Can the Resale Economy Make Fashion More Sustainable?

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If the success of Japanese decluttering expert Marie Kondo is anything to go by, overstuffed wardrobes are the new gauche. But where are those items that no longer “spark joy” going? If you’re virtuous about selling your castoffs on consignment, eBay, or another of the myriad online marketplaces that have emerged of late, there’s a high chance they’re inducing joy somewhere else. In fact, the resale market is among the fastest-growing segments in retail, according to the re-commerce experts at ThredUp, which released its latest Resale Report last week. The secondhand e-tailer credits the rise of online and mobile marketplaces for resale’s thriving trade. With a projected market share of $25 billion by 2025, it’s even expected to surpass all e-commerce and retail sectors.

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RISE OF RESALE

In a survey it conducted this past year, ThredUp discovered that 87 percent of shoppers shifted their dollars from off-price retailers like T.J. Maxx and Ross to online resellers. In the same survey, more than 50 percent of those polled said they made their first secondhand purchase online.

“We expect this trend to accelerate and for resale to capture wallet share from off-price retailers for many years,” ThredUp said, before predicting that online sales will eventually cannibalize offline thrift. “Offline thrift is a $12 billion market today and an increasing portion of this market is moving online in search of a wider selection of brands and styles. This will prevent meaningful growth for offline thrift in the coming decade.”

And considering that 68 percent of resale activity is now smartphone-based, per ThredUp, resale may even be able to provide a thrill of the hunt that even “fast fashion” cannot keep pace with.

“The resale generation is the mobile generation,” ThredUp said. “Or is it the other way round? Mobile is driving a large part of resale growth because resale is about finding that unique piece at the moment it becomes available. There is no better way to find that gem than hunting on your mobile phone when you have a moment. It’s fashion entertainment. While retail delivers four to six collections a year, resale delivers a new collection of product many times every day.”

As one would expect, designer and luxury brands are the biggest movers on the resale market, but ThredUp says that even mid-price to discount brands have their fans.

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While the e-tailer says that designer labels such as Theory, 7 for All Mankind, and Diane von Furstenberg sell almost as quickly as they become available, it still counts among its most popular preloved brands names like J.Crew, Forever 21, and Free People, Mossimo, and H&M.

Tastes, it would appear, vary by geography. ThredUp’s New York and San Francisco customers have a yen for gently used J.Crew, while those in Chicago and Dallas prefer secondhand Ann Taylor Loft. The brand it dispatches most often to Miami? Old Old Navy.

You do you, Miami.

Less surprising—or perhaps more, depending on how you feel about donning someone else’s SoulCycle sweats—is the burgeoning interest in athleisure. “Everybody loves Lulu. And Athleta. And Nike. And…,” said ThredUp. “Activewear continues to be among the fastest moving categories in resale. Many of the best items sell within minutes of being listed online.”

Your author blanches, but ThredUp swears by its meticulous vetting process (no rips, tears, or perspiration stains).

In its way, resale offers the benefits of fast fashion (high novelty, low prices) without contributing to dodgy environmental or labor practices or boosting fast fashion’s already groaning coffers. It doesn’t correct our problematic relationship with overconsumption, but we all have to start somewhere.

Plus, resale can provide a gateway to quality brands the cash-strapped ordinarily cannot afford.

“Brands with a strong resale footprint enable customers who couldn’t otherwise afford the brand to experience it for the first time,” ThredUp said. “At some point, these customers often jump to buying new.”

+ ThredUp

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