Skip to main content

Keira Gere, 2024 1st Place Research

Submissions in the research category are open to research topics in any field: STEM, Social Sciences, Business, Humanities, etc. Submissions should use the documentation style appropriate to the discipline and should not exceed 20 pages. Keira Gere wrote the 1st place submission in the Research category for the 2024 President’s Writing Awards.

About Keira

A headshot of Keira smiling at the camera surrounded by an outdoor landscape at sunset

Keira is a second-year student majoring in Writing, Rhetoric, and Technical Communication. She hopes to pursue a career as a book editor beyond graduation, but for now, she loves writing research and creative nonfiction pieces and working with student writers in the Boise State Writing Center. Outside her writing and academic life, she can either be found somewhere in the wilderness, searching for clothing and trinkets in local thrift stores, or cozying up to her cats with a gaming console in hand.

Winning Manuscript – Unraveling the Threads of Thrifted Fashion

I nodded approvingly at my reflection in the distorted and fingerprint-covered Goodwill changing room mirror. I had on an orange, oversized turtleneck that swallowed my figure and a pair of supposedly full-length jeans that barely reached the middle of my calves. I would never wear this. But I wasn’t here as I usually would to find something I would wear. Not today. Today, I was here at a secondhand store with my sisters to find the most ridiculous articles of clothing to create an even more ridiculous outfit—an outfit we would display as models, strutting down the “runway” lined with clothing racks and score each other based on the pure chaos present in our creation. I didn’t end up winning (after all, it was intended to be a competition), but that didn’t matter. The thrill I found in searching for treasures buried deep within the racks of clothing was more than enough for me.

Before I began thrifting at secondhand stores, my younger sister and I largely relied on hand-me-down clothes from our older sisters. My family would rarely purchase new clothing, so we would scour each others’ closets for any clothing we had grown out of—physically or fashionably. As I got older, however, I realized that these hand-me-downs were embarrassingly out of style. I felt out of place among other girls my age simply because of my clothing. I wanted to be accepted by others, so I began to buy into the consumption of new and trendy fashion.

In her article, “Waste Couture: Environmental Impact of the Clothing Industry,” Claudio observes that the fashion industry specifically targets young women, exploiting their desire to fit in by encouraging them to buy clothing that is considered trendy (449). These clothes are made even more enticing when they’re marked down at low prices and advertised extensively. After not too long, however, these clothing trends die out and the fashion industry pushes out new pieces that are then considered trendy. This endless cycle leads to consumers amassing unnecessary amounts of clothing that must be disposed of somehow. This cycle of fast fashion is what Claudio refers to as “waste couture.”

According to Shirvanimoghaddam et al. in their article, “Death by Waste: Fashion and Textile Circular Economy Case,” the average global annual consumption of textiles has doubled from 7 to 13 kg per person, with North Americans averaging at 37 kg per person each year (2). Claudio states that this exponential increase can be attributed to the trends promoted in the fashion industry that encourage rapid and massive consumption of poor-quality clothing (451). Due to the increase in consumption of fast fashion, man-made fibers have become higher in demand, leading to an increased pollution footprint from the production of these fibers (Claudio 450). Polyester, for example, is a man-made fiber consisting of petroleum that is increasingly being utilized for clothing in the fashion industry (Claudio 450). The energy-intensive process to produce man-made fibers like polyester requires large amounts of crude oil, which emit by-products into our air and water (Claudio 450). Even natural fibers like cotton—one of the most popular and versatile fibers used in clothing manufacturing—have a significant environmental footprint (Claudio 450).

I stood in a clothing store at my local mall, motivated to find clothing that would help me fit in among my peers. One of the first factors I consider when selecting clothing is fabric. But as I combed through the articles of clothing organized onto their respective racks, I only had one thing in mind this time: acceptance. After wandering around the store aimlessly searching for something that caught my eye, I settled on a cropped camisole top. I found my way to the changing room and hung the top on a hook mounted to the wall. As I pulled the camisole over my head, the fabric ran over my skin like sandpaper. I stiffly stood in front of the mirror. The longer I stared at the shirt on my body, the more wrong and constrictive it felt. Everything about it was wrong. I was aware of the effects of excessive clothing consumption on the environment, yet there I was, about to buy a shirt I would never wear. The guilt inside me grew for sacrificing my principles for a piece of clothing, so I left that store empty-handed. Had I bought the sandpaper camisole top, it would’ve gathered dust in my closet, only to later contribute to the massive volumes of clothing in the landfill.

$400 billion worth of clothing is wasted every year (Shirvanimoghaddam et al. 2). To reduce industry waste produced by the fabric manufacturing process and post-consumer waste from the disposal of clothing at rapid rates, Shirvanimoghaddam et al. proposes a “circular economy” model (3). A circular economy is a model in which textiles and their resources are kept within a loop by elongating their lifespan for as long as possible and at the end of their life cycle repurposed for the generation of new products (Shirvanimoghaddam et al. 3). Given that more than two-thirds of clothing textiles go to the landfills and only 15% of discarded textiles are recycled, the importance of reusing and repurposing clothing is emphasized (Shirvanimoghaddam et al. 2). One of the ways the lifespan of clothing can be elongated is by entering the world of secondhand.

