Sustainable Shopping: The Search for Quality Over Quantity
by rebecca stewart
In places where old becomes new again, and clothing gets a second chance, it is a veritable treasure hunt as nimble fingers search through rack after rack, seeking that closet staple or magical fun find. Yes, we’re talking about adventures in thrifting, where tenacity and time are the name of the game. And, if you’re new to it, you’ve come to the right place because we’ve gathered the top tips and tricks for your next thrifting excursion.
Before we dive into our tips, let’s talk about what thrifting is and the why behind it (as in, why it is an important, not-to-be-overlooked shopping option).
The generally recognized definition of thrifting is to go shopping at a thrift store, flea market, garage sale, or the shop of a charitable organization to find gently used items at a low/discounted price. As for frequenting the shops of charitable organizations, we would simply caution shoppers to be mindful of where they are shopping if there are concerns about taking from those in need. Of course, your support of that organization does give back to its bottom line, but again, mindfulness matters.
But the why, right? Why is thrifting a form of shopping not to be overlooked? While it can certainly help your budget’s bottom line, thrifting also helps to keep clothing (and other items) out of landfills, lowers your carbon footprint, and, as mentioned above, it can involve contributing to charitable organizations.
To set us up for success in our thrifting experiences, we scoured the Internet and turned to local experts Jennifer Lackman (The Underground Fashion Exchange) and Katie Bennett (Irene’s Back Pocket) for their top thrifting tips and tricks. We also snagged some insight on the fast fashion, quality versus quantity debate from Linda Brooks (SOMETHINGchic).
We mined these gems from The Good Trade to keep in mind before you go:
a. Closet Cleanout – Before a big thrifting adventure, do a closet cleanout, either selling or donating your own loved (but no longer worn) clothes in your closet and drawers. An added bonus to the selling of your items, it’s money to put towards your next purchases.
b. Dress for the Occasion – A form-fitting tank top and biker shorts or leggings can make for quick and efficient try-ons, whether the shop has dressing rooms or not. (And with no refunds or exchanges the norm, try-ons are an important part of the equation.) Comfy clothes and shoes and a crossbody bag to keep your hands free for browsing are also essential for a shopping excursion that requires patience and endurance.
c. Shop with cash to avoid impulse buys – Remember, one of the benefits of thrifting is the eco-friendly components, so this tip aims at avoiding overconsumption. This tip reminds us to purchase only clothes that are needed and that fit well with our current wardrobe.
For the thrifting newbie, Jennifer offers these suggestions:
1st Find out when new clothes are put out, as this will give you a better chance of finding the best items before they get picked over.
2nd Stick to quality clothing, even if it means paying a little more, as it will last longer and be a better investment in the long run.
3rd Check thrift stores often to ensure you are not missing out on new arrivals or discounts.
4th Carefully check the clothes for any damage or wear and tear, as this could impact their value and condition.
5th Start shopping at the back of the store first, as this is where many thrift stores tend to put their more valuable and unique items.
“By following these tips, you can increase your chances of finding the perfect thrifted clothing items at a great price!” -Jennifer Lackman
For as long as she can remember, Katie Bennett has been thrifting and garage sale-ing. She recalls that some of her favorite pieces as a middle schooler came from Goodwill, and as an adult, she’s made countless finds at estate sales and thrift shops across the U.S. and beyond. As for a recent favorite find, Katie points to a George Strait pillowcase that she reworked onto a denim jacket (you can peep that creation on Instagram: instagram.com/irenes_back_pocket.). Her greatest find to date, however? Her vintage COACH purse, “Good quality materials never go out of style.”
Expanding on that thought, Katie says, “I place a lot of value on thrifting. Not only do these pieces have monetary value, but they also have deep history and longevity. I love American-made, all-cotton denim and materials that stand the test of time. They just feel good.” And she adds, “I feel strongly about sustainable fashion and not creating additional waste for our beautiful Earth and being resourceful rather than giving in to fast fashion.”
Check out Katie’s top tips for making the most of your thrifting experience:
- Be open-minded – Try places you might not think of as your go-to.
- ALWAYS check the men’s section.
- Do a little research before heading out – Make a list of your desired items.
- Know your measurements – Katie has a handy-dandy sizing guide in her Instagram Stories comparing modern and vintage denim sizes.
- NEVER take something out of someone else’s cart.
- Buy things you’ll actually wear.
“Thrifting is all about finding good pieces that last, not about having a huge closet full of trendy pieces.” -Katie Bennett
This leads us to a fashionable finds offshoot that has created much discussion: fast fashion or quality versus quantity. Owner of SOMETHINGchic Clothing, Linda Brooks, offers us this perspective:
"In the fashion industry, there are brands that produce limited quantities per season based on their order volume, and then there are brands that rapidly mass produce cheap styles continuously throughout the year. Brands that mass produce don’t have the same quality control because they are quickly moving on to the next item. Thus, the name Fast Fashion. They also have no concern for sustainability. Whereas brands that produce seasonally put more thought into each garment.” Brands that produce limited quantities often hit sustainability marks by using recycled fabrics, eco-friendly dyes, and less water usage in manufacturing, Linda explains.
When we hear the word quality, we often think expensive, and while this is sometimes the case, Linda reminds us that quality doesn’t always have to equal a hefty price tag. (And, if we’ve learned anything today, thrifting is one way to bridge that gap). It’s with quality in mind, though, that Linda notes the importance of shopping local, as our local boutiques are “more selective in their buying practices and care more about the quality of the items they sell to their customers. We live where we work and care about what we sell to those in our community.” At SOMETHINGchic, Linda says, “We aim to find that sweet spot of affordable and quality.”
THRIFTING IN BILLINGS:
The Underground Fashion Exchange | 2413 Montana Avenue – http://undergroundfashionexchange.com
Irene’s Back Pocket at 3301 Marketplace | 3301 1st Avenue North – https://www.instagram.com/irenes_back_pocket // https://www.marketplace3301.com
- On Etsy - @irenes_back_pocket
Goodwill | 951 South 29th Street West
Savvy Seconds | 1739 Grand Avenue - https://www.facebook.com/SavvySecondsandMore
Runway Fashion Exchange | 125 South 24th Street West - https://www.runwayfashionexchange.com/billings
MRM Thrift Store | 1233 24th Street West - https://montanarescuemission.org/bargain-center
Gratitude in Action | 10 South 30th Street - https://www.giamt.org/
Originally printed in the April 2023 issue of Simply Local Magazine
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The Underground Fashion Exchange Gives Textiles New Life
Underground Fashion Exchange is a unique shopping destination for Billings shoppers looking for a way to expand their wardrobe without increasing demand on the planet. The shop scours estate sales, garage sales, and even the owner’s own closet to find high-end pieces that still have life left in them for someone else to enjoy. With a focus on consumer-friendly as well as environmentally conscious intentions, Underground Fashion Exchange provides an exciting “off the rack” experience for shoppers with a purpose.