Rise in local thrift stores foster sustainability

Mona poses for a photo in her store.
Mona El Rafie is the owner of Westboro’s Rikochet. Photo by Charlie Senack.

By Hannah Wanamaker

You’re bound to come across some funky finds between the racks of patterned button-ups, denim from every decade, patchy overalls, and Mickey Mouse merch lining Kim Cassell’s thrift shop, Goody Mart.

After more than 20 years of thrifting, Cassell wanted to create a space for the rapidly growing thrifting community. The Preston Street shop exudes good energy for all who walk through its doors with its colourful, plushy wall and clothes of all shapes, styles and sizes. 

“It’s about the vibe we bring. Goody Mart is a whole community where we have art shows and are building a community,” Cassell said. “You can come and hang out here and not buy anything and that’s fine. You want to bring your mom and say ‘Check out this cool place.’”

Jacob and another male employee pose for a photo in their store.
Jacob Sparks (left) runs Preston Street Vintage Shoop Passé. Photo by Charlie Senack.

Just a few blocks down Preston Street is curated vintage shop, Passé, opened by Centretown native Jacob Sparks and his fellow business partners in July 2023. 

“Everyone who lives here has popped in for the most part. They love it, they want more options down here,” he said. 

Shopping secondhand since he was 15, Sparks has developed a keen eye for style and quality items which he purchases for his store. Now, however, his handpicked pieces fall on the pricey side of secondhand fashion, with some selling for over a thousand dollars. 

Stylish and sustainable

Aside from nifty bargains, thrifting is also part of circular fashion. Rather than buying an item and tossing it a few months later, circular fashion is the sustainable process of rehoming a used item. 

Not only does this keep clothing out of landfills, but it’s also fuelled a comeback for some older styles. Cassell said that Y2K and 70s floral dresses are in high demand.

Sparks echoed that adding, “Workwear is always going to be there even when it cools down a bit, it’s still popular amongst its own crowds.”

Two Barbie food and other toys from the 90’s sit on a shelf.
Goody Mart in Little Italy stocks a variety of vintage clothing and items. Photo by Charlie Senack.

Curators like Sparks and Cassell, who handpick many of their items, look for specific fabrics too.

“I try to only buy natural fibres. In my shop you’ll see a lot of linen, a lot of silk, a lot of cotton, a lot of rayon which is a wood pulp. I try to steer away from other polyesters,” Cassell said. 

She explained that natural fibres are more comfortable than cheaper fabrics used in fast fashion. This goes part in parcel with the concept of wearing and repairing items until they literally fall apart.

While disposing of used clothing in donation boxes is one option for practicing circular fashion, consignment is another.

Westboro’s Rikochet has been thriving for 14 years on this practice. The store puts out a call for items and accepts one bag per person of clothing and accessories in good condition. 

“We offer this service where you can sell your stuff here and make money, and people love the used clothes,” said manager Mona El Rafie. “Between the vintage and just regular used clothing, people really appreciate it.”

Items in-store are available for two months before they are donated to local organizations to make room for the other items. Some organizations donate the items within the communities, while others resell them. 

El Rafie said that the store is so full that she’s always rotating items.

“The more packed we are, the more we have to donate,” she said. 

Rows of clothes inside a store.
Westboro’s Rikochet donates clothes that are not selling. Photo by Charlie Senack.

Creating community

These establishments — whether thrift, curated vintage, or consignment — are more than their racks.

Before opening Passé, Sparks co-created the 2019 Fly Market, a vintage market that sparked an increasing interest in the vintage style.

“Prior to our opening, really there was only Bad Dog, Paul’s Vintage, and for the longest time Ragtime was the real holy vintage shop in the city,” the local thrifter said. 

Cassell, a vendor for over 20 years, noticed the boom even earlier. The demand for secondhand and thrifted items skyrocketed in 2017, she said, because up until then, she didn’t have much competition. 

This phenomenon touched every part of the city for several years, with more local thrift and vintage markets popping up. It wasn’t until the later pandemic years that vendors began settling down to establish curated shops.

Long before these became trends, international charity St. Vincent de Paul had been selling clothing, furniture and food at a bargain to support those in need. 

Since opening in 1977, the Wellington West shop has received overwhelming community support, said Marilyn Powell, the regional executive director.

Many pairs of blue jeans in different shades sit on a rack.
Jeans for sale inside Little Italy’s Passé. Photo by Charlie Senack.

“We’ve never had to go out and actively ask for donations. At Wellington, we’ve been very lucky. Everyone just seems to know us; we’re part of that community and they support what we do,” she said. 

Donors come by regularly with “carloads of beautiful items” or cash donations. When it receives items that are too damaged, a service buys the products and repurposes or resells them.

The Wellington West business known for its storefront displays, however, has become more than a shop for most regulars. Tanya Prest, a longtime employee, said that staff and customers have formed close relationships over the years.

“It’s almost like a social gathering place for some people. You’ll see customers that come and meet up here on certain days and shop around and catch up,” said Prest. “It’s not like your typical store.”

St. Vincent de Paul is currently undergoing a national rebranding. Its new name, Chez Vincent, is an invitation for people to feel at ease walking into a “clean, nice, organized space to shop at,” Powell said.

A whole bunch of stuffed animals pinned to a wall. The entire wall is covered.
A wall of stuffed animals inside Preston Street’s Goody Mart. Photo by Charlie Senack.

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