I took a deep breath as I passed through the double doors of the Goodwill warehouse, inhaling the scent of stale clothes in the air. I didn’t find the smell particularly pleasant at first—I was used to the fresh scent retail stores carry with just a hint of chemicals that burned your nose if you breathed too deeply. Now, standing in a secondhand store on my own for the first time, I was paralyzed. Music echoed through the warehouse that was occasionally interrupted by a shrill ding to call attention to current sales or employee needs. As I scanned the endless lines of clothing racks, my eyes widened, and my feet remained planted into the cold warehouse floor. Standing at the entrance of this daunting new world, I began to miss the sterile and organized environment of fashion retailers, and I was not alone in this experience.

According to a study detailed in Hur’s article, “Rebirth fashion: Secondhand clothing consumption values and perceived risks,” individuals that prefer to purchase new clothing have expressed concerns about secondhand clothing regarding poor product quality, limitations in expression of self-identity, a perceived social image of clothing as low-class and having low social acceptance, and cleanliness (1). Secondhand stores receive countless donations each day, so cleaning each individual piece they receive is not feasible (especially in the case of for-profit companies). Cleanliness is not particularly high on any secondhand companies’ priority list, so individual concerns over sanitation are not unwarranted. But these concerns were just the beginning.

When the pandemic hit, concerns over sanitation increased tenfold. Due to sanitation concerns with and the addition of COVID-19 restrictions, some secondhand clothing retailers took significant blows while others expanded to online formats. Online secondhand clothing retailers emerged to provide a platform for individual sellers to list their used clothing for other users to purchase and receive by mail. These retailers existed years before the pandemic, but it wasn’t until the pandemic that these online retailers truly flourished. One of the largest online retailing companies today is a mobile app: Depop.

Depop was founded in 2011 as a social e-commerce platform where users can buy and sell vintage, repurposed, and secondhand clothing. Depop’s mission is to create a community-powered fashion ecosystem that’s kinder on the planet and kinder to people. In the Depop Displacement Research 2022, a survey was conducted in attempts to determine customers’ behaviors in buying and disposing of secondhand versus new clothing items. In this survey, they found that 9 in 10 purchases made on Depop prevented the purchase of a brand-new item elsewhere (10). These figures demonstrate how Depop serves as a platform for individuals to personally contribute to the circular economy model proposed by Shirvanimoghaddam et al. and reduce clothing consumption in other areas of the fashion industry.

The growth and popularity of Depop is not without potential concerns, however. Depop was initially a platform saturated with users passing their used clothing on to a more appreciative or fitting home, but another form of seller has emerged unlike this typical user: the reseller. Resellers purchase clothing from thrift stores and list the clothing on online retailers, such as Depop, at prices marked up from the price they originally paid for the piece. As resellers on secondhand retailing apps continually grow in numbers, concerns over changes of inventory and prices in physical secondhand stores have been increasingly expressed.

Goodwill industries has seen a 67% increase in sales of donated goods since 2001, the majority of goods consisting of clothing (Claudio 452). Goodwill’s sales in donated goods was estimated to be more than 1.8 billion in 2006, yet only about one-fifth of the donated clothing is directly used or sold in secondhand stores (Claudio 452). When a person donates clothing to Goodwill, it is taken first to the in-store racks for retail. If the item doesn’t sell within a month, it is then sent to its last stop before being disposed of: the “bins.” The bins are quite literally what the name implies—clothing thrown into giant bins, wheeled out to customers for a free-for-all shopping experience, and sold at a heavily discounted price by the pound. As one can imagine, these aspects are actively attracting resellers in swarms.

The tension was palpable as an employee hauled a massive blue bin over to where I stood in the line of impatient shoppers. I have never been one to fight over clothes (unless it involved my sisters) so as soon as the employee gave the go-ahead, I began sifting through the piles of clothing without any sense of urgency. A teenage guy to the left of me, on the other hand, frantically began shoveling through the pile and chucking articles of clothing with even the slightest amount of intrigue into the cart behind him. I had a suspicion he was a reseller, but it wasn’t until later that my suspicions were confirmed.

As I continued sorting through the bin, I noticed a plainly dressed woman to the right of me exclusively examining children’s clothes. On occasion, I would gently toss over children’s clothes I came across in her direction. She must have caught on to my friendly gesture, since she soon looked my way and asked, “What do you think of this? Do you think my daughter would like it?” She was holding up a vibrant dress lined with tulle fabric that formed a flowy tutu. I smiled and responded, “Of course she will.”

