Younger shoppers are more attracted to shopping at thrift stores for many reasons and Stark County thrift retailers have seen the growth for several years.

Clarissa Whiting perused the dress pants aisle of one of her favorite stores one afternoon last week, clutching a stack of clothes.

She wasn’t shopping at a suburban mall or strip plaza or name-brand brick-and-mortar retailers.

Instead, she was browsing the racks at Volunteers of America in Columbus — a thrift store that sells brand names and more for a fraction of their original price.

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"If ever I need something, I usually will go to the thrift store," the 26-year-old said. "It’s really cheap and I like how environmentally friendly it is because you’re just reusing something instead of purchasing a new product."

While traditional fashion retailers have been struggling to entice younger generations of shoppers, Goodwill has counted them among loyal customers for some time, said Maureen Ater, vice president of marketing & fund development for Goodwill Industries of Greater Cleveland and East Central Ohio, including Stark County.

Young people are looking to save money — shoppers of all ages love a bargain — but they’re also concerned with green consumerism, she said.

"They seem to turn away from fast fashion. It’s a way to lessen their impact on the environment," she said.

Thrift stores are increasing in popularity, especially among sustainability-minded, financially savvy millennials and Generation Z shoppers (those born roughly between 1981 and 2010), experts say.

At least 1 in 3 Gen Zers are expected to buy secondhand clothing, shoes or accessories this year alone — a 46% growth from 2017, according to a recent report by San Francisco-based online clothing reseller thredUP.

"People are interested in recycling, and people have realized that they can find not only unique bargains, but also unique items when they are shopping resale and thrift," said Adele Meyer, the executive director of Michigan-based NARTS: The Association of Resale Professionals.

Whiting said she started shopping at thrift stores about a decade ago and does most of her shopping once or twice a year.

"I feel like most people (go thrift shopping) if they want an ugly Christmas sweater, not necessarily for their normal clothes, but I think it’s becoming more popular as people are being more Earth-conscious," she said.

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In 2018, Goodwill Goodwill Industries of Greater Cleveland and East Central Ohio brought in more than $29 million from retail sales of donated goods, Ater said.

That includes sales at 23 Goodwill stores, 10 of them local.

That revenue goes directly to funding local outreach programs, Ater said.

Younger shoppers also are attracted to Goodwill’s mission, and understand the mission side of the business, she said.

Making a purchase is not only lessening their carbon footprint and saving them money but also helping the community, she said.

Not only are thrift stores sustainable and charitable, they are also inexpensive, say their supporters.

The VOA store on Henderson Road was selling a Vera Bradley purse for $9.99, a black peacoat for $24.99 and American Eagle jeans for $6.99 on Dec. 30, when Whiting was shopping there.

Lilley said she has seen $1,000 couches go on the sales floor at VOA for anywhere between $50 and $80.

"Why go out and buy something brand new when you can get it at a fraction of the price?" she asked.

Thrift stores are usually charitable, reduce waste and are inexpensive, a trifecta for Generation Z, said Lee Peterson, an executive vice president at WD Partners, a Dublin retail-consulting company.

"The mall stores that used to be fashionable, these guys are seen as their parents’ stores," Peterson said. "Abercrombie & Fitch was really hot in the middle of the 90’s; that was 25 years ago."

Peterson said resale stores will continue to rise in popularity, but will most likely peak in the next five years. He predicts stores like Abercrombie & Fitch and American Eagle will try to resale portions of their stores, but it won’t likely be easy.

"Volunteers of America ... and Goodwill have such a leg up because they’re also nonprofits, which makes it even better for young people to shop there," he said.

Part of the appeal of thrift stores is they offer shoppers the thrill of the hunt and let customers create their own style, experts say.

Since going through racks and racks of clothes at thrift stores can be time-consuming, curated secondhand stores, in which selections include a handpicked assortment of fashion-conscious clothing, are rising in popularity.

Jolie Ankrom, 32, of Worthington, turned her passion for thrift shopping into a career. She buys clothes and items from central Ohio thrift stores and sells them in her Clintonville resale store Marigold, at 3045 Indianola Ave.

Her store opened in February, and most items sell for $25 or less, she said. And unlike some thrift stores, clothes in her shop are organized by size.

"I love being able to offer the community a gateway to secondhand shopping," Ankrom said.

Repository Staff Writer Jessica Holbrook contributed to this report.