When we grow out of clothes, lose interest or desire new styles, the retail front is often the first destination that may jump to mind. However, more than ever, consumers today have been donating, thrifting, and reselling fashion. As depicted in the figure from thredUP, the retail sector is projected to shrink over the next five years while growth surges into the resale and secondhand markets.
Here’s an example of how secondhand furthers value: suppose you have grown out of a T-shirt. The garment can be thrown away and disposed of into a waste stream (landfill), in which it may have been bought at $20 and thrown away ($0)—or the same garment could be resold to another consumer. This could see the original $20 go to the retailer and then $10 to the original consumer when reselling to a new consumer. Instead of $20 and a grave, the secondhand market perpetuated value in the economy ($20 + $10 = $30), providing an opportunity for new value to another consumer.
In this sense, one can imagine the economic potential of resale and secondhand. Whereas trashing products prevents adding any further value, resale and thrift sectors in fashion open up potential for abundance from resources already in the market. The argument for sustainability within this approach is strong as well.
Due to the nature of reselling, donation and thrifting, new products do not necessarily need to fill the gap. Towards a better economy, it may behoove us to cleverly devise ways to curb consumption, by way of employing the vast amounts of resources already in circulation. In Britain alone, an estimated £89 billion worth of clothing sits in the collective wardrobe.
The popular operating model of the dominating brands involves numerous, affordable trendy drops with an emphasis on updating wardrobes as often as possible and perceived never-ending supplies. The reality of this model is shared less and less by consumers as education about the negative impacts of the fashion industry becomes more commonplace. Paired with the hand that 2020 dealt the world, this catalyzed immense growth within the secondhand and resale market.
In pursuit of a more efficient economy and relationship to consumption of resources, this market could be a crucial piece.
What are major obstacles to capitalizing on the resale and secondhand markets?
Kim, I., Jung, H., & Lee, Y. (2021). Consumers’ Value and Risk Perceptions of Circular Fashion: Comparison between Secondhand, Upcycled, and Recycled Clothing. Sustainability, 13(3), 1208. https://doi.org/10.3390/su13031208
Whitson-Smith, Jade (2016) A dematerialised approach to fashion design. In: Circular Transition, 23rd 24th November 2016, Tate Modern. (Unpublished)
Yang, S., Song, Y., & Tong, S. (2017). Sustainable Retailing in the Fashion Industry: A Systematic Literature Review. Sustainability, 9(7), 1266. https://doi.org/10.3390/su9071266