The fashion industry has changed a lot over the decades, from the booming days of the department store to the more recent shift toward online shopping and fast fashion.
But in the racks of Raspberry Beret in Cambridge, shoppers are searching through a sea of colorful sweaters for the perfect thrift. It can be a long process.
"I would say like 99% of my wardrobe is probably just all secondhand," said Maria Mendoza, who has been working as a sales associate at Raspberry Beret for around four years. "There's a lot more reward, I would say, behind every piece that you find. It feels more intentional and like you're giving something a chance at life, and a lot more of your character and personality shows through that."
She added that in even just the last few years, thrifting has become a popular hobby for all kinds of people.
"I think it definitely used to be like an older crowd," Mendoza said. "More recently, we've noticed more college students coming in. Even high school students are starting to come in. I think the internet had a lot to do with that, too."
A 2022 study by Boston Consulting Group found the secondhand clothing market is already worth 3% to 5% of the overall apparel sector, with more people citing sustainability as a factor in what they choose to buy. And while thrifting has a smaller carbon footprint than fast fashion, it can still take an environmental toll.
"The longevity of our garments needs to extend," said Jasmina Burek, an assistant professor at UMass Lowell who studies sustainability. "All the manufacturers need to be clear about the expiration date. If you throw this garment [away] after one year, this is the impact you're creating. ... If this polyester T-shirt goes around for five years, that's great. But in the end, if it ends up at the landfill and it's decomposed there for hundreds of years, it's not a good system that we have."
Burek said one of the larger issues at play is not just where people are shopping, but how our clothes are made.
"So we have a Goodwill who accepts everything, and among this everything, there is a lot of textile. And a lot of textile is not usable anymore because people either discard the garments which are stained or garments which are already worn out or taut, have a tear," Burek said. "And half of the stuff, it's garbage, and then it ends up at the landfill again."
A 2021 report from the World Economic Forum found that fashion is the planet's third-largest polluter, after food and construction industries. One option for consumers hoping to find alternatives to buying new products is a clothing swap — like the one Jessica Fixsen, a sustainability manager at the Harvard Business School, organizes every year. Employees can trade donated pieces instead of acquiring new ones.
"And thenthe reuse center is just right next door as well," Fixsen said. "It's a chance for items to find a new home right there. ... and anything that's clean and not moldy, things like that will go down to the textile recycling."
Sifting through the piles of donations at Fixsen's latest clothing swap was 22-year-old Lydia Begag, a research associate at Harvard Business School and an avid thrifter.
"I think it's just being mindful of how much you spend on clothes in a given season," Begag said. "I feel like there's a huge rotation of trends. I’ve become more cognizant of buying staples instead of, you know, just trying to buy the coolest thing that I see on Instagram or TikTok, and try to be more sustainable in that way."
The Harvard Business School clothing swap is just one of several in the Boston area that are reducing clothing waste. The practice is growing in popularity among organizations, niche communities and within friend groups.
"I think sometimes when people think about sustainability, they equate the word with sacrifice," Fixsen said. "But activities like a clothing swap are a way to remind folks that sustainability is about solutions."
As sustainability becomes an increasingly important factor in the clothing industry, the rise in thrifting and swapping is a promising start to reducing our carbon footprint. The hope for advocates moving forward is that fashion manufacturers will follow in their lead, and create more environmentally friendly options for people to purchase.