July 17th, 2024

Thrifting gives new life to old goods

By Theodora MacLeod - Lethbridge Herald Local Journalism Initiative Reporter on November 22, 2023.

Herald photo by Theodora MacLeod Shoppers hunting for deals comb through racks of clothing at Mission Thrift Store during their recent 5th anniversary sale.

For some it’s a choice based on economics, for others it’s an act of environmentalism, but no matter the motivation, when it comes to thrifting there’s nothing quite like the thrill of the hunt. Like a tiger out to find its meal, shoppers from Lethbridge and surrounding area gathered Friday at Mission Thrift Store prowling for a deal. In honour of the store’s fifth anniversary in their 30,000 square foot facility, everything was 50 per cent off.

General manager, Sheila Prummel says there are typically three categories of customers who shop at Mission Thrift Store:

“One is the pickers; the ones that are buying to resell, and they can be any age group. And then you have … the millennials, the vintage people. And then you have the people that are in need. The people that can’t afford more and they come because this is what they can afford.”

The ‘pickers’ Prummel refers to are individuals who frequent thrift stores buying with the intention of reselling the products at a mark-up. The ‘vintage people’ are often those who collect, looking for certain items like PYREX dishware or vintage toys and books, though some simply prefer the aesthetic of bygone days to what is trendy.

In recent years there has been an uptick in the popularity of vintage and retro. As more and more people are looking to reflect their individuality in their fashion and décor choices, mall shops and departments stores are no longer the destinations they once were.

Thanks to social media and online retailers, younger shoppers are exposed to thousands of products every day, so it seems only natural that, in an era where subculture is the mainstream, they look to products of the past.

According to Prummel, mid-century modern pieces are some of the quickest to sell. Generally defined as a design movement that was popular between the years following the Second World War and the early 1970s, the mid-century modern aesthetic boasts clean lines, natural elements, and muted tones with bursts of colour. Olive green, mustard yellow, burnt orange, brown, sometimes with pops of darker blue.

Beyond the shoppers resell and those who stick to vintage, there are those who say environmental impact plays a substantial role in their shopping habits.

“Thrifting is a way to minimize the reproduction, or the making of new stuff when we’ve got perfectly good stuff available. It’s economical, and, also, you can repurpose. You just have to be a little bit inventive, but if you take time, you can always find good things, good quality, for a reasonable price. And in today’s economy, this is where people should be coming to give things a new life, too,” says Lorraine who has been thrifting for over 20 years.

She says it’s something she does even when she’s on vacation. “I just came back from Mexico, and I thrifted there too.”

Similarly, Kelti Baird says her first stop when looking to buy is always the thrift store.

“I’ve stopped buying clothes from retailers and I’m thrifting all of my wardrobe because it’s much more environmentally sustainable,” she explains, adding “You can find so many amazing treasures.”

Of the shoppers at Mission Thrift Store, there were many who didn’t know of the savings until they arrived. “I’m and artist and so I repurpose things. So, I look for books and paper and art supplies. I teach art so… it’s the best place to find the unexpected,” says one shopper who has been thrifting for over 40 years was pleased to learn of the discount.

For Cassidy Mitchell and her brother, thrifting goes beyond finding cool items at reduced prices, it’s a part of their family tradition. “This runs in our blood. Our grandmother was a super thrifter and when she passed, we had to carry the legacy.”

Mitchell says she has already instilled the passion into her three daughters, the youngers of whom came armed with her birthday money. She says there are both environmental and economic benefits and she no notices the immense amount of packaging on new products. “I think that’s a good thing to pass down, those values of not everything being so materialistic and shiny and new. Just the idea of looking for things. I think it’s just a lot more of an involved way to purchase, and a lot more intentional.” She adds that it’s been a way to bond with her children and family.

According to Prummel, there’s been a rise in sales that shows the growing popularity.

“Last year to this year, we’ve seen at least a 15 per cent increase in sales, every month,” she says. As the costs-of-living increases, it’s no surprise more people are thrifting.

According to Statistics Canada, the price of groceries grew 8.5 per cent in July 2023 as compared to the year prior. The quality of mass-produced products keeps decreasing while the prices keep increasing, pushing consumers to other markets.

Fortunately, there is a philanthropic element to many thrift stores on top of all else. Prummel says that Mission Thrift works with over a dozen local organizations to provide shopping vouchers for those in need of assistance, allowing them to buy what they need and shop with dignity.

In addition, all proceeds from the sales of goods in the store go to BFM Foundation Canada, a religious charity that promotes literacy along and helps to keep useable goods out of landfills.

Whether it’s looking for the coolest thing, or trying to save a few dollars, thrifting is more popular than ever, giving new life to old goods.

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