‘Do I really need all this stuff’: Pandemic supercharges fashion resale

·4 min read

Every quarter, 57-year old Danielle Thys cleans out her closet and gets rid of things she no longer wears. She’s been doing this for some 20 years. 

“I like to keep my wardrobe streamlined,” she said.

Up until recently, Thys would drop her items off at a local consignment shop near her house in Oakland, California, but when that closed and the pandemic hit, she discovered ThredUP, one of the world’s largest online fashion resale stores.

“I had tons of stuff I knew I was never going to wear again, but I didn’t want them to end up in a landfill or out there languishing,” said Thys, who has long been committed to sustainable fashion practices. “It also seemed like it made sense to sell my nicer things — Gucci boots, a full length leather coat, a long suede coat — somewhere where they would get resold.”

Cambridge, MA - August 18: The pay by pound section of the Garment District thrift shop in Cambridge, MA has opened for the first time during the pandemic. Thrifters sift through the pile of clothing on August 18, 2021. (Photo by Suzanne Kreiter/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
The pay-by-pound section of the Garment District thrift shop in Cambridge, MA has opened for the first time during the pandemic. Thrifters sift through the pile of clothing on August 18, 2021. (Photo by Suzanne Kreiter/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

This attitude is becoming more prevalent, said Candace Corlett, president of WSL Strategic Retail, a research and consulting firm. 

“The pandemic accelerated awareness of health and the environment, giving everyone a chance to step back, take a look at their closets and say, ‘Do I really need all this stuff?’" she said. "There’s a movement and new truth emerging now that says, ‘You don’t throw stuff out; you resell.’”

Leading this movement: Younger generations such as 30-year old Maddie Moe, of Piedmont, California, and her 26-year old brother, Jack, of Salt Lake City. They not only care about sustainability, but are also looking for value when it comes to their discretionary purchases. 

“I like the crazy deals, like $700 jackets for $100,” said Jack Moe, who recently scored a retro North Face 90 Extreme Fleece. “You never know what cool stuff you’re going to find.”

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“The ‘treasure hunt’ aspect of shopping secondhand is also an important part of the growth of the market,” said Neil Saunders, managing director of GlobalData Retail, as is a steady flow of inventory.

“There’s a lot more availability in resale than in regular retail right now because of supply chain issues. You can’t sell stuff that’s stuck on ships in the middle of who-knows-where,” said Adele Meyer, executive director of The Association of Resale Professionals. “People have been cleaning out and rearranging their homes for over a year.”

Sellers become buyers; buyers become sellers. “The circular economy can become addictive for some consumers who enjoy the hustle of trading and making money for their used items and finding bargains,” said Saunders.

And it shows.

Overall, the secondhand market is projected to double in the next five years, reaching $77 billion in annual sales by 2025, according to GlobalData. Resale — the segment of the secondhand market that is known for offering more upscale, curated assortments — is expected to account for more than half of that total, $47 billion, by 2025.

Two women holding clothing in a consignment shop
Megan Yelton works at Sid and Nancy thrift and consignment store as a shopper browses a rack of clothes on April 23, 2020 in Columbia, South Carolina. (Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images)

Online resellers such as ThredUP, TheRealReal, Poshmark and other digitally-focused platforms, are responsible for taking this category — previously limited to brick-and-mortar consignment stores — to a new level.

As fashion resale continues to grow much faster than fast fashion and traditional retail, everyone is getting in on the action — from luxury brands like Gucci and ASOS to Levi’s, the Gap to Urban Outfitters to discounters such as Walmart to department stores such as Macy’s, Nordstrom’s and JCPenney’s to small businesses. 

“They’re either doing it themselves or they’re partnering with established resale platforms, which is the much more common approach and the preferred method of entry,” Saunders said. “Retailers who don’t have a resale component may be missing out on a big opportunity.”

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Personal Finance Journalist Vera Gibbons is a former staff writer for SmartMoney magazine and a former correspondent for Kiplinger's Personal Finance. Vera, who spent over a decade as an on air Financial Analyst for MSNBC, currently serves as co-host of the weekly nonpolitical news podcast she founded, NoPo. She lives in Palm Beach, Florida.

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