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Urban Just Put ThredUp, Depop and Poshmark on Notice

From the looks of it, URBN is trying to build an empire centered on the booming secondhand and sharing economy.

Two years after putting the finishing touches on Nuuly, the millennial and Gen Z-centric rental entrée it built from the ground up, Urban Outfitters Inc. has even bigger ambitions to capture how modern twenty- and thirty-somethings interact with fashion.

On Tuesday, the Philly-based fashion empire officially threw its hat into the resale ring by announcing the fall launch of Nuuly Thrift, a secondhand marketplace seen as a sister brand to what it now bills as Nuuly Rent. Urban says the expansion into pre-owned comes after discovering its imprints’ popularity on rival marketplaces, where it claims portfolio labels like Anthropologie, Free People and Urban Outfitters consistently rank among the “top performing brands.” Its arrival in the secondhand space poses a direct challenge to Gen Z-beloved Depop, now in the Etsy family of platforms, Poshmark, which recently landed in India, and ThredUp, perhaps the best-known destination for curating used clothing, shoes and more online.

Though secondhand fashion had been on a tear to close out the past decade, the pandemic last year might have turbocharged a shift to thrift, according to ThredUp, whose June resale report claims 33 million Americans bought pre-owned clothing for the first time in 2020. And URBN says its own audience heavily numbers among resale’s active participants; roughly 75 percent have purchased preowned, while “nearly half” cashed in on a secondhand sale, it claims.

What’s more, the overall fashion resale market is on track to reach $77 billion in the next five years, handily lapping fast fashion’s growth and incentivizing traditional players to court a new generation of conscious consumers.

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Nuuly Thrift formalizes and expands the company’s previous efforts selling “end-of-life” apparel from the Nuuly rental program at deeply marked-down prices. The new peer-to-peer platform, where users can offer items from any men’s, women’s and kid’s apparel or accessories brand, encourages consumers to continue spending with the URBN family. If sellers don’t choose to get their secondhand payouts in their bank accounts, they can instead see a 10 percent bump for the equivalent of “store credit,” aka Nuuly Cash, with any URBN label, meaning a $100 sale would be worth $110 when spent at Anthropologie, Urban Outfitters, Free People, Bhldn, or Terrain’s physical or digital outlets.

URBN CEO Richard Hayne says the move into secondhand is a natural fit, as the company “has been in the vintage renewal business since [its] founding in 1970.”

Bringing Nuuly Thrift to the masses, he added, will aid URBN’s goal to “capitalize on shifting customer behavior and gain market share in the rapidly expanding online resale market.”

Urban Outfitters Inc.’s Nuuly brand is expanding from a pure rental mission to focus on peer-to-peer secondhand apparel sales, too.
Nuuly Thrift users get a 10 percent uplift if they spend their payouts with URBN brands instead of taking the funds as cash. Courtesy

While many brands have gotten into recommerce by partnering with a technical and logistics-savvy powerhouse like Trove or The Renewal Workshop, URBN is bringing its own prowess and resources to bear. It seems to be playing the long game, taking its time to build out complementary components—first establishing Nuuly and fine-tuning that rental system, and then bolting on the thrifting play and creating a synergistic feedback loop motivating shoppers to keep their dollars with the fashion giant.

David Hayne, president of Nuuly and chief technology officer for URBN, essentially acknowledged as much, rattling off a litany of reasons why the clothing titan just might be positioned to succeed in this burgeoning area of fashion.

“With URBN’s millions of existing customers, our merchandising and creative expertise, our deep technical capability, and the potential for Nuuly Cash to drive incremental purchases at our family of brands, we believe the stage is set to capitalize on a very large resale market opportunity,” he said in a statement. “Our goal at Nuuly is to build a creative marketplace community—built around a best-in-class technology platform—where customers can be fashion-conscious, eco-conscious and financially-conscious, all in one place.”

URBN’s decision to marry rentals and resale follows Rent the Runway’s similar foray into crystallizing a secondhand play after also experimenting with selling worn gowns and other garb. Promoting preowned sales could offer the rental pioneer a new revenue stream as it moves toward an IPO.