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Local businesses, consumers find thrifting can benefit everyone

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Several packed clothing racks fill the Whatcom Humane Society shop in Bellingham, Wash. Items were collected from the community and organized by the WHS volunteers starting in Oct. 2020. // Courtesy of Derrick Randolph

By Sophia Struna

Bellingham's growing care for the environment and value in giving back to the community have found their match in thrifting. The popular trend of sustainable shopping has shifted locals' perspective on secondhand clothes and items, making now a better time than ever to dig up your parents’ acid-washed jean jackets from the '80s.

“The new generation [has] gotten more into caring for the Earth, and moving away from disposable clothing and just having more styles and trends for people to be more unique and to define themselves,” said Jennifer Walters, a retail advocate with the Downtown Bellingham Partnership.

Walters added that in addition to thrifting helping people create their identity, there is a uniqueness to all of the items you find. “They have stories, everything you thrift has a story.”

Fourth-year Western Washington University student Nichole Vargas said that as a kid, it was embarrassing to tell her peers her clothes were thrifted.

“People would ask ‘Oh, where'd you get that from?’ and I’d lie and say it was from somewhere else,” Vargas said.

However, Vargas said she found that as she got older, it became a source of pride to say an outfit was thrifted and that instead, buying used clothing became more about individuality.

Guy Occhiogrosso, CEO and president of the Bellingham Chamber of Commerce, believes the consumer shift towards sustainable and environmentally conscious shopping is a big contributor to the rise of thrifting.

“[People attracted to thrifting might think], ‘If products still have value, then don't throw them out, don't put them in a landfill — donate them. Put them on consignment and there's still value there,’” Occhiogrosso said.

In addition to the increase of thrifting, stores are shifting the way they fit into the community. Occhiogrosso attributed this to an industry’s need to innovate when its popularity grows.

Similarly, the Whatcom Humane Society found a new way to innovate, taking over their own thrift shop in October 2020 from a previously closed WeSNiP store. The nonprofit, volunteer-run store gives part of its profits to WeSNiP, a local nonprofit spay and neuter service. The rest goes to the humane society’s animal shelter, wildlife center and farm facility.

Derrick Randolph, manager of the thrift shop, said the community reception has been overwhelmingly positive so far.

The store provides shoppers the chance to donate to a good cause and gives the WHS the ability to reach more of the community, Randolph said.

“One shopper might stop by because they have been a huge supporter of the Whatcom Humane Society, another person might stop by because they saw it was a new thrift shop in town,” Randolph said. “So it kind of helps on both avenues.”

While the WHS is currently unable to tell how profits made from the store have affected the animals in their care, Randolph said he is looking forward to an expected increase in business for the store after the return of normal, post-pandemic life.

The shop’s ability to offer unique finds to customers while supporting a local cause is something that Kristin Noreen, a volunteer at the WHS thrift shop, called “a win-win on every front.”

 “They’re buying the stuff from us, so we’re benefitting, and then the families are benefitting, and the people who are buying are getting it at low cost,” Noreen said. “So, it's just a cycle that keeps benefitting.”


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