Every second counts

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By 2022, the U.S. second-hand market is forecast to hit $41 billion. At the forefront of this growth is fashion: pre-loved clothing, shoes and accessories sold at thrift shops, charity stores, trunk sales and markets. More recently, the online market has driven growth in this sector with dedicated websites and smartphone apps, including eBay and the runaway success Depop.

The outlook for this sector is very positive: ThredUp, a women’s and kid's fashion resale website, projects that 11% of consumers' wardrobes will be made up of pre-owned items by 2027 – double that of 2017.

Much of this growth is being supported by ongoing sustainability trends in retailing. Fashion is the second most polluting industry in the world after the oil industry, and as the environmental impact of fashion is becoming more evident, consumers are looking for alternate ways to buy clothing that they consider more eco-friendly. Consumer spend is shifting from traditional fast fashion and discount retailers to pre-owned fashion operators and websites. This is most pronounced with younger consumers: 77% of millennials state that they prefer to buy clothing from environmentally conscious brands, and 40% of this age group actively shop second-hand.

Resale of rare and highly desired products is also driving growth. Websites such as Grailed and Vestiaire focus on consumer-to-consumer sales of highly popular brands, creating a curated marketplace environment. Grailed stocks brands including A.P.C, Supreme and Comme des Garçons, with the price points to match. Exceptionally, one user paid $47k for a pre-owned Raf Simons "Riot Riot Riot" bomber jacket. The market is keying into consumers' tastes for unique and exclusive items, many of which were made in small runs from premium fashion houses.

Consumers can purchase second-hand items for a fraction of the cost of brand-new clothing, and this becomes increasingly relevant in times of economic uncertainty. Second-hand retailing also allows fashion-forward consumers to experiment with looks and products without purchasing an expensive brand new item that may not fit with their style.

At the value end of the market, Depop is also facilitating the C2C business. With a slick app and website experience and a focus on finding bargain deals for its users, Depop has honed into the millennial generation's developing tastes. In 2018, Depop raised $20 million in investment, and turned over an estimated $6.9 million. A key draw for consumers is the ability to not only buy but to sell your own clothing (or your parents’ vintage jackets). There are many users who have built small resale empires using the app exclusively; purchasing items from thrift and second-hand stores and selling them through Depop at a healthy profit.

Interestingly, traditional (brand new item) retailers are taking stock of this trend. Fashion giant ASOS operates ASOS Marketplace – a hub for vintage and pre-worn fashion -  and Farfetch has a "vintage" section of their website.

Although second-hand clothing has been bought, sold and gifted for centuries, the forecasted growth in this market is making it one of the more dynamic sectors in retailing.

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Dan Stolarski
Managing Director
Pragma Consulting