Edinburgh Students and Charity Shop Gentrification: A Tale as Old as Time?
Kate Charlton explores the potentially harmful double standards regarding charity shop bulk-buying by the same people criticising the unsustainable model of fast fashion.
Image description: This image was taken in Armstrong's, a student staple in Edinburgh, which sells vintage and preloved clothing, defining the eclectic experimental aesthetic synonymous with Edinburgh students. "Babe Squad" is a musing on when playful fashion coincides with capitalist consumer culture. Olivia believes in the power that clothing has to convey personal individuality, political affiliation and sexual identity, but questions our reliance on an industry that contributes so heavily to the climate crisis, poor working conditions and body dysphoria. On the other hand, the article challenges the role of charity shops today in promoting and incentivising gentrification. Both instances must be taken in consideration when assessing charity shops within the city.
Trends dictate the way we dress, and the students of Edinburgh are not immune. Although originality and going against typical trends are considered ‘cool’, this is nonetheless a trend in itself. With trends, comes the dangers of over-saturating markets, thus driving up prices and often pricing other people out to retain this ‘exclusivity’ we crave in fashion.
Students as a demographic are often the people who are outspoken about issues plaguing our society, proponents of saving our environment and justice for the underdogs. Quite rightly, this encompasses the issues of fast fashion, both in its lack of sustainability and its exploitation of garment workers. I’m not here arguing that this criticism is in any way unjustified, but I won’t be exploring this injustice in this article, today.
Instead, I want to point to the subtle hypocrisy that can follow when people fail to apply this same logic to their other spending habits. However, I don’t want to place firm blame on the individual because, as we know, there is no ethical consumption under capitalism; no one can be held to this perfect ideal. Rather, if anything is achieved from this article, I hope that it is simply a raised awareness of the issues of trends and how they can affect wider society, to encourage more conscious consumption.
Charity shopping and thrifting is undeniably the biggest trend in student fashion today. For good reason, too, as they give us vintage and original pieces for lower prices when we’re on a student budget. I love charity shopping and I will continue to do so. However, when faced with so much choice I often find myself buying things just for the sake of it, never wearing them and then giving them away. This is a dangerous cycle to enter because it internalises the idea of the expendability of clothes. Not only does it take these items off the shelves and away from someone who really wants or needs them, but it also creates a market and demand that encourages the hike in prices of these shops. Thus, this prices out people who rely on charity shops for their needs. Buying bulk hauls from charity shops, therefore, is falling prey to the same issues we have with fast fashion and over-consumption. We can’t stand there criticising people who buy cheap clothes from fast-fashion retailers when we’re behaving in the same way, having potentially forced them into it due to pricing them out of sustainable fashion.
I went into several charity shops in different parts of Edinburgh to look at varying prices of similar ticket items. Unsurprisingly, similarly branded items in areas like New Town and Stockbridge were higher than those in Newington. For instance, the average pair of jeans being £6/£7 or so against the £4/£5 in Newington, based on my experience*. Of course, there is the argument that the clothes in wealthier areas are nicer so are more expensive, but I generally looked at unbranded or cheaper branded items for comparison. I have also worked in an Oxfam charity shop many times and have been involved in the pricing of items, witnessing the steady rise in prices over the years. I’m not arguing this isn’t inevitable as ultimately it is a business, but it does point to the fact that it is a consumer business. Therefore, the argument that bulk buying from a charity shop is doing them a favour because it would ‘go to waste’ or is ‘for charity’ isn’t necessarily valid.
This gentrification of charity shops is unfortunately inevitable and I am a participant, but an awareness of not over-consuming is vital if we want to keep second-hand shopping’s integrity intact. I implore consumers to consider only buying things that they really want or need, rather than needlessly buying random items because they are a ‘steal’ and certainly not buying things to upsell on Depop. With this, we need to also not look down on people that do buy clothes from fast-fashion retailers. Bulk purchasing has every right to be critiqued, but when fast fashion becomes the more affordable option we must look to the institutional issues at play as opposed to blaming the individual whose hand has been forced. Also, people deserve to have nice clothes and to buy what makes them happy, not just the basics to survive simply because they have less disposable income.
*This wasn’t an in-depth or scientific investigation but rather a generalised observation about typical price trends and I’m not claiming this is the case 100% of the time.