Wednesday, November 21, 2007

REUSE: Thrift Shopping

Cheap chic: Thrift shopping lets teens find their personal style at bargain prices

"Go, Brittani, go!" Katherine Landerholm egged on her friend Brittani Potter as they hit the long rack of tank tops at Value Village on Crown Hill.

Potter, 16, has a weakness for tank tops. She owns about 50 of them, and 35 or so were purchased at thrift stores.

By the end of the shopping session, Potter had added another to her collection.
The two Ballard High School seniors shop thrift stores regularly and estimate that at least 30 percent of their wardrobes come from stores like Value Village and Goodwill.

They're part of a growing cadre of teens and college students who choose resale and recycled goods over department stores and the mall, or augment their retail shopping with thrift wares.
In recent years, thrift stores have increasingly advertised themselves as money-savers for back-to-school shopping, the second-largest consumer spending period of the year. Their busiest time of year is Halloween, another huge magnet for teen shoppers.

Although there aren't any figures on how many young people shop resale or how much they spend, there are more than 25,000 resale, consignment and thrift shops in the country. The industry has been growing at a rate of 5 percent a year for several years, according to the National Association of Resale & Thrift Shops.

As one example, the association cites the more than 2,000 not-for-profit stores of Goodwill Industries, which had $1.8 billion in retail sales in 2006, a 67 percent increase from 2001. America's Research Group, a consumer research firm, estimates that 16 to 18 percent of Americans will shop at a thrift store during a given year.

For teens like Landerholm and Potter, the economics of thrift make sense.
"I'm proud of it. I'm a teenager. I work for minimum wage," Landerholm said, wearing one of her purchases. "This is a $100 sweat shirt and I'm not going to pay that if I can pay $9.99."
In fact, Landerholm was shopping thrift so regularly that a few months ago she got a job at Value Village. At 17, she's the store's youngest employee. The $7.93 an hour she makes for manning the cash register, cleaning up and doing customer service duties is stretched by the half-off employee discount on purchases.

Rather than hiding the thrift-store origin of many of their clothes, a lot of teens are out and proud about finding labels for less. "We brag so much," Landerholm said. "It's a lot of fun to tell people how much it was."

Potter adds: "You can get a full outfit for, like, $15, accessories and everything."
Both girls are after popular labels, including Abercrombie & Fitch, Lucky Jeans, BCBG, Juicy Couture, Citizens of Humanity jeans, 7 For All Mankind jeans and Express. Their style is pretty conventional -- jeans, tank tops or clingy T-shirts layered with zip-up jackets.

Landerholm's biggest coup was finding a pair of Citizens of Humanity jeans, which retail for about $140, for $10.

Tamara Asakawa, manager of Buffalo Exchange, a for-profit resale clothing store in the University District, estimates that at least a quarter of the store's customers are teenage girls.
"It's such a great thing for families. They can buy so much for the kids and spend a quarter of the money that they'd spend at the mall," said Asakawa.

In the nine years she's worked at Buffalo Exchange, she has seen the number of shoppers grow. First, grunge made thrift storing hip, then people got into vintage clothes, and now, there's a DIY ethic in which personal style defines you, she said.

Beyond the savings of resale, plenty of teens are motivated by the environmental aspect of recycling clothes, or cutting down on consumerism.

Jade O'Neil, 17, regularly shops thrift and resale for what she calls her retro style with a touch of hip-hop.

"But the recycling aspect is important to me too," said O'Neil, wearing leopard-print flats and a black zip-up jacket over a neon pink T-shirt.

"Yeah, and not buying sweatshop clothes," added her friend, Elena Degel, 16.
The things that catch their eyes at the Capitol Hill Value Village aren't predictable. There's a neon pink, purple and black nylon athletic jacket in the men's section that's deemed interesting, and a pair of suede pumps with a multicolored geometric design that look more ladies-who-lunch than hip teen. A purple check button-down blazer that says '80s preppie schoolmarm briefly catches O'Neil's eye, before she moves on.

O'Neil and Degel peruse high-fashion mags, but they eschew the celebrity style ones. "We don't like to be too trendy," Degel said.

"If you're not comfortable with wearing something that's used, I think you're not comfortable with yourself," said O'Neil, who went through a cowboy-shirt phase and a punk phase. "I think you can totally be fresh and have your own style and shop thrift."

While shopping, O'Neil always keeps her 75 pairs of sneakers, mostly Nikes, in mind.
"If we dress up, we still have sneakers on," she said. "I think a lot of people my age are so consumed in, well, 'My jacket was so much more expensive than your jacket.' I'm not big on spending as much money as fast as I can to get nice clothes."

She likes that thrift stores wield unusual or one-of-a-kind items that aren't found in the standard retail world.

That's true for teens like Ben Whipple, shopping at Red Light on Capitol Hill for a get-up for a "Rocky Horror Picture Show" viewing. He heads to such resale stores when he's looking for something outrageous.

"Whenever I can shop at thrift stores, I do," said Whipple, 16, of Medina. "Because they have lots and lots of stuff -- everything from feather boas and fishnets to costumes and angel wings, sunglasses and shoes. I normally buy stuff that I wouldn't find anywhere else. I try to find something crazy when I'm at a thrift store."

Whipple walked away with a red feather boa, a red shirt with gold thread striping, a black bow tie and a black vest -- for $56 and change. But, his friend, Marlee Elston, who drove Whipple to the store, said she's lucky that her family is well off.

"I just kind of shop wherever I want to, so I usually go for high-quality stuff," she said.
So, yes, there certainly are people who avoid thrift, but it has largely shed the stigma of years past, partly due to increased environmental consciousness, and partly because of the treasure-hunt aspect that many enjoy.

"I think people realize that thrift stores have a lot to offer," said Betsy McFeely, a spokeswoman for Goodwill, which has 15 stores in Western Washington. "They have quality items. They have designer labels for really reasonable prices."

Last year, more than 2.5 million shoppers bought 14 million items, at an average price of $2.58, at those 15 Goodwill stores.

P-I reporter Kristin Dizon can be reached at 206-448-8118 or

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