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A Closet ‘Purge Surge’ Is Looming, Edited Says

With more than 492 million videos on TikTok bearing the hashtag #thrifthaul, it’s a safe bet to guess that thrift shopping may become summer’s hottest indoor activity. Showcasing everything from “retro” Steve Madden platform slides and “dupes” of Louis Vuitton’s iconic 2003 multicolor monogram bags, to preowned satin slips and swimwear that Gen Z-ers plan to style as ready-to-wear, the haul videos are an eye-opening revelation to consumers who ever viewed secondhand fashion as being unhygienic or unfashionable.

Perceptions, however, are changing at both the consumer and executive level.

Etsy’s recent $1.6 billion purchase for Depop, the Gen Z-led peer-to-peer fashion resale marketplace, points to the start of a bigger and brighter future for secondhand apparel, according to a new report by retail analytics firm Edited. With 30 million registered users across 150 countries, Depop tallied gross merchandise sales of $650 million last year and executives see “significant potential to further scale.”

Other retailers are finding the upside in used fashion as well. Global fast-fashion company H&M Group furthered its investment in Swedish resale platform Sellpy, allowing the online retailer to launch in 20 additional European markets. George at Asda partnered with Preloved Vintage Kilo to launch secondhand shop-in-shops in 50 U.K. stores, and luxury e-tailer Mytheresa has partnered with Vestiaire Collective for a scheme that allows customers to sell their preowned designer handbags online in exchange for store credit.

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George at Asda launched a new secondhand vintage fashion range in 50 of its stores across the UK after a successful test.
George at Asda Courtesy

The upsides to resale are plenty.

“Looking at the results from some of the major players in this space highlights why the pre-loved market is so desirable—it’s incredibly successful,” Edited stated.

The RealReal’s sell-through rate in 2020 was an impressive 99 percent, while Vestiaire Collective’s data shows 89 percent of the previously owned products on its website are less than three months old. Resale’s rapid sell-through rates, Edited noted, are “telling” compared to traditional luxury retail, where it’s more common to have goods on offer for six months to a year.

That’s not to say that traditional retail is a total stalemate. Despite the overproduction and overconsumption woes that plague the apparel industry (Edited noted that consumers are expected to discard more than 134 million tons of textiles a year by 2030), heaps of newness are on the horizon.

“While the pandemic reduced the sheer volume of newness flooding the market at hyper-speed last year, big drops are now back in a big way,” Edited stated. Throughout May, new product arrivals across the U.K., Germany and Spain not only returned to pre-pandemic levels, but they also “eclipsed them.”

Consumers’ appetite to shop is growing as well. Motivated by the return of social gatherings, a new survey from U.S. jeanswear giant Kontoor Brands found that 84 percent of respondents agreed “a wardrobe refresh is in order,” and on average, these consumers plan to spend $445 on new clothes this year. The survey echoes the National Retail Federation’s (NRF) new outlook for the 2021 that projects retail sales will grow between 10.5 percent and 13.5 percent—the fastest growth the U.S. has seen since 1984.

To make room for these new purchases, Edited anticipates a “purge surge” of closets that may add more inventory to resale sites.

The popularity of resale, amid a sea of new products and the desire to spend, underscores another challenge facing the apparel industry: consumers, perhaps unmoved by the monotonous ranges of loungewear and basics currently offered at retail, are turning to resale to find uniqueness. In a joint report between Bain & Co. and Depop, 55 percent of the consumers surveyed said they shop resale to find “one-of-a-kind” pieces.

But along with finding unique items, resale is an opportunity for consumers to feel like they’re shopping sustainably without having to research which brands are being authentically green instead of spewing greenwash jargon.

Recent data by Genomatica found that 72 percent of U.S. consumers are aware of environmental issues in fashion, but 42 percent are confused about what makes a garment sustainable. Pre-owned clothing, Edited stated, is more “easily identifiable as responsible than other sustainable alternatives on the market.”

No form of consumption, however, is without its pitfalls.

Though the intention of some resale organizations, like the nonprofit retail chain Goodwill, is to offer preowned necessities at a low cost to those in need, brand- and trend-savvy consumers are pilfering the stores for in-demand products and brands to flip for a higher price on eBay and other resale sites. Others are buying up larger size garments to alter or deconstruct them into new smaller-size garments.

“It can take away from low-income consumers shopping at charity stores because they have no other alternative,” Edited stated, not to mention make it more challenging for consumers to find size-inclusive options.

There’s also something to be said about there being too much of a good thing. Edited reported that only an estimated 10-15 percent of donated clothing is resold in the U.S. “Charities are inundated with consumers dumping unwanted goods, which end up in landfills or shipped to poorer nations,” Edited stated.