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The rise of second-hand clothing – How the fashion resale market is shaking up the industry

The second-hand fashion market has always existed on the fringes, whether in the form of charity shops, or specialised vintage resale boutiques, but now this sector that has always been on the sidelines of the fashion industry is becoming increasingly mainstream. With the cost of living crisis and environmental concerns driving this shift, can the fashion resale sector carve out a permanent and sustainable space for itself within a competitive and crowded industry?


Trends in second-hand fashion

In recent years, online resale platforms, such as Vinted and Depop have seen a surge in popularity. Their success can be attributed to various factors, including pandemic lockdowns, a heightened interest in sustainability and eco-friendly practices, and more recently, a squeeze on disposable household incomes that has encouraged people to clear out their wardrobes to top up their incomes, or seek out high-end or high-quality fashion brands at a lower price. 

Vinted is certainly planning for great things ahead, having acquired Dutch online second-hand fashion platform, United Wardrobe, in October 2020, as well as investing heavily in technology development to bolster the company’s expansion. And their optimism seems to be well-founded given the exponential growth of the market segment.


The numbers

Some experts predict that the growth in the market for used clothing might exceed that of fast fashion, with statistics revealing exponential growth in recent years. A report by thredUP confirms that in 2022, the market for second-hand fashion and accessories grew 24% from the year before, to $119 billion dollars. This trend is a global one, and the market for second-hand fashion is expected to grow 127% by 2026 to $218 billion worldwide, three times faster than the general apparel market.

Another report by GlobalData—‘Global Apparel Resale Market & Forecasts to 2026’— found that the resale apparel market skyrocketed by 109.4% between 2016 and 2021.

And estimates by eMarketer and Insider Intelligence expect second-hand clothing to represent $30.6 billion or 10% of all clothing sales in the US by the end of 2025.


What is behind this consumer shift?

Various factors have contributed to the rise of the resale market. Firstly, fast fashion has perhaps itself contributed to the surge in popularity of the sector. With scandal upon scandal concerning environmentally-damaging practices, mistreatment of workers and misappropriation of indigenous cultures, all shared worldwide via the click of a link on social media and other platforms, brands’ reputations have taken a big hit, and consumer trust is at an all-time low. In addition, with customers seeking out sustainable and eco-friendly options, the low quality of fast fashion garments, which often don’t even last a season, is proving to be a big turn-off for those consumers who are leaving behind the ‘throw-away’ culture that has dominated in recent decades. And with household budgets squeezed with rising inflation and bills, where can they can find good quality clothing at low prices with the added bonus of helping the planet? Hello, Vinted & co… A solution that not only offers clothing that lasts longer, but can be resold throughout its lifespan, providing a circular economy with less waste and less pollution. 


Brands on the bandwagon

Of course, since the big-name brands have got wind of the attractive revenue figures in the resale market, they have already begun to try and fight back by launching their own schemes. In February 2022, H&M incorporated a resale section into its Swedish website in collaboration with recommerce platform, Sellpy. This online selection not only offers resale of its own-brand clothing, but also outside brands, including, Nike, Zara and Abercrombie & Fitch. 

Other well-known brands embracing the trend include Levi Strauss and Hugo Boss, which has launched its own resale service, ‘Hugo Boss PreLoved’, in France.

Whether such initiatives will prove successful, or be viewed by the consumer as a cynical attempt to cash in on the booming second-hand market rather than a genuine drive to reshape their manufacturing models, remains to be seen.


Will the second-hand surge be sustainable?

With the notoriously fickle nature of fashion, there are naturally doubts over whether resale fashion is here to stay, or simply a trend born out of the current economic and social climate. 

There are currently some drawbacks to the resale market, particularly for the online platforms. As customers are unable to try on or see the garments before purchase, there is more hesitancy over description accuracy and both the sending of apparel and returns of unwanted items generally implies more effort from platform users.  However, with companies such as Vinted investing heavily in development of their online tools, we can expect some innovative solutions in the pipeline to counter these difficulties.

There is also some element of snobbery or stigma around wearing used clothing, in particular in certain countries. However, attitudes are changing, and many brands have adopted the term ‘pre-loved’ to revive the concept of resale clothing and challenge negative perceptions. 


One indicator that second-hand clothing has gone mainstream is Amazon’s recent partnership with luxury vintage apparel brand, What Goes Around Comes Around, which is now selling used high-end fashion garments on their site. 

And with 42% of millennial and Generation Z respondents of a global survey stating that they were likely to shop second-hand for items, the resale market already looks to have a solid consumer base, with respondents citing their key motivation as being centred around environmental concerns.


With statistics showing that around 85% of unwanted textiles in North America end up in landfill, many global high street brands have launched eco-friendly and sustainability initiatives, including clothing donation bins in their stores, or the employment of new technology, such as Zara’s partnership with LanzaTech, which manufactures clothes from captured carbon emissions.


However, such initiatives may be seen as too little too late, certainly when it comes to stopping the momentum of resale’s expansion into the fashion market.  With a steady shift towards a circular economy gaining traction across a range of industries, from fragrances to furniture and household goods, second-hand clothing looks set to have a hand in shaping the future of fashion. 

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