Back to school shopping shifts to thrift

·4 min read
The clientele at Bad Dog Co. is high school and university age, says co-owner Luke Webster. (Submitted by Luke Webster - image credit)
The clientele at Bad Dog Co. is high school and university age, says co-owner Luke Webster. (Submitted by Luke Webster - image credit)

A $5 and $10 sale at Bad Dog Co. — a vintage store in the Glebe — saw a line stretch around the block at the end of August, with shoppers keen to snag curated streetwear pieces for a good deal.

Luke Webster, who co-owns the store with his girlfriend Sian Richard, says August was their best month at the store all year.

While he'd like to say that's all due to the store's advertising, he says there's a high probability the first in person back-to-school in a couple years had something to do with it.

The store's clientele is mainly high school and university age, he said.

"Vintage has always been seen as kind of like an older scene, right? You know, it's like the antique kind of clothes. It has always been like, the people selling it have always seemed just as old as the clothes," Webster said.

That's not the case with Bad Dog Co. — the owners are 23 and 24 years old.

He said his generation — the Gen Zs — are shopping nearly exclusively second hand, driven by their environmental consciousness and sharing their finds on TikTok.

Staying on trend

Francesca D'Angelo, the program co-ordinator for the fashion management program at Humber College, backs up the idea that Gen Zs are driving the second-hand market.

But she objects to the idea that sustainability is the main reason for the younger generation's interest in thrifting.

Submitted by Francesca D'Angelo
Submitted by Francesca D'Angelo

She said social media has sped up some trends and many young people feel pressured to curate their online appearance so much that once they're photographed wearing a piece, they don't want to be seen in it again.

"The selfie culture where you're always looking on trend, comes at a cost and when you're young, you might not have that cost, but you want to look good," D'Angelo said. Thrifting can be a solution.

She quoted from Statista, a market and consumer data provider, that ranked the top four reasons people are turning to second-hand clothing.

The first was that thrifting offers more selection, the second that they can find trendy and unique pieces, the third being that it's more affordable, and coming in last was concern for the environment.

But Webster said it doesn't matter why people are shopping second hand because regardless of intent they're supporting the sustainable market.

"It's just great to see that people can really rotate their closets and wear stuff and then kind of give it back and you haven't actually created any new clothing doing that," he said.

Rise of the curated second-hand market 

Kelly Gawargy, owner of Trove Fashion in Hintonburg, said Ottawa was slow to catch on to the global turn toward second-hand shopping, but in the past five years the city has hit its stride.

Submitted by Luke Webster
Submitted by Luke Webster

Part of what's changed, according to her, is an increase in curated consignment and vintage boutiques, taking over from thrift stores which had customers sift through piles of clothing.

Both Trove and Bad Dog don't want to be labelled as thrift stores. Webster explained that thrift stores often have their items donated whereas as a vintage store, Bad Dog is constantly buying pieces to resell and repairing those that need it, so they're ready to wear.

Trove is a consignment shop, selling people's pieces and taking a cut. Gawargy said the store focuses on good quality classic pieces and serving "the middle" market — between thrift stores and luxury consignment.

Pandemic pivot

Having someone invested in what's in the store is part of the appeal — while pivoting during the pandemic was difficult, Gawargy said consignment shops had it easier than traditional retailers, which have to order their stock months in advance.

"There was a point there where every week we're like, OK, so what are people doing now? What are people allowed to do? Are people leaving their houses yet?" Gawargy said.

Deep in the pandemic they collected loungewear, but when restrictions eased over the summers they were able to ask for and resell cocktail wear for years of overdue weddings.

Gawargy said she doesn't try to keep up with micro trends online, but has found the thrill of finding a unique piece easily transfers to online shopping, where the majority of her customers — Gen Zs and Millenials — are searching for fashion inspiration.

Out of necessity during the pandemic, Gawargy began selling clothes on the store's Instagram stories — now she said she can never stop.

"It's like a challenge, almost. People love it because there's one of every piece, right? So it's almost like a competition to get that one piece that everyone wants."