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In the early 2000s, trendy, flashy, and branded clothing was crucial. Juicy Couture tracksuits and iconic Louis Vuitton monogrammed handbags scored front-page spots in all the tabloids. Excess and luxury sauntered down runways at New York Fashion Week, and every Paris Hilton-adjacent ‘It Girl’ followed along. While these styles are making a comeback due to the Y2K nostalgia resurgence, most of these pieces are primarily purchased secondhand. 

The Secondhand Market

According to ThredUp’s 2022 Fashion Resale Report, the U.S. Secondhand Market is expected to double by 2026, reaching a staggering $82 billion with a big B. The market saw record growth in 2021 at 32%.

While in-store thrifting at staples like Goodwill is becoming increasingly popular, eCommerce is leading the secondhand market. ThredUp’s report says that online resale is the fastest-growing sector of secondhand and is expected to grow nearly 4X by 2026. The report also states that over half of all secondhand sales will take place online. 

Moreover, 70% of consumers report that it’s become easier and more seamless to shop secondhand than just five years ago, thanks to eCommerce. Secondhand shoppers, as opposed to fast fashion or luxury shoppers, are also becoming more loyal. 81% of first-time thrifters plan to spend the same amount or more on secondhand in the next five years. 

One of the key factors driving the resale trend is sustainability. The increasing urgency to reverse the speed of climate change is catalyzing a lot of young shoppers to make more eco-friendly choices. Thrifted or secondhand purchases displaced around 1 billion new clothing purchases in 2021 that generally would have been new, fresh off the rack. This push towards a sustainable wardrobe has nearly half of all Gen Z and Millennial shoppers spending a larger portion of their apparel budget on secondhand clothing. 

Who’s Driving the Trend?

There is no demographic quite as influential as Gen Z right now. They are driving trends, and the places they choose to spend their dollars indicate brands or trends that large companies must pay attention to. 

The second annual Recommerce Report from eBay highlights that younger consumers are the main emerging force in the secondhand marketplace, with 80% of Gen Z buying secondhand goods. Around 1 in 3 of the same age group began selling last year, making them the most significant generational category accounting for 32% of new sellers that year.

Not only are younger people buying secondhand more frequently, but the market has also allowed them to become sellers in their own right. Some sellers have even quit their jobs to thrift and resell full-time. Platforms like Depop (90% of users are under 26 years old) and Poshmark have aided young people in becoming entrepreneurs. 52% of female respondents in new global research said that making extra cash is their primary focus when selling pre-owned goods.

Depop’s popularity grew exponentially during the pandemic. Last year, Etsy announced its acquisition of Depop for $1.625 billion. Etsy believes the company has “significant potential to scale further.” The app boasted 30 million registered users worldwide, with 4 million active buyers and 2 million active sellers by the end of 2020.

Discount Trickling Into Big-Box

With shoppers opting to go with discounted goods, big-box retailers notice a shift in traffic. Even Walmart, the company that has boasted price matching affordability, is catching wind that shoppers are flocking to T.J. Maxx and Homegoods. These brands offer even more affordable options than the big-box store. Between shifting trend cycles, and inflation ravaging the nation, Walmart, Best Buy, Gap, Target, Bath & Body Works, and others are increasing promotions and lowering prices on merchandise. 

Months ago, these chains stocked up on merchandise, considering the widespread supply chain shortages and logistical issues. They projected abundant consumer demand. But since they ordered, their plans have been derailed by the highest inflation in more than 40 years, and consumers are setting their sights on sustainable alternatives. 

Potential Threats

While the shift to secondhand shopping greatly benefits the sustainability movement, some issues arise. Vox has reported that thrifting is becoming problematic. 

Vox points to upper- and middle-class “haulers” — people who purchase massive amounts of secondhand clothing for resale purposes or personal wear — are contributing to the gentrification of thrift stores. Shoppers with financial privilege are now emptying out Goodwills to sell for outlandish markups, some as steep as 75%. This is an ethical issue since the entire point of thrift stores is for people without the financial means that deserve to have nice things and closets that represent their style. The thrifting craze has made this difficult. 

The popularity of thrift haul videos on YouTube and TikTok has introduced thrift shopping to a generation of teenagers who can afford to buy new items. 

Sustainability woes and economic disasters are causing consumers to seek secondhand goods at a more affordable price. Wealthier fashionistas have caught onto this trend, making “thrift chic” trendy and label-heavy styles off the runway less “cool.” Thrifting and resale culture is rising and shows no signs of slowing. Could this be problematic for fast-fashion players like Shein? Only time will tell.

Photo by Becca McHaffieon Unsplash