A recent Anthropologie campaign that misread the room has columnist Genevieve Smith reflecting on why words matter
Three weeks into the new year and I’m already sick of the slander. Two Arcteryx-clad tech bros at the coffee shop overhear my rant about getting lowballed on a collectible leather jacket and scoff to themselves, exchanging snide looks. I walk home, feeling a bit stung.
Later that day, a think-piece complaining about the rise of “Depop girlies” pops up on my feed, leaving me to sigh loudly and scroll by angrily. A sponsored ad for Anthropologie appears, with the tagline “bc vintage is itchy — shop new-&-not-ugly sweaters” pushing their self-entitled Knit with Nostalgia collection. Now I’m fuming.
As if it wasn’t enough to denigrate the efforts of young people, particularly women, to enter the reseller market, now they’re actually slandering the very thing they seek to benefit from copying? Enough is enough.
Let’s consider for a moment what a Depop (Vinted / Poshmark / Etsy / Instagram) “girlie” does. They collect or create goods of material worth, advertise their products — often under the umbrella of a curated brand — and decide at what price point the exchange of goods should occur, making sure that they cover their costs, skill and labour. This, to me, sounds like the basis of many business models. Most of them, in fact.
So why is it that people seem to both trivialize and vilify resellers, particularly young women, for adhering to basic principles of business? Would we say the same thing of a well-established antiques dealer? What if it was an older man selling vintage Timex watches? What makes him a purveyor of fine collectibles, and her a “Depop girlie” (insert condescending tone and subsequent eyeroll)?
Now onto my next question, aimed directly at the copywriters of Anthropologie. How many pairs of eyes looked at this advertisement and thought “this is definitely going to sell some sweaters”? More to the point, have any of you ever spent an afternoon bent over a hundred pounds of discarded textiles destined for landfill before thinking, we should make more of this? Have you tried brushing the fibres and laying flat to dry? Tumble drying on low?
What about spending more than 20 minutes at the thrift store to find a sweater that isn’t itchy — or is the idea of having to find more sustainable, more affordable options in a shifting landscape of fashion demands just too scary?
Forget the idea that you could use recycled yarn to redesign your own line of knits, or that you could use patterns and design features of the past without completely devaluing the entire vintage clothing industry; no, this was both pointed and lazy, and I’m coming for you.
I’d like to believe that the tone of this tagline is enough to deter an educated consumer away from your business, but I’m a terribly idealistic person. The whole thing reminds me of the Friends episode where Rachel lies to Phoebe about buying an antique table from Pottery Barn.
The commodification of good design (in this case, vintage knits) is something the entire vintage market has had to combat in aggressive and disheartening ways, namely lowering our pricing and offering up free emotional labour.
If everyone starts making cheaper, poorly constructed versions of items that take resellers years to perfect finding and restoring, what hope do we have of being paid fairly for our products? To make matters worse, Anthropologie isn’t even making them cheaper: they’re just making them easier to consume without having to invest any effort or skill. They’re pulling the (man-made) wool over our eyes, and it’s working. Gross.
Don’t get me wrong, I do love the idea that we could all embrace the chunky knit cardigan with big brass buttons. I want to see the world get cozy, comfortable, and embrace new (old) styles of dressing. I take issue with the idea that you have to debase one thing to add value to another.
I selected a cream knit cardigan with buttons as an example from Anthropologie’s page, just to see what the average consumer experiences when seeking a decent knit. This cardigan is 100 per cent polyester, which has a statistically higher chance of pilling, running, and pulling, touts a massive water and energy consumption bill, and will never biodegrade. It was CA$128 before tax.
It took me five minutes to find a better-quality, more affordable vintage knit on Etsy for CA$79. It was made of acrylic, which, to the untrained eye, seems to be as bad as polyester.
Here’s where most people get lost. Why pay less for something old if it’s made of the same junk as the one that’s easier to ship to my door? It isn’t, babe! Acrylic yarn fibres have notoriously low friction, which makes them able to withstand a lot more wear with less-significant signs of use. That’s why it still looks good after 40 years.
I think a lot of this hesitance to lean into secondhand sourcing, or purchasing from resellers online, comes from the simple fact that consumers believe that big businesses have fewer reasons to lie to us for profit. They sell at such high volumes that we are more likely to believe that if everyone else has it, it must be worth it.
Resellers, on the other hand, have the mountainous task of presenting their goods as equally valuable, and incur the added risk of facing the mistrust of the consumer throughout every part of the sales process:
“Can you send me a close-up of the material?”
“Can I have a picture of you trying it on?”
“From the back?”
“Can you send me a photo of the tag and put a spoon in the corner so I know you’re not faking the picture?”
And other charming requests.
Nobody would email Anthropologie and ask them to send a video of the cardigan in full sunlight to ensure it’s “the same colour in person,” nor would they ask for a discount “because no one else wants it.”
No, Anthropologie will tell you that their cardigans are less itchy, despite never having felt the one you’re looking at on Poshmark. They don’t need your business, so they don’t care who they offend. They don’t deal with the overflow of goods, so they’re happy to make more. They don’t even need to be different, or well-constructed, they just need to hold your attention longer than their competition.
Imagine being so threatened by the thrift store that you would mount a smear campaign! If I wasn’t so disgusted, I’d almost be embarrassed for them. The whole thing reeks of insecurity, like their factory-made knits that smell like nail polish remover.
The next time you hear someone complaining about how vintage prices are outrageous, then scramble to the new “pre-loved” collection drops at Urban Outfitters, remind them that the holes in their new jeans were inspired by vintage denim torn fixing cars or rollerblading. Earned wear.
Remind them that polyester is never worth $124 on any planet. Ever.
Remind them that brands should never shame their consumers’ choices, or become playground bullies.
Remind them that if they want to find cool clothes that echo the ineffable nostalgic feeling we all crave to live inside, then they should probably just message their local reseller. We, too, are purveyors of fine goods, and we would never talk shit about vintage knits, or having big feelings.
Genevieve Smith is a fashion stylist, writer and founder of Gifts of Thrift. As a yard sale enthusiast, thrift store supporter, and die-hard environmental entrepreneur, she has spent the last two decades trying to figure out how to convince people it is, in fact, cooler to care. Her bimonthly column for The Vintage Seeker, ThreadFul, covers the intersection of thrifting, secondhand fashion, ethical style and sustainability.