Thrift-store activism

Save the planet through secondhand fashion

Thrift in the “hipster” room at SPCA Thrift—this mannequin, not wearing any clothes, must be shopping for some new-to-him apparel.

Thrift in the “hipster” room at SPCA Thrift—this mannequin, not wearing any clothes, must be shopping for some new-to-him apparel.

Photo by Maxfield Morris

Clothing gets tossed into landfills a lot. In 1990, 4.27 million tons of discarded textiles ended up in U.S. landfills, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

That number has steadily risen: In 2000, it was 6.28 million tons, and in 2015 it was 10.53 million tons.

It’s a complex issue, mostly one of scale. Large-scale manufacturers serve lots of consumers as part of a global economic system of consumption.

Step into a cluttered, secluded office lined with well-loved clothing, electronics and enough curious curios and nifty knick-knacks to occupy hours of your time. It’s Patti Litsey’s domain at Adoptable Goods, the Sacramento SPCA’s thrift store on E Street. The items dominating the room are donations to sell on markets such as eBay or local consignment stores.

She’s on the front line of the secondhand goods resistance. Tidal waves of donations overflow the intake room—75% of those items can’t be kept, Litsey says. Some can’t even be accepted, including the Mildly Contentious Lamp.

“’It works, you just have to put a zip tie on it,’” the donor insisted, as Litsey recounts. “And I was like, ’We can’t take that.’ People get very mad when we don’t take stuff, but it costs us money when we have to take stuff that we just have to throw away.”

She and her staff are trying to move as much they can, with proceeds benefiting the SPCA. Some products that are in good condition are sold to other thrift stores, but of the marketable items brought to the store’s sales floor, four out of five will get a new owner. Some are resellers, some are junk dealers and some are there to send scrap electronic parts to Africa.

The cozy American Cancer Society Discovery Shop (2708 Marconi Ave.) contains everything from old toys to wine glasses.

Photos by Maria Ratinova

“There’s a lot of money in junk,” Litsey says. “It seems like millennials are really into reusing and recycling clothing.”

There’s something to that.

“I haven’t bought from retail in probably a couple years,” says Karina Herman, who works at Refill Madness on 29th Street. She says she tries to stay trendy without contributing to the problematic fashion industry.

“It’s easy to go to Target or Forever 21,” Herman says. “The quality of the fabric and the stitching and everything of the garment—it’s gonna fall apart. Or you’re going to have to throw it away … That’s just wasteful, in my opinion.”

She prefers to shop at FreeStyle Clothing Exchange for its curated, one-of-a-kind clothing. There, customers can sell or trade their garments for store credit or cash.

Herman also recommends clothing swaps. “You get together with some friends, some friends of friends and everybody brings some clothes,” she explains. “They go through their closet, take out what they haven’t been wearing. Everybody kind of lays it out, and everybody kind of shops each others’ closets.”

There are a lot of ways to stop items from becoming trash. Go on Craigslist’s free section, stop at yard sales or get creative with your castaways. You might be surprised what you find.

Michael Saalman, who has worked at Adoptable Goods for about a year (and also plays in local experimental band Pregnant), had to stop thrifting on his days off.

“If I did that, I would just be driving my roommates crazy,” Saalman says in the back room, filled with clothing hangers and piles of merchandise. “I’m like, ’Oh, here’s a new chair, guys! Enjoy!’”

Rayla Maier works with Saalman and curates the store’s festival room, perpetually stocked with Burning Man-appropiate gear. Unlike Saalman, Maier goes thrifting on off days.

“It’s like, the hunt,” Maier says.

There is more used clothing, furniture and bric-a-brac than anyone knows what to do with. Instead of buying new summer apparel, opt for the swim trunks of yesteryear.

You can fulfill all your consumerist desires without breaking the bank or trashing the planet—and it can be really fun. As Litsey says, “Every time we open a box, it’s like Christmas.”

But don’t donate Christmas items. They’ve got way too much.

thrift list

Thrift Town

The last remaining Sacramento bastion of the thrift chain since Goodwill took over its Fair Oaks Boulevard and Stockton Boulevard locations. 410 El Camino Ave., (916) 922-9942

Adoptable Goods SPCA Thrift Store

The quirky and well-maintained store has some treats for diverse, discerning tastes. 1517 E St., (916) 442-8118

American Cancer Society Discovery Shop

With more than 100 volunteers keeping this store humming, it’s a neat, friendly shop to drop some dough and cop some top-notch duds. 2708 Marconi Ave., (916) 484-0227

FreeStyle Clothing Exchange Midtown

Catch some sweet used clothes at pretty reasonable prices, and consider selling your own stylish stuff. 1906 L St., (916) 441-3733

Goodwill Outlets

Try out this experience if you haven’t. You’ll dig through bins of clothes and miscellaneous things—great for giving a sense of the scale of products that get given away. 6648 Franklin Blvd. and 5400 Date Ave.