Traditional retailers might want to brace themselves: Not only has the apparel-resale market grown 21 times faster than its retail counterpart over the past three years, but it’s also poised to more than double in value from $24 billion today to $51 billion in 2023, according to a new report from a leading secondhand e-tailer.
Published Tuesday, ThredUp’s 2019 Resale Report, which features the responses of 2,000 women polled by analytics firm GlobalData this past December and January, found that 64 percent of today’s women are willing to buy used compared with 45 percent in 2016 and 52 percent in 2017. The figures bear out in the real world, too, with the number of women who buy secondhand surging from 44 million in 2017 to 56 million in 2018, according to GlobalData’s previous research.
ThredUp, which bills itself as the world’s largest online consignment and thrift store, observes that while shopping secondhand is an activity that appeals to all ages, millennials and boomers appear to get the most thrills, since they make up 33 percent and 31 percent of thrifters respectively. This may change, however. Findings show that millennials and Gen Z—which is to say, 18- to 37-year-olds—are adopting secondhand apparel 2.5 times faster than other age groups. Moreover, one in three Gen Zers will snap up something preowned in 2019, ThredUp said.
We might have the ‘gram to thank for that: While 56 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds prefer retailers that offer new arrivals every time they visit, 74 percent would rather patronize sustainably conscious brands, per GlobalData. “Resale satisfies two biggest demands of the Instagram generation,” ThredUp explained.
And it’s not just the young ‘uns: The upscale resale sector, which is dominated by the likes of The RealReal and Vestiaire Collective online and Buffalo Exchange offline, can take some of the credit for the secondhand boom by making “used” less of a dirty word with their high-quality, tightly curated assortments. And peer-to-peer online platforms like Poshmark, Depop and Tradesy, which make picking up used clothes as easy as buying new, can take some of that credit, too. “Convenience and trust has attracted a new generation of secondhand shoppers,” ThredUp said.
The zeitgeist is also working in resale’s favor. Sustainability, no longer a niche concern, has moved from “perk to priority,” with the number of consumers who prefer to purchase from eco-friendly brands ticking up from 57 percent in 2013 to 72 percent in 2018, according to GlobalData. Almost 60 percent of consumers now expect retailers to create clothing with ethics and sustainability in mind.
The fact that resale promotes apparel rotation rather than accumulation should excite the expanding fandom of professional neatnik Marie Kondo, whose “life-changing magic of tidying up” took America by storm and laid waste to many a wardrobe. Coincidentally or not, the average number of garments in U.S. consumers’ closets has declined from 164 in 2017 to 136 in 2019.
Speaking of the Kondo effect, ThredUp saw requests for its resale “clean-out kits” skyrocket by 80 percent when “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo” first aired on Netflix in January. If one in 10 Netflix subscribers cleaned out their closets, it would generate 557 million pounds of trash, Thredup noted. Resale, on the other hand, turns that “trash into treasure—creating a bargain hunter’s paradise.”
Indeed, the concept of resale goes both ways. Forty percent of consumers now consider the resale value of an item before buying it, GlobalData said. That’s nearly double what it was five years ago. Coupled with the spiking “no ownership” trend, these changing patterns of consumption suggest that the closet of the future will look very different from the one we have today. Now that secondhand is “on track” to make up 13 percent of wardrobes in 2028, department stores could cede more than half of their market share from 22 percent in 2008 to just 9 percent in 2028, ThredUp said.
Even the retail juggernaut that is fast fashion won’t be able to keep up. The secondhand sector is projected to swell to nearly 1.5 times the size of fast fashion by 2028. Case in point: 576,000 fast-fashion items were resold on ThredUp in 2018 alone.
At the same time, shoppers are shifting their spend from traditional retailers to buy more used items. The average secondhand shopper replaced eight new apparel items with secondhand ones over the past 12 months, GlobalData said.
It would behoove retailers therefore to “spot [the] opportunity” in resale. One in two shoppers surveyed said they would buy more from off-price retailers like TJ Maxx if they offered secondhand apparel. More than half claimed the same of sustainable fashion brands like Allbirds and Everlane, 43 percent of Amazon Fashion, 33 percent of luxury brands, 31 percent of fast-fashion brands and 29 percent of department stores.
Dovetailing with increasing public consciousness, 60 percent of consumers said they would be more loyal to a brand if it offered an apparel-recycling or take-back scheme. This may point to cresting awareness about the textile industry’s waste crisis, where the equivalent of one garbage truck of textiles is landfilled or incinerated every second.
“We’re buying twice as much clothing and wearing it half as long,” ThredUp said, quoting figures from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. “Resale…[which] extends the life of clothes…plays a key role in creating a circular fashion future…and combats the harmful effects of textile waste.”
If every person bought one used item instead of new this year, the e-tailer added, the planet would save 5.7 billion pounds of carbon emissions (the equivalent of half a million cars taken off the road for a year), 11 billion kilowatt-hours of energy (which could light up the Eiffel Tower for 141 years), 25 billion gallons of water (enough to fill 1,140 Bellagio fountains) and 449 million pounds of waste (or the weight of 1 million polar bears).