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ThredUp: Pandemic Will Turbocharge a ‘Shift to Thrift’

Pandemic? What pandemic? In the world of fashion resale, at least, business is booming bigger than ever.

Online thrifting is a “bright spot” in the COVID-19-induced retail swamp, according to ThredUp, which released its 2020 Resale Report, the secondhand e-tailer’s eighth, on Tuesday.

While the broader retail sector is projected to deflate by 23 percent in 2020 due to darkened storefronts and flailing consumer confidence, online resale is poised to grow by 27 percent, estimates analytics firm GlobalData, which crunched the report’s numbers.

ThredUp saw demand for its own platform soar during the months of April and May—the result of what it calls a “quarantine clean-out frenzy.” Even as the pandemic was in full swing, 50 percent more people cleaned out their closets than they did pre-COVID-19, it said. Compared with prior months, customers ordered 6.5 times as many of ThredUp’s donation clean-out kits in April. May was a banner month for the e-tailer as well: shoppers spent 2.2 million hours browsing items on its website during that period, a 31 percent increase from before the outbreak as “online resale fills a void for stuck-at-home value seekers.” Sales were likewise through the roof.

But resale has long been giving traditional retail a run for its money, ThredUp said. In 2019, resale grew 25 percent faster than the broader retail sector to hit $29 billion. Over the next five years, resale is projected to quintuple in market share even as traditional retail’s hold slips further. In fact, by 2029 resale will push past $80 billion in value, ThredUp said, outstripping fast fashion’s projected numbers ($43 billion) for the first time.

The pandemic’s economic aftermath is only bound to accelerate this “shift to thrift,” ThredUp said, since “resale delivers value when household budgets shrink.” A GlobalData survey of 2,000 women this past April found that four in five are open to shopping secondhand when budgets tighten. Even more revealing, 79 percent of respondents said they plan to cut their clothing budgets in the next 12 months. Two in three people who have never sold their clothes are now open to it, primarily as a way to rake in some cash. Another 44 percent said they planned to buy more resale fashion in the next 12 months.

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Secondhand-shopper ranks are swelling, too. In 2019, 70 percent of women over 18 have or are open to shopping pre-owned threads, ThredUp said, versus 64 percent in 2018 and 52 percent in 2017. Another GlobalData survey extrapolated that 62 million women bought secondhand products in 2019, up from 56 million in 2018.

Gen Z, the generation born between 1996 and 2010, is adopting secondhand fashion faster than any other age group. Forty percent of consumers 24 years old and younger bought used garb in 2019, compared with 35 percent of millennials (25-37), 20 percent of Gen X (38-55) and 20 percent of boomers (65 and older). These so-called “zoomers,” ThredUp said, prioritize both sustainability and value. A GlobalData poll found that 80 percent say there’s no stigma to buying used clothing (especially as the antithesis of throwaway fashion), while 90 percent have or are open to shopping secondhand when pursestrings are tight.

“The youth of the world are more switched on than ever about the health of the planet,” Anthony S. Marino, president of ThredUp, said in a statement. “With their words, deeds, and dollars, the younger generation is demonstrating a genuine desire to be part of the long-term solution to fashion waste. This should inspire much optimism in all of us. The consciousness of the next generation of consumers is a tailwind for businesses that deliver customer value in a sustainable way.”

If everyone bought one item used instead of new this year, according to a Green Story environmental study, it would save 5.7 billion pounds of carbon emissions (the equivalent of planting 66 million trees), 25 billion gallons of water (1.25 billion showers) and 449 million pounds of waste (18,700 garbage trucks’ full).

It’s perhaps for these reasons that consumers surveyed felt more virtuous purchasing used than new. Some respondents said they felt as good about buying secondhand clothes as they did about adopting a puppy. Others said they felt as guilty about buying fast fashion as they did about eating fast food.

Interest in sustainable clothing, as a whole, is growing, ThredUp said. In 2019, 43 percent of consumers said they want to shift their spend to sustainable brands within the next five years, up from 18 percent in 2018. Within the context of the pandemic, GlobalData found that 73 percent of the people it polled plan to support brands that “contributed positively” to those in need during COVID-19. Aptly enough, eco-brands like Allbirds, which donated shoes to medical workers, and Patagonia, which promised to pay all employees even when stores were closed, are garnering 57 percent more interest on the site since the outbreak, ThredUp has discovered.

“This year’s Resale Report, unlike any we’ve published, captures insights from two different worlds: pre- and post-COVID,” Marino said. “The data reveals a reprioritization of consumers’ values, transforming how and from whom they shop. We hope this report sparks rich dialogue about the enduring consumer shifts underway and the forces fueling the future of resale.”