Shopping Second Hand In Toronto

Thrift and vintage shopping in Toronto

I am a clothing enthusiast, possibly as a result of proxy, rather than an innate attraction to fashion.  My maternal grandmother made a career for herself as a successful seamstress and clothing designer in the ’60s, and my mother is a visual artist. In my parents’ house, I am surrounded by a mixture of tablecloths and doilies that my grandmother made and gifted our family, as well as realist-impressionist paintings, which my mother created, depicting women in beautiful robes.

I did not have the bravery necessary to go into fine arts or fashion as a young person in the economy of recent years. However, I have always been drawn to activities that express my visual aesthetic. One of the most liberating things I experienced as a university student was buying “adult” clothes for the first time. Popping into Aritzia and picking out a white, silky, button-up, collared shirt and a stylish, grey sweater, and then pairing my treasures with black, winged eyeliner inaugurated in me a sense of young-womanhood.

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However, with adulthood also came an increased awareness of the state of the rest of the world. At twenty-one years old, having watched a documentary following a group of Norwegian teens as they visited a sweat shop, shopping at clothing stores began to encapsulate a dual meaning for me. On the one hand, choosing clothes that reflected my personality was a feminist move that connected me to the pivotal female influences in my life. On the other hand, the clothing stores that I visited quietly let their exploitative practices become known through their “made in China” labels, sewn imperceptibly into the necks of their delicate shirts. As a result of my sudden rendezvous with the garment industry’s reality, I began purchasing a portion of my clothes second-hand through Kijiji or at thrift shops, and I have been doing so for the past two years now. 

There is no magical decision, no purchasing pattern, that will solve the problem of sweatshop labour in a matter of seconds, even as we silently hope that change will quickly come into existence through our actions. Nevertheless, buying second-hand allows a consumer, at the very least, to be a little bit subversive towards the spending structure that society has laid out for all of us. Through second-hand purchases, consumers don’t have to buy directly products made from exploited labour. Yes, buying second-hand clothing does not stop the production of sweatshops altogether. However, when purchasing a second-hand shirt or pant, a consumer’s money does not directly channel towards larger corporations that utilize sweatshop labour. 

Moreover, with 13.1 million tonnes of textiles thrown away every year in America alone, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, reusing old clothes is an ideal solution for the world’s current waste problem.

For those of you who don’t know, kijiji.ca is product-sharing website that allows users to purchase and buy items from people directly in Canada, particularly in the GTA. I first heard about the site when my dad was looking for a used car. Out of sheer boredom one afternoon, I typed “white sweater” into the site’s search engine. I immediately found a list of items on sale. The benefit of buying clothes on Kijiji is the specificity with which users can search for items. For example, if Aritzia or Marciano is a user’s favourite store, he/she can search for those brands individually as he/she finds pieces he/she would like to wear. After selecting a product, the buyer and seller set up a meeting place where cash and clothing can be exchanged.

A few safety tips for purchasing clothes off of Kijiji: do not give out your address, full name, or full email address on the site (email is Kijiji’s preferred method of contact between users, but any electronic addresses entered into their site become cloaked after a message gets sent). When meeting in person to purchase clothing, always meet in a public, busy place, preferably in daylight. This method of purchasing works best between adults buying clothes from other adults.

I’ve also had some good luck with thrifting in Toronto. One of my personal favourite places to visit is Value Village. Occasionally, a gem of a find will pop up there. The downside to shopping at Value Village is that seeking out specific items of clothing for wear is difficult, unlike on Kijiji. However, more clothes are immediately available to be purchased on site, so bulk purchases are easier to make.

To be sure, second-hand clothes can make fashionable outfits that are appropriate for work and school.  The outfit I’m wearing in the photo below was made entirely of second-hand items (except for the purse and shoes). I wore it while attending a class at the University of Toronto.

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Ultimately, there shouldn’t be an elitist stigma against shopping second-hand. Stylish and ethical purchases can be made quite easily through second-hand purchases, with a little bit of time and effort, often in the most unexpected of places. I encourage all of you to try thrifting, offline or online, once in a while. Comment down below if you happen to purchase anything interesting.

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About the Author

Sharon Kashani is a Masters of Arts in English Literature recipient from the University of Toronto. Upon applying for graduate school, Sharon was honoured to receive the major federal award for humanities doctoral programs in Canada, The Joseph-Armand Bombardier CGS-SSHRC Masters Scholarship. Her SSHRC proposal, entitled Gender and Sexuality in Novelistic Works, described a project that aimed to chart the subversive tendencies of women writers through their depictions of sexuality and gender in novels. Most recently, Sharon has completed her Masters and is excited to now be writing for Trusted Clothes.

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