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The secondhand clothing market is exploding

As the cost-of-living crisis and concerns over sustainability drives consumers towards pre-owned garments, sales are on track to reach $350bn in 2028, according to ThredUp’s most recent report.

Thrifting, repurposing, the trading of deadstock – you name it. They all come under the umbrella of resale fashion.

Long before it became chic, rummaging through vintage markets was the best way to find original, often designer clothing without the hefty price tags.

It’s where you could stumble upon a mispriced Coach bag that cost less than the takeaway you were planning on ordering that evening.

It was a treasure hunt for the most intrepid of shoppers that eventually migrated online to eBay and one that is now a booming business of its own, spearheaded by Depop, Vinted, and Poshmark. Evidently, the negative connotations once linked to pre-owned fashion are no more.

During a time in which the threats posed by our rapidly changing climate are more prevalent than ever, resale shopping is all the rage.

In case you’ve forgotten, fashion is officially the second-largest global consumer of water according to the European Environmental Agency and generates ‘more greenhouse gas emissions than all international flights and maritime shipping combined.’

Heavily reliant on constantly updating lines, styles, and trends every single season at breakneck speed to meet demand – with a supply chain that simultaneously functions at an unhesitating rate – it’s also notorious for how much waste it produces (one garbage truck every minute to be exact).

And, though recycling programmes have existed for decades now, because the synthetic fibres used in 72% of our clothes take two centuries to decompose, the world is still drowning in textiles, with 92 million tonnes of the 100 billion garments bought annually getting thrown out – and piling up.

By 2030, that figure is expected to increase by over forty million.

With this in mind, and as concerns over the industry’s detrimental impact on the already-suffering planet grow ever-louder and more persistent, it’s unsurprising that resale – and the elimination of overconsumption that goes with it – has become something of a saviour for sustainability in fashion.

The stats speak for themselves, really. According to a report by Global Data, secondhand clothing is so popular that the market has been developing at a rate twenty-one times faster than retail.

And as ThredUp’s 2024 overview has revealed, sales are on track to reach $350 billion in 2028 after a surge last year of 18% to $197bn.

This is due in part to sustainability concerns, but also because the cost-of-living crisis in the UK, where household budgets have been squeezed by higher energy and food bills, has driven a burgeoning interest in pre-owned fashion that spans generations.

‘When consumer sentiment is softer, value is key,’ says CEO James Reinhart. ‘People are looking to shop secondhand to drive more value.’

The overview uncovered that more than half of all shoppers had bought something secondhand in the past year – though that rose to 65% of those aged 12 to 43.

Almost two in five – 38% of consumers – said they shop secondhand to afford higher end brands.

Finding extra use for non-renewable clothing that’s already in circulation is a brilliant way to prevent items from ending up on landfill sites.

Additionally, it discourages consumers from buying new and this reduction in purchasing greatly assists in slowing down environmental degradation.

‘The global secondhand apparel market continues to burgeon,’ says Reinhart.

‘This is a testament to the intrinsic value shoppers find in the secondhand experience and proof of the seismic shift towards a more circular fashion ecosystem.’

What Reinhart refers to here, is the decision of digital-native consumers to be more responsible with their shopping behaviour.

Nowadays, one in three Gen Zers prefer reusing and recycling to disposable fashion – attributable to the fact that resale offers a far more unique means of portraying individual aesthetic; an essential part of what young people are searching for when curating looks that express their personalities.

Their exposure to social media has allowed them to explore their identities with abundant creativity, diversity, and, above all else, authenticity, making them the ideal demographic to carry forward the message that wardrobes are no longer about what’s ‘hot,’ rather the excitement of encountering a gem from past collections – one unavailable in-store – and sharing their findings with their peers.

‘What’s particularly striking this year is new detail around how much younger generations are expected to account for future growth as their purchasing power increases,’ says Neil Saunders, managing director of the third-party retail firm that conducted the report.

‘Traditional retailers are responding to this demand by entering resale and are really the ones driving the market forward, and we expect increased adoption in retail as secondhand becomes a lifestyle for consumers.’