By Emerson Williams
Thrifting is a core component of Toronto’s buzzing fashion culture. Thrift stores—once the land of forgotten garments and knick-knacks—are now the bustling hobby locale at all ends of the city.
For some Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU) students, thrifting has become more than a hobby or a way to save money on a new wardrobe. Students are also seeing it as a business opportunity.
Clothing resale—commonly referred to as “flipping”—is a way for students to gain a couple of extra bucks.
For Dickson Ntiamoah, a second-year business management student, reselling clothing started as a way for him to learn about refurbishment and style curation first-hand.
“I [used to] go to the thrift, take a piece of clothing and try to repurpose it in my room using any materials I could get my hands on,” said Ntiamoah.
Since he began thrifting, Ntiamoah has learned that a great way to stand out in reselling is by putting his own spin on his inventory. Though he has earned more money from selling high-quality and untouched pieces, his passion for design often takes precedence over profit.
“Reselling something that you’ve altered in any type of way or refurbishing things takes a level of craftsmanship that is hard to find,” he said.
He said sales and commissions are steady even while balancing his business with his school schedule. His strategy for success? Knowing his audience and keeping up with what’s trending online.
“I do sell within a niche. On my Depop [storefront] I sell more women’s clothes…lots of vintage dresses,” said Ntiamoah. “I sell those on Depop because it’s just a better market [with the platform’s user base].” He also said men’s clothing tends to sell better on Instagram.
Ntiamoah’s go-to places to shop are as eclectic as his style. He buys pieces from all across the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) to stay ahead of the curve in what he notices as an oversaturated industry. He’s found it difficult to find profitable pieces with so many others running a similar business as him.
“[The Toronto clothes flipping market] is very competitive. Shopping in different cities is a good way to stay ahead,” said Ntiamoah. “You’ll find a lot more quality made products for a relatively cheaper price. If you’re trying to find something in [Toronto] it’s already been found.”
Ntiamoah said cheaper clothing items can be found on Facebook Marketplace and Reddit.
“There are usually some good deals when people are just selling [clothes] to get rid of them who don’t know the value or don’t really see the care in the clothes,” said Ntiamoah.
The trend of curated second-hand shops in Toronto was enough to push Elliott Hoeckel, a second-year graphics communications management student, away from reselling almost entirely. In recent years, it became too difficult for him to find enough profitable hidden gems to keep his side hustle afloat.
“Because of social media…we all know what the trends are and retailers know what’s valuable…they play people for a fool almost,” said Hoeckel. “[Reselling] is really not worth it unless you’re really ‘big time’ and you’re doing designer consignment.”
Consignment stores are retailers who sell clothes on behalf of clients and provide a percentage of the revenue to the owner of the item when it sells.
“It was fun in middle school and high school. It gives you a business sense,” said Hoeckel. “You talk to people, make connections and learn how to keep those connections.”
The potential loss of accessible, cheap and underground second-hand clothing may seem concerning to hopeful resellers. However, TMU fashion professor Alison Matthews David thinks fashion cycles are the best sign that thrifting’s true humanity will not die.
“[Thrifting] is something my grandmother and my mom did. There’s been a shift towards…people either [trying] to make vintage styles themselves or recycle,” said Matthews David. “Social media has made things trendy that would have once been seen as out of style—like crochet and knitting.”
Matthews David sees the persistence of maker culture in her students.
“Even just yesterday, my students and I were up on the roof garden at TMU, picking flowers and natural dyeing. I always try to be optimistic [about the maker movement],” she said.
Although many students are repurposing fabrics found at thrift shops, Matthews David does not see fast fashion items lasting as long as older quality pieces of clothing.
“If you’re buying fast fashion, it was really only designed to last for a few washes. That stuff…is not going to persist through another cycle of thrifting in the way it was made earlier,” said Matthews David.
Despite the challenges of entrepreneurship, Ntiamoah seems to agree with the insight of Matthews David exactly, pushing to create and advising new sellers to do the same.
“It’s always best to just start selling stuff and things will fall [into place] from there. It’s [great] to create your own pieces.”