2 Seasoned Thrifters Weigh in on the Controversial Ethics of the Resale Economy
Craigslist buys were once the king of secondhand. Who didn’t scour listings, refreshing every few hours hoping to find the perfect bed on a shoestring budget?
With the advent of Facebook Marketplace and the explosion of thrifting TikTok, shopping secondhand is now more than just a budgeting choice: It’s a sign that you care about nostalgia, sustainability, and style.
And it’s a trend. A trend that’s drawing resellers to the pages of Facebook Marketplace, hoping to find that hidden treasure, be the first to hit “offer,” the first to pick it up, and the first to relist it at twice the price the next day. Meanwhile, others curate beautiful booths full of glimmering thrift store glassware finds — that they purchase for $1 and sell for $10. It’s business. But is it fair?
I talked to two avid secondhand shoppers to get their takes on the issue. When is the resale economy ethical? Is it making secondhand more accessible? Or is it taking away from those who rely on it? Is all fair in love and thrifting?
I found myself nodding along to the cases made by both expert thrifters. And, like many things in life, drawing a line in the sand may not be so black and white.
“The more we educate ourselves, the less unethical resellers will be able to swindle people.”
Kelly-Lynne Guy is a sustainably-minded blogger who puts together retro-inspired outfits using thrifted pieces, and she dove into secondhand home goods in 2020. Guy explains, “When my husband and I moved into our first house, shipping times were rough. We needed key furniture items and we opted for secondhand — Facebook Marketplace, thrift stores, and the local Buy Nothing group.”
In looking for inspiration and ideas, she avidly follows furniture flippers who take their thrifted items and turn them into treasures, but she’s realized, “I don’t love seeing folks who immediately sell those goods on resale sites for a huge profit.” If you’re a longtime thrifter, you’ve probably encountered — and been frustrated by — this practice. Items on secondhand sites are snagged by resellers, often showing up days later on the same site with a significant markup.
Additionally, Buy Nothing groups can be an incredible resource for those starting out or in need items they may not be able to afford. But that doesn’t mean the occasional opportunist can’t find their way in, taking advantage of free items to mark up and resell. Luckily, Guy says, “My Buy Nothing group has a rule against reselling items ‘won’ in the group. Reselling items you got for free for a huge profit is against the spirit of the resale market.”
However, she notes there is nuance: Reselling secondhand items can fill a need in the market by democratizing availability. She welcomes the resellers who curate items for a specific buyer, helping them cut through the noise and find the best pieces suited for them, in an accessible way. She says, “I have a friend who curates plus-size vintage, which can be a hard-to-find commodity.”
It seems the unofficial line is in the effort and intention on the side of the seller. Buying out an entire clothing launch just to sell it on Poshmark the next day to make a quick buck? Don’t. Furthering the reach of secondhand sustainability by curating hard-to-find items for audiences within a specific market? Do. Guy explains further, “The problem is when people buy in bulk and resell. How is that different from scalping tickets?”
She continues, “There can be a dark side to resale, but the more we educate ourselves about the market and take time to research, the less unethical resellers will be able to swindle people.”
“The importance of buying secondhand is the three basic R’s: Recycle, repurpose and reuse”
Jamala Wallace, a vintage connoisseur and creator of the Instagram community #lifestyleofthethriftandfamous, has been in the business of secondhand for decades. So, of course, she welcomes all newcomers to the secondhand world. She loves to see more consumers put an emphasis on the quality and sustainability of older pieces, as well as keep gorgeous, storied items out of landfills.
However, Wallace says this has created a new rush on items. “Vintage furniture dealers are hitting the estate sales, Facebook Marketplace, and thrift stores hunting for pieces to refinish or reupholster to resell. It’s making it harder for average thrifters or bargain hunters to compete with dealers and snag nice items.”
Wallace has personal experience in the industry, predating the current boom. “I owned an antique shop in the 1990s and would acquire pieces from yard sales and other thrift stores to resell.” She takes the position that the ethical line needs to be drawn only when it comes to stolen property — buying items at lower prices to sell for a profit is simply the way to make money in this business. And all secondhand is good secondhand as long as it’s contributing to sustainability. In her words, “The importance of buying secondhand is the three basic “R”s: Recycle, repurpose and reuse.”
But maybe you lost out on the perfect dresser to a Facebook Marketplace reseller or you saw your dream dinnerware marked up on an Instagram sale after missing it at the thrift store, and you’ve decided you’re firmly anti-reseller. Here’s another angle to consider. “There are entrepreneurs who are building reputable businesses through secondhand items. It’s not much different than big chains buying low wholesale and selling high in store,” explains Wallace.
And, if you want to determine whether a reseller is just in it for a quick markup or if they’re invested in the secondhand economy, Wallace suggests, “Ask about the origin. Most dealers like to tell the story of an item and feel it adds to the value of the piece.”
Nowadays, Wallace focuses on making her own stylish home a secondhand jewel box — and she only resells when it’s time to shake things up. She says, “As an avid thrift store shopper, I tend to make purchases based on items I want. Once I’m ready to switch decor, then I resell my items.”