Gentri-fashion: How the Sustainability Community Alienates the Working Classes
Gentrification is a term we often hear to describe hipster areas of capital cities where vegan cafes and bars that serve drinks in watering cans can be found en masse. According to the Cambridge English dictionary, ‘gentrification’ can be described as ‘the process by which a place, especially part of a city, changes from being a poor area to a richer one, where people from a higher social class live’. In the UK, we might think of Hackney, a London borough that went from being a crime hotspot largely populated by low income families and BAME communities, to an up-and-coming neighbourhood where properties became a tidy investment for middle-class first-time buyers. But what if gentrification was not just a process confined to geographical location?
Gentri-fashion, by my own definition, is the process by which the working classes have been priced out of the sustainability community by the (largely white) middle-classes. As sustainability has grown in popularity over the last few years, a concept that should be relatively cheap (after all, it’s grounded in the idea of slowing down consumption and reusing) has been transformed into a cash-consuming behemoth, demanding you lay down your life savings for a reusable water bottle, tupperware containers, and metal straws galore. Thankfully, this stereotype is starting to crumble as intersectionality has become a major talking point for the community in recent months – though the damage has still been done.
In 2013, UK newspaper outlets began reporting on a number of price hikes happening in charity shops around the country that were making items unaffordable for local residents who depended on second-hand shopping due to lower incomes. “It’s not supposed to be like this”, commented one shopper, Modupe Tijani, 59, who noticed second-hand stock from Primark being sold at a mark-up on the original price. Another customer, Mustafa Sami, 61, who was unemployed at the time said, “if you want a nice jacket, it costs a lot now.” The same issue was reported to be happening in the US as of 2019, where thrifting has become the popular pastime of the ‘It girls’ of YouTube, forcing prices up and low income residents out. It seems a dramatic culture shift has occurred, whereby “frugality no longer connotes paying $10 for a winter coat, but finding a gently-used designer one for $150.” While The Guardian slammed ‘greedy’ shop runners as the culprits, I believe there is also some blame to be felt at the consumer level – particularly among young, middle-class bargain hunters discovering that they could buy more clothing for a fraction of the usual cost, and even make a profit.
A 2019 survey by Money Magpie found that 1 in 10 Brits admitted to selling-on charity shop items at an average profit of £10.50 per sale. Sure, a few of these re-sales may have been down to the fact that an item could not be returned after purchase, or perhaps the seller fell out of love with it somewhere along the line – but it’s undeniable that for many, raiding the charity shops has become a business endeavour.
Depop has become one of the latest victims of gentri-fashion in recent years. Originally intended as an affordable alternative to fast fashion, nowadays its explore page is overrun with shops posting content at an unbelievably fast rate, most of it coming from charity or vintage stores at a high mark-up to create profit. You can even find guides on ‘how to make six figures on Depop’ online. Unfortunately, while business may be booming for middle class sellers and buyers, lower income app users have been alienated by unaffordable and frankly ridiculous prices. The recent emergence of the ‘Brandy Melville cult’, whereby sellers are advertising Brandy clothing as ‘rare’ and ‘highly sought after’ to justify massive price hikes, is one of the most insidious examples of gentri-fashion in action. This halter top is being listed for a whopping $53 on Depop, while a similar style retails for just $20 new on their website. A pair of Brandy pink cargo pants are listed for $100 on Depop, while the average new pair of trousers cost between $30 to $50. A second-hand tank top listed on Depop at $35 (plus $3.50 postage) can be found in an almost identical style for $16 on their website. It’s no surprise then, with more sustainable second-hand options being so wildly overpriced, that low income consumers would turn to the likes of cheap fast fashion.
Gentri-fashion is ugly to its core. While it may have started as an accidental consequence of middle-class bargain hunting, there’s no denying that it is now being perpetuated by the very communities who claim to encourage sustainability for all. For those of us in more financially privileged positions, buying first-hand from ethical, sustainable brands should be our first port-of-call, and selling second-hand should never be about profit. Until we address this issue, our community can never claim intersectionality.
Image by: Ana Travels