Kim Failla found a turtle-shaped night light from her childhood nestled among the wares of the UCLA Thrift Shop.
The executive director of UCLA Health Auxiliary said her mother bought the original night light in a North Carolina thrift shop. Though the glass trinket was stolen from her car, Failla discovered a replica of her cherished childhood relic while shopping at the thrift shop she oversees in Sawtelle.
“To me, this was the universe giving me a special gift,” Failla said. “It’s something to be said for thrift shops that you never know what you might get. We hear people in our shop saying, ‘I haven’t seen anything like this since I was a little girl.’”
The UCLA Thrift Shop is one of many thrift stores located in the Los Angeles area, all of which often stock up on vintage clothing and distinctive pieces. Emma Hall, director of Love The City Thrift Store in Culver City, said the increasing popularity of thrift stores impacts the items that they put out for sale, as previously undesirable clothes now have vintage appeal. Thin, faded T-shirts – wares that would have been immediately recycled 10 years ago – are now placed at the forefront of the store, she said. Thrifters gravitate toward shirts with unusual patterns or emblems, searching for those that are difficult to find elsewhere, she said.
“I think that people want to find some kind of creative medium to express who they are, but that type of clothing can be really expensive to buy, even on vintage sites like Etsy,” Hall said. “If you thrift them, there’s an increased amount of accessibility.”
In addition to regular thrifted items, the UCLA Thrift Shop has a section for higher-end garments, putting all of their designer labels and brands into their special “Pink Section.” Similarly, Love The City Thrift Store color-codes the clothing on display, Hall said, placing the flashier, vintage items in the center of the store as a bright, popping attraction.
The Love The City Thrift Store further incentivizes customers with its section where they can fill a bag with clothing and buy it for $10, encouraging buyers to be more cost-efficient by purchasing used items in bulk. However, Hall said younger shoppers tend to be more motivated by the possibility of stumbling upon individual, distinctive clothing items rather than cost-efficiency. Thrifting, unlike retail, allows better opportunity to don styles that aren’t easily accessible at the nearest Urban Outfitters, Failla said.
“I think with all of the conveniences at our fingertips, like Amazon, it’s almost a lost art of being able to go and hunt and search for a little treasure,” Failla said. “But with thrifting, people are increasingly enjoying the idea of going and finding a special something.”
The rise of thrifting has also led to a burgeoning market of online thrift stores, said Minh Mai, a rising fourth-year economics student and founder of RefineLA, a student-run thrift store at UCLA. Apps like Depop and Poshmark, as well as the UCLA-specific “Free & For Sale” Facebook group, have gained popularity for those looking to streamline the thrifting process. Mai said this method is useful for those who want to thrift from the comfort of their homes because the search bar function on sites makes it more feasible to navigate through specific items.
However, online thrifting eliminates the possibility of trying on the clothing and often comes with high shipping costs. Minh said thrift shopping in person allows her to more easily see how clothing can be altered. For example, Levi’s jeans, which have become highly coveted in the thrifting scene, can be transformed into trendy shorts.
Like by cutting Levi’s jeans, thrifters can add their own sense of expression to the items they buy, continuing on each item’s history, Failla said. She said thrifting is a means of finding personalized items holding more meaning than anything bought from retail.
“I think thrift shopping taps into an emotional chord; in some way there’s more emotion in it than regular retail,” Failla said. “There’s people’s stories involved in the things you’re buying and there are stories involved in the things you’re seeking.”