Buy-Sell-Trade Your Way into a Cheap Wardrobe

Ecofriendly and economical: With commodity prices climbing, buy-sell-trade used clothing shops are popping up all over.

April 30, 2012

With the price of cotton hitting all-time highs and other fabric costs increasing, too, consumers who hope to snag brand-new spring and summer clothing are headed straight for a wallet-walloping. But that doesn’t have to be the case, thanks to a growing trend in purchasing trendy “pre-loved” used clothing, jewelry, and even shoes from buy-sell-trade clothing shops. Think of it as a pawnshop, but for clothing. Instead of parting ways with a treasured family heirloom for fast cash, you can fork over a pair of Levi’s that maybe didn’t fit so well in the first place in exchange for store credit or cash, so you can bring home some gently used clothing that you won’t abandon in the back of your closet. And the beauty of it all? When you get tired of your new-to-you wardrobe, you can sell it back.

You’re probably familiar with Salvation Army or Goodwill used-clothing stores, and perhaps you even donate your used clothing to one of those places. The beauty of buy-sell-trade clothing shops is that whatever they buy on the spot, you’re paid for on the spot. Sellers also have the option of taking store credit, which is usually a higher percentage of the cash payout. If you sell your unwanted clothing to a consignment shop, you may get a larger portion of the profit; however, you won’t get paid until (and unless) the item sells.


In this bum economy, it’s tough for many people to justify spending hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars on new clothing for a new season. But buying new clothing every season isn’t just hard on the wallet, it’s hard on the planet, too. The average person tosses 54 pounds of textiles a year! As Thomas Kostigen, author of The Green Blue Book: The Simple Water-Savings Guide to Everything in Your Life (Rodale, 2010) writes, “Out the door with those clothes go tens of thousands of gallons of water.”

He explains that our society’s move toward “fast fashion”—the rapid life cycle of clothing from sales rack to landfill—is using crazy amounts of energy and clean water.

Here are some examples of water usage required to produce brand-new clothing and accessories:

• Water-logged blue jeans: 3,000 gallons of water per pair

• Soggy shoes: 2,113 gallons per pair of leather shoes

• Soaked sweaters: Nearly 600 gallons of water to manufacture a new sweater.

Most synthetic materials are derived from oil, and much of the cotton grown in this country is genetically engineered, which means that growing it requires a lot of petroleum inputs in the form of chemical pesticides and fertilizers. As oil prices increase, it’s easy to see why clothing costs more, too.

Photo: (cc) miss.libertine/flickr

Here’s how to find used clothing that wears less on the planet’s health:

• Find a buy-sell-trade clothing shop
Buffalo Exchange and Plato’s Closet boutiques are scattered about the country, but many nonfranchised stores are popping up in communities all over. In’s home state of Pennsylvania, The Attic has expanded to three stores in the eastern part of the state. (Watch the video to see The Attic in Philadelphia.)

• Inquire about the target demographic
Different buy-sell-trade clothing shops cater to different age groups, which greatly influences the styles they choose to buy and offer back to shoppers. Check your local buy-sell-trade store in advance, or check the store’s website to see what styles it offers and what it’s likely to buy. The styles and amount of clothing a store will purchase vary with the seasons, inventory, and fashion trends. Don’t be disappointed if they turn some of your clothing away—just donate those pieces to Goodwill, the Salvation Army, or some other nonprofit if you know you’re not going to wear them anytime in the near future. You can get a receipt to use for a tax deduction.

• Explore other options
If you’re having trouble finding a buy-sell-trade in your area, here’s another idea, particularly if you’re looking for kids’ clothing. offers boxes of clothing to choose from (sizes, brands, and descriptions are listed for each box), and the buyer only has to pay shipping and a $5 service charge. If you’re up to your ears in outgrown children’s clothes, you can also build a box of your kid’s clothing to sell on ThredUp. For more information on clothing swaps nationwide, or how to organize your own clothing swap, visit For more ideas on how to find used clothing easily, check out the Nickel Pincher’s Thrify Wardrobe Tips.