Jack Engstrom, a sophomore real estate development major at USC, has been thrifting since he was in middle school. He mainly focused on picking up 80s and 90s clothing to resell before he realized that there was an untapped market in his community, and created the Instagram page @uscvintage.
“Once I realized there was a high demand [at USC], I said, ‘Alright I’m going to go all in,’” he said in an interview with Annenberg Media.
In recent years, researchers have seen trends in the clothing industry change, as people have started to move away from fast fashion and towards more sustainable options. People’s attitudes towards thrifting and used clothing have shifted over the years, as online clothing resale apps such as Depop and Poshmark have revolutionized the industry. Once looked down upon, thrifting has become a major trend.
According to Thred-Up, an online second-hand store, the resale industry is set to overtake the thrift and donation segment by 2024. According to the company’s annual resale report, the resale industry was estimated to be a $24 billion market in 2019, and is expected to more than double to $64 billion in 2024.
As online resale businesses continue to grow, prices at local thrift stores have risen dramatically, making it harder for low-income shoppers to find affordable clothing.
Many believe that the University of Southern California has played a major role in the gentrification of the Southern Los Angeles community. Trendy shops have replaced stores, like Lil Bill’s Bike Shop, that had served the community for years, and students in the area have attributed to rising rent prices. As the community around them changes, students at USC have found their own ways to resell used clothing.
USC Vintage sells used USC clothing, dating back decades. Some of the pieces on his page sell for over $200, but Engstrom explained that many factors affect the value of a piece.
“With certain high price items, it has a lot to do with how rare they are,” he said. “Most of these items are 30+ years old. To find some of these items in a new or close to new condition is really hard.”
Engstrom says that he first noticed gentrification of thrift stores in 2014, when stores like Goodwill started to open boutique styled stores, with raised prices, and high-end items.
“They’re filtering out what goes to the thrift stores basically and putting them in these boutiques,” he said. “People started realizing that vintage [clothing] was very valuable. Once people realized there was a market for it, it kind of took off.”
Engstrom says there are many benefits to shopping second-hand, the largest being the environmental impact. According to the World Wildlife Fund, it can take up to 2700 liters of water to produce a single cotton t-shirt.
For him, there is value in buying high-end vintage.
“When I look at clothing, I see it as an investment,” Engstrom says. “Let’s say you buy a Micheal Jackson shirt at Pacsun for $50. As soon as you leave the store, it’s worth zero. When you buy a 1985 Micheal Jackson tee that’s original for $200, it’s going to be worth $200 at the end of the day.”
Engstrom primarily uses Instagram to sell clothing, but also takes in-person appointments.