Out with the New, In with the Old

The rise in the resale industry is projected to continue at an increasing rate with Millenials and Gen Z driving growth.

By Jessica Barr

In some utopian society, the fashion industry is already operating on a near perfect circular economy, functioning with resale as the main proponent for revenue and sales. In the real world, the industry is still clawing its way up there. It’s growing, and trying and really pushing for the perfect balance of style and sustainability, but for now we’re all just getting our feet wet in the minimal carbon footprint pond that is resale; but, not for long.

According to recent data collected by thredUp, an online thrift store making the buying and selling of used clothes available in the United States and Canada, the resale industry has grown 21x faster than the retail apparel market in the past three years. This growth is expected to continue at a projected $23 billion industry in 2023.

Aaricha Nichole (Aaricha Nichole Vintage) selling her products at a flea market.

The secondhand industry includes the consumption of used goods from both the thrifting and resale sectors, the main thing to keep in mind being the difference between the two. While the resale sector caters to a more particular crowd, with product assortments being curated and merchandised in a more technical manner, the thrift and donation sector is inclusive of our usual, mostly offline, thrift stores like Salvation Army and Goodwill.

Stores like thredUp: Poshmark, Depop and Mercari, have created a style in and of themselves through resale. Retailers like Vestiaire Collective, TheRealReal and What Goes Around are partially responsible for the the influx of higher end items making it into the resale market. And of course, we have our Etsy veterans like Aaricha Nichole Vintage, who scout rare vintage finds and sometimes rework them before dishing the garments back out into the market. Instagram accounts similar to @thriftedthis are supporting the industry in a different way – making micro-influencers of those who post photos in an outfit or single piece acquired from a thrift shop.

Behind the human proponents of resale lie the theoretical practices that drive the average shopper to shoot for old before new: sustainability and ethicality. With the growing pressure to make all things consumer coincide with all things eco-friendly, beyond just the fashion industry, individuals are finding it not only more fulfilling, but more cost effective to shop old staples over new fads. A recent survey shows 64% of women buying or willing to buy second-hand in 2018, compared to just 45% in 2016, with 72% of consumers placing their preference in environmentally-friendly brands.

In-store thredUp shop at JCPenney

Beyond the sense of dignity that comes along with contributing to the shrinking carbon footprint in the industry, there’s a certain je ne sais quoi about the process of taking a piece from our grandparents time – stylistically that is, and making it our own dicey statement piece. Having said that, the resale industry is not just here for statement pieces, these new retailers also sell even the most basic forms of basics in a wardrobe. A certain acknowledgement must also be made to the undeniable perks for the Instagram generation, that is, being seen in new styles constantly. Resale satisfies a consistent wardrobe turnover by having thousands of new styles added daily by its users.

Within the next three years the secondhand apparel market is expected to reach $51 billion in worth with thredUp, The RealReal and Poshmark leading in resale growth. This kind of boom in one sector of fashion forces other areas to consider adaptation measures. With 40% of consumers considering the resale value of an item before purchasing it, the retail sector is being faced with the decision to partner up and support the circular economy through resale, rental or refurbishment.

Reformation, Levi’s, Madewell, Zara and H&M have begun offering textile recycling programs in recent years. Through these programs consumers can return old or damaged clothing to the company, where the garments will be recycled or refurbished. The business model benefits are twofold promising both consumer discounts and a notable reduction in carbon footprint on both the personal and industry level. For Days is a brand that offers cotton tees and sweats with a guaranteed recycling system where new items are received in the same bag they were returned in.

Photo from Vestiaire Collective

While the perks of the secondhand industry’s success are undeniably measurable, the impalpable impact is limitless in scope, reaching beyond numbers, figures or any data set. Like Calvin Coolidge (a president whose name and impact you probably don’t remember) believed, “Industry, thrift and self-control are not sought because they create wealth, but because they create character.”

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