The Shift to Thrift: How The Global Pandemic Saw Fashion Resale Soar

Image: Vestiaire

The fashion resale market has boomed during lockdown, with time, money and value all contributing to its post-pandemic growth. But is sustainability the driving factor behind the shift to thrift, or simply a positive side effect? Maria-Gold Tongo finds out.

Fashion resale might seem like an unlikely industry to flourish during a global pandemic. Yet according to ThredUp’s 2020 report, shoppers spent 2.2 million hours on the popular website in a single month this year – up 31% from before lockdown. Add to that the predicted growth of the global second-hand market by 15 to 20% annually over the next five years, and it’s clear that the sector is thriving as never before.

With digitalisation at its pinnacle, money to be saved, and value suddenly much more of a priority, perhaps this surge in second-hand shopping makes nothing less than perfect sense. As physical stores were forced to close back in March and consumers ordered to stay home, shoppers used the extra time to scour the internet for new items. Meanwhile, tighter budgets saw many of us turn to our closets for an additional source of income, following up a long overdue spring clean by selling unwanted pieces online.

“We have thought a lot about why, at a time of such uncertainty, sales would be so solid in what we sell: ultra-luxury accessories,” shares Sarah Davis, founder and president of  the leading US re-sale company FASHIONPHILE. “But the truth is that one thing we’ve all had for the past eight months is time.”

Aside from the few extra hours on our hands, there is also an aspect of escapism boosting second-hand sales. Accelerated activity on resale websites has been attributed to being a source of entertainment during lockdown, perhaps insinuating that slowing down has, inadvertently or not, forced us to act more sustainability and consider our purchases instead of impulse buying.

The shift in mindset towards more researched investments is linked to financial constraints too, with 79% of consumers planning to cut their apparel spending in the next 12 months. Our appreciate of value for money has also augmented, with consumers choosing quality over quantity. Fashion resale, particularly luxury consignment platforms, offer a way to acquire well-made items at a reduced price, with quality assurance checks to ensure you are paying the right amount for your item and not a single pound more.

This desire for quality and value applies even to those of us who have found the pandemic to be financially favourable, cutting our expenditure in other areas of life. “While times were tough, many of our customers actually have had some of their expenses go down,” explains Davis. “There has been little to no travel since early March; no concerts, no sporting events, no movies or theatre productions. This actually frees up a significant amount of disposable income for many people. In fact, for some, it may free up enough to buy that second-hand luxury item that they couldn’t afford before.”

Image: Vestiaire
Image: Depop

Alongside investing in pieces that hold their value, the pandemic has probed shoppers to look within themselves and their consumption too. A myriad of celebrities have promoted pre-loved, from the Kardashian-Jenner family with the launch of resale apparel site ‘Kardashian Kloset,’ to Oxfam’s huge #SecondHandSeptember campaign fronted by Michaela Coel, in turn elevating resale to trend status. More people than ever have contributed to the circular economy during lockdown – decluttering, re-selling, eliminating waste and using the resources that they already have – even if not everyone is driven by sustainability motives, or even aware of the beneficial impact of their actions on the planet.

“Buying better-made products that see reuse over and over again on the secondary market is a great choice,” clarifies Davis. “According to ThredUp, buying a used item reduces its carbon footprint by 82%. Buying a used item and then reselling it even extends that benefit; something we do at Fashionphile with our ‘Refresh program’ where we can buy your bag back from you within three to twelve months.”

So, is sustainability simply a side effect of the shift to thrift, or one of the driving forces behind it? According to Forbes, it’s the younger generations really powering the demand for a lower impact approach to apparel. Gen-Z consumers are turning to resale for an ethical and greener shopping experience, with 37% of Gen-Z shopping second hand compared to 27% of Millennials and 19% of Baby Boomers.

“Shoppers are more conscientious than ever right now and will often spend more on a product that is better made,” argues Davis. “Only high-quality products can be bought, sold, and re-bought again, over and over. Very few Chanel handbags ever make it into a landfill! And if one did, it would likely have seen decades of use and significant wear by multiple owners.”

The younger generations are working wonders in driving change by putting their money where their mouth is, shopping preloved items and sustainably sourced fashion whilst encouraging others to do so too. With resale disrupting the retail business and taking off, in the coming years we should see the reduction of consumption and carbon footprint, and the regeneration of raw materials – lengthening the life span of clothes, bags and jewellery, lessening the need to buy and encouraging the practice of reusing and or reselling what we or others have.

It’s safe to say that resale is a large contributor in gaining back the sustainable trust that has been lost within fashion industry. And as the popularity of brands like FashionPhile, Vestiaire Collective, Rebag and Stock X is projected to increase, and this new consumer interest set to stick around too, it looks like resale really is the future. Perhaps something good has come out of the pandemic after all.