In no time at all, the bin had been picked clean, so I moved on to explore other bins lined up along the warehouse walls. The woman I encountered continued to find me as I explored other bins to consult my opinion on various articles of clothing for her daughter. Eventually, I also came across the teenager from earlier. I saw him with a friend standing over their haul of clothes now spread out across the floor. He gestured to a graphic tee and asked, “You think this one would sell for much?” The friend replied bluntly, “I don’t know, man. It’s got quite a few stains on it.” “Yeah, you’re right.” He tossed it into a nearby bin and continued examining the rest of his clothing haul in search of potential profit.

Although selling thrifted clothing can serve as a source of income for individuals, there are also concerns over how reselling habits may affect low-income communities who rely on local thrift stores for clothing. A survey detailed in the article, “An Examination of the Effects on Low-Income Communities by the ‘Takeover’ of Thrift Store Clothing by Resellers” by Ma and Riggio determined that 35% of low-income participants noticed an effect of resellers on clothing inventory and found it hard to find clothing essentials (6). In addition, 47.4% of participants noticed thrift store prices increasing, but still considered clothing affordable (Ma and Riggio 6). From the responses of this survey, it is clear that a large portion of low-income individuals have noticed a decrease in clothing inventory and an increase in prices. Although changes in pricing have been observed, the participants in Ma and Riggio’s survey were most impacted by the decreased selection of clothing due to the purchasing habits of resellers to buy and sell in large quantities (9).

In order to gain more personal insights into individuals’ opinions regarding secondhand clothing and the ethics of reselling thrifted clothes, I conducted a questionnaire. This questionnaire included four questions that addressed various aspects of the fashion industry. In response to the question, “Have you noticed any changes in thrift/secondhand stores since thrifting became more mainstream?”, all questionnaire respondents reported noticing a significant increase in prices and decrease in inventory likely due to resellers. One respondent noted that they are a secondhand clothing reseller, yet they have still noticed changes in price and inventory at thrift stores. This same respondent also expressed that they have no issue with resellers and believe their practices to be perfectly ethical. A different respondent expressed their perspective on the ethics of reselling and stated that resellers “are doing what they have to do to make money with the way our society is built” and that they “don’t think it’s necessarily unethical.”

I entered the cramped Goodwill changing room and placed the single piece of clothing I found appealing onto the small stool shoved in the corner. Following my initial paralysis after entering the store, I had found my way around the warehouse in search of a shirt, or pants, or something—I wasn’t entirely sure what I was looking for. My body felt tense as I faced the mirror to try on a knitted, white sweater I had selected from the massive rack of other sweaters. I had low expectations given my last experience with the sandpaper camisole. As I pulled the sweater over my head, I expected that sandpaper once again. But it wasn’t. The fabric felt soft and unrestrictive. I adjusted the sweater to lay comfortably on my upper body and dropped my arms to my sides. As I spun around examining the sweater from different angles, the muscles in my shoulders began to relax and my eyebrows unfurrowed. I didn’t feel judgment. I didn’t feel guilt. I felt proud. Here I was stretched far beyond my comfort zone at a secondhand store, yet I had found warmth and comfort in this perfect sweater. I paused my spinning and softly smiled at myself in the mirror, finally seeing myself wearing the clothing that truly and authentically reflected me.

After I exited Goodwill with my knitted, white sweater, I made an effort from that day forward to purchase the majority of my clothing secondhand and donate clothing I no longer wore to thrift stores—an effort I continue to make today. Although I would profit financially from selling my clothes, I prefer to donate to local thrift stores and contribute to the circular economy model proposed by Shirvanimoghaddam et al. to reduce my environmental impact. In agreement with one of my survey respondents, I do not think reselling is necessarily unethical. But as low-income participants in Ma and Riggio’s study expressed, there has been a noticeable decrease in clothing inventory at thrift stores. I intend to continue giving back to the secondhand community in support of low-income individuals reliant on thrift stores for clothing and to play my part in reducing the environmental impact of clothing consumption.

Works Cited

Claudio, Luz. “Waste Couture: Environmental Impact of the Clothing Industry.” Environmental Health Perspectives, vol. 115, no. 9, Sept. 2007, pp. 449–454,

Depop Displacement Research 2022. Depop, 2022. Depop Newsroom. PDF file.

Gere, Keira. “Thrifting/Secondhand Clothing Questionnaire.” Questionnaire, 31 October 2023.

Hur, Eunsuk. “Rebirth Fashion: Secondhand Clothing Consumption Values and Perceived Risks.” Journal of Cleaner Production, vol. 273, Nov. 2020, pp. 1–16,

Ma, Crystal, and Greg Riggio. “An Examination of the Effects on Low-Income Communities by the ‘Takeover’ of Thrift Store Clothing by Resellers.” Journal of Student Research, vol. 10, no. 2, Aug. 2021, pp. 1–10,

Shirvanimoghaddam, Kamyar, et al. “Death by Waste: Fashion and Textile Circular Economy Case.” Science of The Total Environment, vol. 718, May 2020, pp. 1–10,