and a very merry thriftmas to you!
Holidays and consumerism pretty much go together like peanut butter and jelly nowadays. It seems like every website out there is putting together a gift guide for this and a gift guide for that, focusing on all of the gifts we have to worry about buying each other until it becomes this rush to get everything figured out that leaves our spirits feeling about as empty as our wallets. At this point, I admit it may be farfetched to ask for everyone who reads this to only buy gifts secondhand, but I have to at least try, right?
I think about this topic constantly; maybe that’s partly due to the fact that I work retail (yes, we’re a nonprofit and yes, we’re also still retail) and am thus constantly confronted with consumerism and how it plays out in our society. Interacting with the wide variety of people we see on an almost daily basis is fascinating because of how everyone approaches shopping. Some are highly conscious of what they choose to bring home, and that intention is obvious during the dressing room decisions when they carefully mull over which piece will be a more wearable addition to their curated collection. Others fall into a maximalist category where variety is the spice of their life, evident in their extensive collection of noteworthy items.
This year, amidst my frustration with the retail industry in general, rejecting the traditional model of selecting something from a million copies, embracing the idea of selecting one in a million, I challenged myself to give thrifted gifts. Without the ease of browsing the internet for an onslaught of both idea and product, without the guarantee of knowing what will be waiting for me when I go gift shopping, it admittedly leaves an uncomfortable amount of room for improvisation. It also leaves room to find gifts greater than you ever expected. It leaves room for inspiration.
There is something to be said about going into a store to blindly find the perfect something for a special someone; there is a kind of surrender that comes into play when you give up the anxiety resultant from endless scrolling and see where the aisles take you. When you dig through racks of someone else’s trash to find your someone’s treasure, it almost becomes a kind of game to see what diamonds you find in all of the rough. Emerging victorious from the racks with the most perfect, most unique, most thoughtful ways to embody your love for the people in your life is a high like no other.
Gift giving on its own is a noble endeavor with little else that can provide that same rush of affection. Gift giving without having to hand over the entirety of your checking account to big business that, quite frankly, really doesn’t need your money as much as you do, is even better. What is the point in spending $50 on a sweater that probably cost as much to manufacture as that Starbucks you picked up for some pre-shopping fuel? Who actually enjoys navigating through crowds of other people in equal states of stress and frenzy, kids nipping at their ankles for mass produced pretzels and anything that remotely grabs their attention? Why do we put ourselves through this first world torture every single year?
During a time of increased consumption, we must also remember to keep our values in mind when we choose where we spend our money. First and foremost, the fashion industry (and other retail categories) is primarily consumer-driven, meaning that what we are willing to spend on a given item ultimately determines where companies will set prices. Have you ever stopped to ask yourself why that plain white tee from the big box store is $5? Have you ever considered the process of making that tee, sourcing the fabric, sewing, cutting, shipping it to your store? When your tee costs less than your cup of coffee, that is grounds for analysis. Someone created that garment with their own two hands. Based on the MSRP, it almost guarantees that that individual (and their coworkers) are not being paid a living wage. There is also nothing promising that it was made by someone of legal, adult age. These are ugly truths that must be acknowledged if we want to affect change in an extremely controversial market sector.
Thrift stores do not hire child labor. Thrift stores are held accountable to labor compensation laws, which is an entirely separate issue, but workers earn far more than the average $94.37 per month that your standard garment worker earns overseas. Thrift stores do not consume resources to create new (and unnecessary) clothing, instead stocking their racks with donated merchandise. Even if you’re looking for someone’s favorite fast fashion brand, you’re still guaranteed to find many of those pieces on thrift store racks alongside incredible vintage pieces for which resellers are (justifiably) charging far more, meaning you’re all around going to pay less for the same, if not better, product.
I don’t go into these topics to induce guilt or shame. I talk about this in order to bring awareness to processes that are largely kept behind close doors. You don’t know what you don’t know, so how can people make informed purchases if they don’t understand the significance of said purchases? Context is everything, and the more context around what we consider normal means the greater likelihood of changing the system.
This year, we’re celebrating Thriftmas. We’re giving inspired gifts. Sustainable gifts. Affordable gifts. Unique gifts. We’re giving the gift of individuality while being kind to our financial goals and to our sweet Mama Earth. This year, we’re empowering our purchasing decisions and rediscovering the enjoyment of giving to people we love. This year, we wish you a very merry Thriftmas.
Wishing you luck and fortune on your treasure hunts.