel of a conventional shopping experience. “I’ve always said resale doesn’t need to be messy. It doesn’t need to be ugly. It doesn’t need to be dirty,” said Koch, who worked most of his career in mainstream retail. “There’s no reason that you can’t walk into a store and have a nice laid out, well presented store and still get a bargain.”
Looking for a lamp? Revivals has them. Some just need to be dusted. Others need to be rewired. Every lamp is tested to make sure it works before it goes out on the floor. “We get stuff all the way from people’s trash to beautiful brand-new lamps,” said warehouse volunteer (and lamp specialist) Mark Musin who has logged over 2,000 hours in three-and-a-half years. “We try and fix them and if we can’t fix them, we harvest the parts. I try not to put anything to waste.”
Need a flat-screen television for the guest bedroom? Revivals has plenty of those, too. “If you’re looking for used electronics, you come into Revivals. The stuff is clean. It’s been checked. It works,” said Bob Hardt, a 14,000-hour volunteer whose job it is to process and fix all the electronics for all four Revivals stores. “You walk into our store and what do you see? You see a nice display of all the televisions on, you can see what the pictures look like, and everything out there has been tested.” With people constantly upgrading to new sets, Bob, along with the other volunteers in the electronics department, are constantly busy. Instead of throwing a television out, “they give it to us, and we give it a chance for a second life,” said Hardt. “Nice without going into a landfill, right?”
Now, more than ever, it is a badge of honor to wear vintage and second-hand clothing. Conformity is out. Creating one’s own unique style, from fashion to furniture, is in. Being a responsible consumer plays an important role in shopping behavior. “The stigma of resale is gone,” said Steven Henke, the director of community development for Revivals. “By shopping resale, you’re showing the world your unique self, that you’re an empowered shopper committed to saving the planet, and that you care about where your money goes; 100 % of the sales at Revivals goes directly to health care for those who otherwise can’t afford it.”
Added Koch, “People in the community have been so wonderful to donate to us. They have a place to go. They have an agency that they want to support. So rather than their stuff ending up in their garbage or going to a landfill, it comes to Revivals and we’re able to either resell it or recycle it.”
Musin agreed, “People here in the valley have wonderful hearts and they donate some really beautiful things. And I know that it goes to a good cause, and I know that it didn’t go into the dumpster.”