Another Student’s Treasure

How Students on a Budget Can Still Shop Sustainably

It’s undeniable that thrifting has become a popular trend among the generation in which most Redeemer students find themselves. Whether operating on a budget and trying to save when you can or searching for unique pieces for your wardrobe that others won’t have, stores like the Value VIllage in Ancaster or the Salvation Army Thrift Store on King Street in downtown Hamilton can be a gold mine for the shopping student. Walking in the Commons at Redeemer, conversations can often be heard beginning with a compliment on one student’s outfit and the reply of, “Thanks, I thrifted it!” 

Fourth-year visual arts student Alayna Schenk identifies herself as an avid thrifter and sources most of what she wears from local second-hand stores. Together with some of her friends, she has held three garage sales a few streets over from Redeemer, mainly selling clothes she had thrifted and often including pieces she bought purely for others to enjoy. For Schenk, the time spent at a thrift store is not only a great investment for her wallet and wardrobe but also for those around her. 

“I care about [thrifting] so much because for me I used to thrift only because it was cheaper, and that’s why I would buy it,” Schenk shared. “That’s what we could afford growing up. But now I realize that it’s also so good for our planet, especially now that thrift stores aren’t as cheap as they used to be.

“SHEIN and other [fast fashion sites] are just heartbreaking. They get a package out in one day, and I can’t wrap my head around that. A lot of people do know that that’s what happens with clothes from those stores, and they get it just because it’s fast, cute, and cheap. But so is just going to the thrift store—in fact, I think it’s even cooler because it’s stuff that no one else is going to have.” 

Our generation’s most popular sources of new clothing can often be characterized by this “fast fashion” culture, where clothes are mass-produced as quickly and efficiently as possible, regardless of the corners that need to be cut. The motor churning out t-shirts and bikinis from these companies is often fueled by a fast-paced chase to keep up with the latest trends. None of the products made are designed to become staple pieces in a consumer’s wardrobe or to last a lifetime the same way clothes in the past were created. Clothes from companies such as SHEIN, Fashion Nova, Zaful, and countless others often are of too poor quality to even be worn for more than one season. 

Beyond the low tolerance for wear and tear these clothes often have, what exactly is the cost of making millions of the same cotton tees with forty different colour options? Often, these companies are not transparent about the way in which they produce their products and neglect addressing the widespread mistrust towards them. Whether it is known exactly which employees are being hurt and how much they are being paid (or underpaid), it is crucial for the Christian to know where their products are coming from and what systems they are propelling forward with their money. Yet, quite frankly, it is nearly impossible to know how exactly you can have endless clothing options available to you, often so quickly that they’ll be waiting at your door within the week. 

Even “sustainable” or “green” clothing lines from stores like H&M are making minimal changes for the sake of being able to market themselves as mindful and worth investing in. Recent years have seen a phenomenon called “greenwashing,” where companies will make empty claims to lead their customers to believe that their clothing is more sustainable than it really is. A general rule of thumb to discern whether or not a company is being honest about the products it uses that deem it “green” is to look for details. Companies that are genuinely sustainable tend to be eager to provide the specifics to back up their claims. On the other hand, greenwashing companies will use vague descriptors and general language. 

Considering the complexity of assessing which companies you buy from, it is good to be aware of the cost of the clothes you purchase and how much you spend on material goods. However, even the little amount you spend as a student can be redirected from supporting sweatshops and injustice to propelling organizations that are doing good work in your community.

Whether rocking the same pair of jeans and white tee every day or having a wardrobe stocked with basics to equip you for any situation, education into where a piece has been and why it was made, whether for simple profit gain or to empower and excite the wearer, is absolutely essential. When it comes to a thrift store, half of the fun is the mystery about who may have had the piece before you. Yet you also know that your money is avoiding bigwig CEOs and unfair hierarchies. In the case of thrift stores like Salvation Army and Goodwill, your money can actually be used to help employ those who may be deemed “unemployable” or be redirected towards various charities that always need more help. Thrifting can often invite you as a consumer into good things happening that are bigger than yourself. 

Schenk has experienced pieces of this as well and has seen the way clothing can be used to bring people together: 

“A lot of the clothes at the garage sales that I have I solely thrift to sell it again. I do it because I usually find something at the thrift store that is so unique and cool, but it’s not my style necessarily. There’s fun in the hunt of it, to find something so cool and think, ‘My friend is going to love this.’ I hoard it for a while and then get to have a community moment and invite all of my friends over. It’s stuff that I love with people that I love.” 

There is a danger, however, in simply redirecting our materialism from fast fashion stores online to thrift stores a little closer to home. How does the Christian student with limited funds and time avoid reducing their relationship with clothing to simple consumerism? Third-year business student Melissa DeJong, another frequenter of local thrift stores, shared how she combats the temptation to materialism: 

“When I do buy something, I usually tell myself to donate something I already have. I always look for quality, and if I have something similar I don’t buy it. Instead of just accumulating more things, I ask myself if it’s worth adding to my wardrobe as well as if it’ll last until the same season next year. There’s a line between going when you need something and going just for fun. If I don’t need something and am there just for fun, I go and look around. If I need something, I look just for what I want so that I don’t buy things unnecessarily.” 

When purchased thoughtfully, clothing can be much more than just a materialistic item to control how you are seen by others. Clothing can empower, excite, comfort, and tell a story. A year ago, after the unfortunate closing of the theatre department’s doors, the theatre club at Redeemer made the tough decision to resell all of the clothes that had been used as costumes in Redeemer’s history of putting on theatrical productions. 

Each piece had an entire resume of performances and characters it had contributed to; some members of the club found it to be an emotional moment even to look at the selling of the costumes after such a long journey they had had together. Simple pairs of jeans and blazers became vessels of memories, and now that they live on in the closets of others who were able to purchase them in the Commons last year, a piece of the theatre department is able to carry on. 

Realistically, the average student does not have the financial flexibility to only shop from certified sustainable companies who use locally sourced materials and ensure longevity of all of their pieces. For many, thrifting can be a great option to continue wearing clothes you love while shopping in community, getting to wear pieces that have stories to tell, and avoiding supporting companies that have unethical practices of production. Enter “thrifting near me” into your Google Maps to find well-loved, new-to-you clothes that no one in the Commons will accidentally match you in.