Thrifting: It’s not just for Gen Z TikTok. The consumer appetite for secondhand fashion has been on the rise for years, reaching a high point in 2020 with one in three consumers saying they care more about wearing sustainable apparel than before the pandemic—and it’s only set to accelerate in 2022, as established brands and startups make it easier than ever to sell the contents of our closets and restock them with someone else’s wardrobe gems. Not only is this good news for our wallets, but it could also signal a positive shift for the planet.$77b
According to research by online consignment platform thredUP, the secondhand market is projected to double in the next 5 years, reaching $77 billion in revenue and growing 11 times faster than fast fashion and traditional retail. We’re already seeing this happening at all ends of the market. Luxury fashion resale giant The RealReal reports that 41 percent of their consignors in Q1 of 2021 were first-timers, while 29 percent of their buyers made their first pre-owned luxury purchase in the last year. Depop, a marketplace dominated by vintage and thrifted apparel, saw its gross merchandise sales double in 2020 to $650 million—a performance so impressive, Etsy purchased the company in June 2021 for $1.6 billion. And thredUP celebrated its highest quarterly revenue ever in Q3 2021—a 35 percent jump from the previous year—driven, in part, by facilitating resale schemes for brands such as Adidas, Crocs, and Michael Stars.
Clearly, there’s a lot of interest in secondhand fashion heading into 2022, and COVID-19 appears to have something to do with it. Consumers surveyed by thredUP say that they now care more about sustainability, quality, and affordability than they did before the pandemic. Secondhand shopping ticks all of these boxes: It helps keep pre-owned clothing in circulation (and out of landfills) and allows consumers to buy higher-quality items at lower prices than buying new.
“COVID-19 accelerated behavior that was already uptrending, likely because people had time to rethink what was in their closet and had some time to begin selling on resale platforms,” says Kim Gallagher, director of marketing and customer success at Nuuly, a clothing rental and resale brand launched by the parent company of Urban Outfitters and Anthropologie. (Nuuly Rent debuted in 2020, while Nuuly Thrift came onto the scene in October 2021.) “This new supply led to lots of purchasing. Any kind of stigma around buying secondhand has completely broken down, and the pendulum has actually swung the other way.”
"Any kind of stigma around buying secondhand has completely broken down, and the pendulum has actually swung the other way.” Kim Gallagher, director of marketing and customer success at Nuuly
So what’s next? In 2022, we can expect to see a growing number of brands follow the lead of Reformation (which launched a resale partnership with thredUP in 2018), Madewell (another thredUP collab, in 2019) Rachel Comey (its independent resale shop launched September 2021), Dagne Dover (it rolled out a used good section of its site in 2021), and others that offer customers the opportunity to sell pre-worn items back to their makers—and re-buy used items at a radical discount, either on the brands’ own e-commerce sites or on partner platforms such as thredUp. Net-a-Porter will be one of the first to do so. Its pilot designer resale program debuted in October 2021, and it’ll be rolling out across its menswear site, Mr. Porter, and its luxury outlet site, The Outnet, in early 2022.
As for existing secondhand platforms, many are rolling out new features in 2022 to make the treasure-hunting process easier and more efficient for shoppers. For instance, Out&Back Outdoor, a marketplace for pre-owned outdoor gear, will be introducing curated product recommendations in the new year—the same kind you see on most major retailers but has been absent from many secondhand shopping platforms—as well as improved searchability. “The vast majority of recommerce markets—including ours—have items from today as well as ones that are a decade or more old being sold on them at the same time,” says Out&Back founder Barruch Ben-Zekry. “The paradox of too much choice comes into play, and it can overwhelm people. We are working to solve this problem by building new tools that will make it even easier and faster for customers to find exactly what they’re looking for.”
Expect, too, to see secondhand fashion platforms place a greater focus on upcycling garments that are too worn or damaged to be resold. Gallagher notes that Nuuly Rent has partnered with several designers on upcycling projects—an Anna Sui collaboration dropped in November 2021—and that those partnerships will carry over to Nuuly Thrift in the new year. The RealReal is also betting big on upcycling with its Circular ReSource Lab, where it’s focused on finding innovative solutions for apparel waste. One of these is ReCollection, a zero-waste, upcycled fashion line made from damaged garments. The second ReCollection drop will be available for the 2021 holiday season.
The secondhand shift may even change the way we shop for never-before-worn clothing in 2022 and beyond, putting a fresh emphasis on longevity and steering shoppers even further away from fast fashion. “People will become more attuned to the resale value of the clothes they own and may become more interested in buying high-quality product that will last long enough to be resold,” predicts Gallagher.
“[Seventy-three] percent of unwanted clothing is still incinerated or landfilled.” Rachel Swindenbank, vice president of sellers at Depop
For all the financial and environmental benefits of secondhand shopping, some thrifters are concerned that the shift online will cause neighborhood resale shops to go the way of the independent bookstore in the Amazon age. Depop is addressing this with its new Charity Seller Programme—a toolkit that helps the UK’s brick-and-mortar charity shops sell their wares on the platform—while stressing that there’s way more than enough preloved fashion to go around.
“[Seventy-three] percent of unwanted clothing is still incinerated or landfilled,” says Rachel Swindenbank, Depop’s vice president of sellers. “Together with the charity sector, we’re advocating for a wider audience to buy and sell secondhand as an undeniably better option for the planet and its people." Given that buying one used garment reduces its footprint by 82 percent, the power of the thrift isn’t one to be underestimated.
Photo Credit: Stocksy/Valentina Barreto