Poppin’ tags: v., Popping off tags of higher-priced merchandise and switching for clearance or lower-priced tags; shopping for goods (especially clothing) in abundance.
Thrifting: v., The act of shopping at a thrift store, flea market, garage sale, consignment shop or other charitable organization.
Even if footy pajamas or broken keyboards don’t make their shopping lists, consumers can unearth stylish goods with only 20 dollars in their pocket. In a slumping economy, frugality has made a comeback. With influences like Macklemore––whose single “Thrift Shop” has gone viral and topped Billboard charts––shoppers, particularly youth, boast a cachet of cool while “poppin’ tags” on a shoestring budget.
For decades secondhand goods have generated a cult following, an alternative market for lower incomes, and a source of unique finds for fringe fashion, costumes and theme parties. More recently, the list has expanded to include diverse appeal, reflected in an increase in resale donations, consignment shops and a growing online presence.
Compounded by a pop culture endorsement and an accompanying lexicon of slang terms, “thrifting” has hit the mainstream. As the economy limps toward recovery, discussions about carbon footprints abound, and “green” trends gain momentum, the used goods industry expands its niche.
According to NARTS, The Association of Retail Professionals, the resale industry in the United States currently generates approximately $13 billion per year. A member of the association, Goodwill Industries, accounted for about $3.53 billion of retail sale revenue in 2012. Established in 1902, Goodwill Industries now operates more than 2700 stores and continues to grow.
Buffalo Exchange, a secondhand chain known for funky clothing and accessories, started with a 450 sq. ft. shop in 1974. Since then, the company has expanded to 43 locations in 15 states, including two stores in Boston and Cambridge. Buffalo Exchange claims that its clothing is “by the community, for the community” with the majority of goods sold locally.
Using statistics from the consumer research firm, America’s Research Group, NARTS reports that 16-18 percent of Americans shop at thrift stores annually, and 12-15 percent patronize consignment shops. In comparison, about 11 percent prefer factory outlet malls, 19 percent opt for apparel stores, and 21 percent shop at major department stores.
“It’s a sign of the times,” says Dasan Harrington, a regular thrift store shopper and donator.
He and his wife, Zoraida, both 38, frequent secondhand shops around Boston for bargains. The couple live in Dorchester with their two children, and venture to Boomerangs thrift store in West Roxbury a few times per month. While he peruses the store’s eclectic CD collection, she searches for rain gear.
“I look at everything,” Mr. Harrington says. “You can find good stuff that’s unique.”
Sometimes they leave empty-handed, he admits, but on this particular visit the duo found nearly matching trench coats. Other patrons thumb through paperbacks, test the buoyancy of sofa cushions, and cinch belts around gently worn slacks and dresses.
Owned and operated by the non-profit organization AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts (AAC), Boomerangs thrift stores invest their proceeds to the committee’s work. Founded in 1983, the AAC aims to educate, help prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS, and provide support for those affected by the virus.
Boomerangs’s Director of Community Outreach Liz Donovan asks a cash-paying customer, “Do you mind if I give you a lot of random change?”
Her question reflects the Boomerangs shopping experience: a montage of different donations, styles, volunteers, and customers. The store attracts disparate groups of people and products to form a diverse community.
“People are bumping into each other here who wouldn’t elsewhere,” she says. “They speak different languages and run in different circles, but talk to each other when they’re shopping. Rich people antiquating mix with poorer people on a budget who need the discounted items.”
Donovan, whose own wardrobe is comprised of Boomerangs items, has seen the company expand to four locations: West Roxbury, Jamaica Plain, The South End, and Central Square in Cambridge. She attributes the steady growth to a variety of affordable goods, well-organized merchandise, a welcoming atmosphere, and a loyal base of donators, patrons and volunteers. Also, in the last few months, social media and the the song “Thrift Shop” have boosted interest in the store.
“People play the song on their phones while they’re shopping here,” Donovan says. “Students come in at 9 o’clock on a Saturday morning and Tweet things like ‘Poppin’ tags @ Boomerangs’. It’s fun and has been a boon to business, prompting conversation.”
She views thrifting and recycling clothing, accessories, furniture and home goods as a step in the right direction. As shoppers embellish items––by altering, painting or sewing them––they make them more their own and, according to Donovan, participate more in their own lives.
The charitable, local and musical elements of thrifting have boosted sales for The Thrift Shop in Roslindale, as well, according to store manager Chris Roth.
Relying on local donations, the store’s sales benefit The Home For Little Wanderers (or The Home), a Boston-based non-profit organization. Established in 1926, the organization provides services––including counseling, foster care, life skills training and mentoring––for Boston youth and families. Originally based in Jamaica Plain, the shop moved to Roslindale, a more affordable neighborhood, 12 years ago.
“Roslindale Square has changed,” Roth says. “To get well established in an area takes time, and we have grown with the community.”
With two full-time employees, three part-time workers, and ten dedicated volunteers, the store has maintained a loyal following while generating more money for its cause. Since the 2008 downturn in the economy, Roth noticed more furniture donations. Despite financial struggles, his year the sales reached a record high of $125,000 for The Home.
Roth believes that people are more open to shopping at thrift stores. While some view it as a hobby, other for others approach thrifting as a way to pay it forward. “Some people buy in bulk, but I feel like they’re often doing it for others,” he says. “Some guy bought a dozen dresses, probably for a women’s shelter.”
As for Macklemore’s hit song, Roth noticed that teenagers have stopped by the store with greater frequency in the last year. “Kids have started ironically coming in with more curiosity and interest.” he says.
Kristina Nederosleva, co-owner of Deja Vu in Newton, has transformed her consignment hobby into a full-time business. She moved to Boston for graduate school in 2009 and wanted to generate income while studying.
“I figured there had to be a way to make money, short of selling myself on the street,” she says with a shrug and a giggle.
What started as a quick way to make cash for a weekend getaway––with a bag of clothing, a trip to Buffalo Exchange, and $70 in her pocket––quickly grew into Simple Exchanges, a consignment business operated from her one-bedroom apartment in Cambridge. Nederosleva wanted to provide a service and simplify the process between buyer and seller by removing unnecessary steps and splitting the profit with her donators.
While running Simple Exchanges, Nederosleva researched the details of the industry, and worked part-time at the consignment shop Second Time Around. She moved to Deja Vu in September 2012, where she worked part time until buying into the store in February, which she now co-owns with Oksana Pan. Carrying a array of brands from Ann Taylor and Oilily to Kate Spade and Gucci, Deja Vu attracts an diverse demographic of shoppers.
“Everybody likes to shop and customers get upset if they can’t find something,” she says. “We see such a wide range of age, income and personality. Someone might carry a Chanel wallet, but she’ll come in and buy a $10 one here.”
Nederosleva attributes the initial growth to a slipping economy, and longstanding success to perennial elements like personal service, local charm and unique finds. She believes that fads or popular songs have less long-term influence on the popularity of her shop or the industry in general.
She has noticed rapid growth for both Deja Vu and the local consignment business in general, noting that 10 to 12 secondhand store have opened around Boston within the last couple of years. “They’re all still here,” Nederosleva says. “This [business] isn’t going to die out.”