Portland students flock to Goodwill 'bins' for savvy styles
A fresh pair of kicks and all the new labels might be a back-to-school cliche in most parts of the country, but Portland is a bit different.
A cute vintage jacket from Buffalo Exchange or an ironic logo T-shirt from Goodwill are more the flavor here. Those teens who take it to extremes can be found at the "bins" all this month.
The Goodwill Outlets Stores, known as the bins for the blue trays on wheels that hold the goods, is the ultimate stop for Portlanders' surplus stuff. There are bins in Hillsboro, near the Portland International Airport, in Salem and in Vancouver, Washington, but the mother lode is at 1740 S.E. Ochoco St., Milwaukie, on the Sellwood-Milwaukie border. Each day, 16 trailer loads arrive in Sellwood from nine stores.
Items including clothes that are unsold in regular Goodwills are pulled, usually after four weeks, and go to the bins. If no one buys them after a few hours, they go into the back of the warehouse. There, unsold items are separated into 18 categories for as many as 40 individual recyclers and salvagers who purchase in bulk. Some of what's left goes to Metro for further gleaning and other unsalvageable items are transported to the landfill.
Much of the clothing is bailed up and sent to developing countries. If you're in Mali or Kenya and see a kid in in a Catlin Gabel hoodie, that's probably what happened.
And in the know about the bins are teenagers — usually girls, usually in pairs — looking for a diamond in the rough.
Two weeks before school began, the Tribune asked a few of them how it was going.
"I'm looking for just anything, like clothes," said Hannah Girgevich, who came to Sellwood with her sister, Izzy. This summer, Hannah often had been coming from St. Johns four times per week, and at least twice per week. She's a sophomore in high school.
"If people ask me where I got my clothes, I just tell them. I like to shop here because it's trendy right now, and all the popular kids show up here," she said.
Hannah usually stays for an hour and a half. She used to go to school nearby so she'll sleep over at a friend's house if getting home is an issue.
She can't say what the best thing is she's ever gotten here, "But every time I go here, I get so much clothes, and I can't even fit them all in my room now. They're just sitting on my floor."
Neither sister comes here with a budget.
"Because the clothes are so cheap, we just want everything. If you've got $5 you can buy a lot of stuff," Hanna said.
They get $10 allowance per week, plus money for school clothes, but have spent as much as $50 here in a day.
In terms of what she's looking for, Hannah said "I'm kind of like 2000s. Like midrise jeans? I like to shop here because then you can get stuff that not very many people have."
"And this is also good for the environment, it's like reusing clothes," Izzy said. "I go to Forever 21 and H&M and places at the mall. And it's OK for them, but it's also bad for the environment. Here you can just have a variety of everything.
Terra Grow, outlet district manager, told the Tribune "The teens buy stuff and then they repurpose it, and then nobody else has it," she explained. "They're looking for the acid-wash jeans and retro shoes. The exclusive stuff that you just don't see anymore. They can go home and make their own outfits. 'Hey, look what I found,' and they post it to Instagram. When you're buying it at Goodwill, you know if you mess it up it's OK."
Store manager Stacey Kosharek knows six or seven people who come to Portland from Honduras once per year, fill up a shipping container after spending around $2,000, and return home. "I believe they resell it there," she said.
The bins are rotated in order. Workers push them out one at a time into groups of four, hollering "TAAA-ble" to get people out of the way. Shoppers can look but they must stand with their hands by their sides until the fourth bin of a set is in place, then they have at it. Most of them have worked their way through a new batch within about 10 minutes.
Many of the bins are filled with broken housewares, jumbled electronics, odd shoes, luggage and bedding. Clothes and books have their own sections. You can usually tell when someone has died because there'll be a bunch of brittle 78 RPM records, or a mountain of Tommy Dorsey LPs, or maybe some King's Singers. Often there are piles of CDs or VHS tapes.
Explorers might find 20 golf shirts together after a divorce, or the thousandth copy of "Fit for Life" or Marie Kondo's books "Spark Joy" or "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up."
Shoppers pay by the pound. To speed up checkout, they push their cart onto a giant scale for weighing.
There's a line at 7 a.m. every day of early birds with lawn chairs. They bring their coffee and a take a morning walk. Tara Grow estimates that 80% of the shoppers at the Sellwood bins are resellers.
But these teen girls are focused on clothes.
The peak time for teenagers is 5 p.m. weekdays, or all weekend. "It's a scene here in the evening," Grow said.
Three friends, Harper Miller, Chloe Maher and Piper Lindo come looking for vintage about once a week.
"We could go to regular thrift stores, but it's more expensive," Miller said.
Maher chipped in, "I just really liked the bins because it's a lot cheaper, and some of the stuff you can't find in normal thrift stores."
Miller said they live nearby and come by bus, and always bring a bag.
If asked where she got something, Miller absolutely admits it was at the bins. "I'm proud of it, because I'm, like, I got it for cheap. 'Yay, I got cute clothes!'"
Asked what she would spend on a top at the mall, Maher suggests "about $30."
Lindo deadpanned, "I don't like malls."
She added, "I like thrift a lot because it's a lot better for the environment. Because it's not fast fashion."
Depop app draws shoppers
Tessa Winger (her Instagram handle is @IH8.ART) said, "I'm not super sure if it's a back-to-school thing, but it's definitely when you need clothes. It's a place to get vintage clothes that are cheap and to be able to keep up with the fashion that's happening, so I'm not constantly going through and buying new items that I'm just gonna throw away."
Is the 19-year-old looking for current clothes?
"Oh, definitely not."
Winger added "Fashion is always a cycle, so right now I'm looking for 1970s and early 2000s because that's what's coming out of H&M and those types of places is like new versions of that."
Her friend Lela Heppler, 18, (Instagram: pixelpixie3) said she gets most of her clothes at Goodwill. "It's like the only way to do it, unless you're like really rich."
They both sometimes resell on Instagram and Depop, a peer-to-peer social shopping app, pricing items individually but selling them in batches as large as 30 at a time. They hand over the items in person, because "a lot of my followers live near me," Winger said.
Maddie Cruz said she was mostly looking for decorations for her house. That day she found a box for displaying photos.
"They usually have pretty unique little things around. For clothes, just anything that catches my eye and doesn't have any stains, and if it fits me."
The most she has ever spent was $50, and that was for a table.
"I don't personally resell but I know a lot of people who do. You could sell something that you get for a dollar for five bucks."
A PSU student, Cruz doesn't resell because she doesn't have the time or energy.
Party like a dad
College students Felix Seward and Jaid Eichmiller come once a week for a few hours.
"I tend to find a lot of different, really unique pieces, because sometimes vintage stuff comes and filters all the way down," Seward said. "Or I find just some cheap stuff to cut up and turn into shorts and crop tops."
She doesn't sew much, preferring pins and tape.
"I definitely got this shirt here. And the shoes I'm wearing here. I got this belt for me as well."
Miller said "My friends have come for like, five, six hours and left with $50 worth of stuff. Because we just, like, go crazy."
Seward looks for job interview clothes, and wears everything she buys. If people ask, she says Goodwill.
"I'm proud of finding stuff at the bins. If it's fashionable and cool and I got it for super cheap. It's like, somehow even cooler. And I'm all about recycling."
Reporter, The Business Tribune
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