As thrift stores reopen, Instagram’s thrift sellers to stick around

After Ontario entered a province-wide lockdown on December 26, thrift stores such as Goodwill, Talize and the Salvation Army temporarily closed their doors to shoppers.  

Enter a new generation of thrift stores, virtual in nature and operating on social media. Today, dozens of Instagram Thrift Shops — accounts that resell second-hand items to their followers — are fulfilling the demand for thrifted goods, even as thrift stores reopened this week in many parts of Ontario. 

For some, these stores are a pandemic passion project. For other business owners, like Kaitlyn McAlpine, they’re a side business that will continue to operate after the reopening of conventional stores.

“I’ve built up a community and [I’ve] been able to connect with them,” she said, adding that she never dreamed she’d find such a strong community around a curated thrift page.

McAlpine started reselling second-hand items on her Instagram account, Brown Paper Thrift last January, and was one of few operating in the area. Today, she can name approximately 30 accounts in the London region alone that pick out the best finds at yard sales and big thrift stores before reselling them online. 

McAlpine’s business, Brown Paper Thrift, has amassed nearly 2000 followers in just over a year. Instagram is the chosen platform for many social media thrift shops that use attractive image grids to market their products visually. (Submitted by Kaitlyn McAlpine)

“People are less likely [to go into] and more hesitant to be in the actual shops, they’re spending a lot more time at home,” said McAlpine. “So when people are on their devices, they’re happy to scroll and see that someone else has gone out to do the work, spent the time, found the good, and they can just purchase it from the comfort of their home.”

Prices are higher on the Instagram stores. But McAlpine believes it’s still good value for shoppers who get a curated outfit or collection, plus contactless delivery or pickup. 

“[It’s a matter of] giving things a second life and keeping them out of the landfill,” she said.

Teacher turns thrifter

Today’s consumers are increasingly aware of the social and environmental impacts of consumption. 

While websites like Kijiji and Facebook Marketplace are well-known platforms for listing used items, Instagram accounts offer sellers a highly-visual platform with a dedicated following and a greater sense of community.

Anita Plat-Kuiken, pictured above, alongside some of the thrifted goods she sells on Simple Life Thrift. (Submitted by Anita Plat-Kuiken)

When it comes to selling her thrifted finds, Anita Plat-Kuiken — a part-time teacher who runs the Instagram thrift account Simple Life Thrift — said the strong sense of community has helped grow her business. 

“There are lots of customers and there are lots of different ways to do it,” said Plat-Kuiken. “The mindset of buying thrifted is something we can all agree on, and so we can promote each other that way.” 

Plat-Kuiken became motivated to start her social media shop after schools transitioned to a quadmester model last fall, breaking up the school year into four quads as opposed to two semesters and leaving her without work for September and October. 

What began as a dresser-refurbishing project with her teenage son turned into an social media side business, where Plat-Kuiken sells vintage and boho-style items she’s picked up at yard sales and thrift stores like Value Village and the Salvation Army.

“It’s finding creative ways to reuse our stuff,” said Plat-Kuiken, who says Simple Life Thrift is a pandemic passion project. “You’re taking [an old] item and you’re making it into something purposeful and good.”

In anticipation of the December lockdown, business owners like Plat-Kuiken and McAlpine did major shopping trips to big thrift stores, hoping their inventory would carry them through Ontario’s state of emergency.

Now that those stores have reopened in most areas of the province, Instagram business owners are looking forward to shopping to restock.

“Now I’m just so excited to get back out and for the thrift stores to open, so I’m able to source new goods,” said McAlpine.