As a result of the growing number of consumers who have been purchasing used clothing in recent years, the trend of buying second-hand clothing is anticipated to become a big one in the years to come. Customers were initially drawn to the market for pre-owned clothing due to the competitive pricing, and more recently, they have been interested in the industry as a result of growing awareness of the negative effects of fast fashion. At the end of 2021, the value of the second-hand clothes market in the United States was estimated to be close to $36 billion. This market is almost equally served by resale through a variety of online platforms and thrift stores and charities in the United States. It is anticipated that by the year 2025, the resale market will grow much faster than thrift and charity organisations in the United States, which together are valued at a total of $77 billion. This is due to two factors: more Gen Z consumers will switch to second-hand clothing, and resale online platforms will increase their reach. It has been estimated that the market for used clothing in Europe will be worth approximately €13 billion in 2019, but this figure is likely to more than double by the end of 2021, when it will be worth approximately €34 billion, and considerably higher growth is anticipated.
The practise of selling used or pre-owned apparel is not a recent one. For an extremely extended period of time, the informal economy served as a conduit through which sellers of old clothing could connect with potential purchasers. On the other hand, there have always been people who chose to buy used clothes because of their more affordable costs. This was especially true for people who were unable to afford to buy brand new garments on a regular basis until fairly recently. The concept of sustainability in relation to this sector is likewise something that emerged quite recently. However, it is not difficult to conceive that the market for used clothing is dependent on the fresh produce that presently exists and on the fresh produce that will continue to increase in the future. The question that needs to be asked then, that is worth asking, is whether or not’resale-at-scale’ provides a viable answer to the problems that already exist with waste in the fashion business. Not that anyone has ever thought to ask this question before. It is possible that numerous professionals who have a far broader understanding of the industry have responded to it in a variety of different ways. However, there is no way that this question can have a definitive and simple solution.
According to the findings of several studies that were carried out not so long ago, one extremely problematic feature of expecting a boom in the market for used clothing is to also assume that there will be a rise in the availability of new garments on the market. When it comes down to it, resale platforms are almost entirely dependent on individual sellers to move their used clothes items. Large fashion companies have either begun offering their own resale platforms or partnered with companies that already offer such services in order to encourage their customers to sell their old clothing online. This strategy does not prevent fashion firms from creating new clothes at the current rate, which is a shame because it is a great idea to create a platform for the sale of worn clothing that would have otherwise been thrown away in landfills. Additionally, fashion businesses who offer resale platforms indirectly provide larger incentives to customers who opt to buy additional items from the brand rather than simply accepting the money from the sale of an item of apparel.
In a similar vein, independent resale platforms, which allow individual vendors to directly list their previously owned articles of clothing for sale, raise the question of whether or not all items of clothing find a buyer, as well as the number of times an item of clothing can be worn before it no longer finds buyers. If sellers only sold those things that became unfashionable for them, and buyers only bought what they deemed to be relatively fresh in vogue, doesn’t it seem highly likely that many of the garments will never attract buyers again? It is possible that the amount of unsold inventory would increase even higher as more clothes are put up for resale, which would ultimately result in the clothing being thrown away. In this context, a more cynical argument asserts that if there is an organised resale market in place, fast fashion firms may not have any motivation to slow down their manufacturing rates.
One of the most compelling arguments that has helped to aggressively boost the market for used clothing is the idea that purchasing a piece of previously worn clothing cuts down on the demand for a similarly styled new garment, which in turn prevents the consumption of resources for the production of the garment. Indeed, that is perhaps the most accurate of all of them. But even if that were the case, the market by itself would not alter the consumers’ propensity to incessantly look for more. In contrast to this, consumers now have access to a wider variety of purchasing options, with accompanying price variations that are even more extreme. Even while the social shame associated with wearing worn clothing may no longer exist, at least in the United States, consumers still have a strong need to continuously add new items to their wardrobes.
Are economic situations a significant factor in determining the demand for previously used clothing?
The fashion industry, like many other parts of the economy, is very cyclical, and the direction of fashion trends is greatly influenced by how well the overall economy is doing, or at the very least, how well people believe it is doing. It would be even more important in determining the preference for worn clothing. As a result of the severe impact the recession has on an individual’s financial situation, it has been seen and documented throughout history that after a recession there is a significant reduction in expenditure on apparel. Historically, this is the period of year when they opted to purchase a greater quantity of secondhand clothing. Figure 2 illustrates how, during the boom years of 2002-2006, exports of worn clothes from the United States remained flat, while the country’s garment imports continued to climb steadily higher. The only time that these exports began to increase again was when the economy began to decline in 2007, as well as during and after the recession that occurred in 2008-2009. During the years 2010-2019, the United States continued to have rather high levels of used clothes exports.
But as the effects of the virus began to subside in 2021, the demand for new clothing skyrocketed to levels that were higher than they had been before the pandemic. Concurrently, there was an increase in demand for previously used clothing on resale platforms, which are more like to contemporary e-commerce platforms in terms of their structure and operation than their more traditional counterparts, thrift shops. Both the total amount of clothing that was imported into the United States and the amount of used clothing that was exported from the country saw significant increases in 2021. This is an indication that as the practise of purchasing pre-owned garments became increasingly popular, increasing quantities of clothing flooded the market, and possibly more clothing ended up in landfills. It is not a very difficult assumption to make that the quantity of worn clothes shipped from the United States would be significantly more than the number of items sold online, but the monetary value of the former would, of course, be significantly lower.
Therefore, it can be difficult to speculate, from an economic point of view, what the future holds in store for the market for previously owned clothing. On the other hand, if the supply of new apparel keeps expanding at the same rate, the market for worn clothing will likewise see a significant increase. There is no doubt that the availability of resale platforms online has made it possible for people of all different income levels to buy and sell previously owned clothing.
Is it possible that a rise in the demand for worn clothing might lead to an increase in the supply of new clothes?
The real concern, though, is how near it is to solving the problem of waste, and this is assuming that resale platforms do grow as they hope they will. There are some features of the recent spike in the preference for second-hand clothing that, at first glance, may not hint at the sustainability side of this business. One example of this is the fact that some of these aspects include: A significant number of individuals who sell used goods online frequent secondhand stores in search of fashionable items that can be resold for a profit at a later date. Because the prices of used clothing on resale platforms are significantly higher than those accessible in thrift shops, and because the search costs are cheaper, many people have been drawn to sell their old designer garments in order to make quick and decent cash from their unwanted items. They are typically marketed and sold as a unique collectible that has a high price tag despite their low cost. The secondhand clothing market on internet platforms is currently swamped with comparable pieces of apparel that are priced in quite various ranges. These items are sold under the term “vintage.”
The importance of the usefulness of purchasing old clothing cannot be overstated. The market for used clothing caters, in most cases, to people who are unable to purchase new garments for various reasons. The market for pre-owned clothing offers those living in nations with lesser incomes a means to fulfil their desire to wear name-brand items while still paying costs that are more affordable. However, possibilities for local fashion, and even sometimes fast fashion, can be just as fantastic. When you refer to a used object as “vintage,” there is a completely distinct feeling that goes along with it. This is not a purchase for personal consumption but rather an investment in an item, with the possible hope that its value would increase in the future. Or even to amass a unique collection of items. In addition, the goods that are considered “vintage” are frequently high-end apparel pieces that were either part of a limited edition run or were produced in small numbers. It is the type of clothes known as quick fashion that neither fetches a high price on resale marketplaces nor is often versatile enough to serve more than one purpose.
Thrift stores don’t always put every item of previously-owned clothing up for sale. Used clothing makes up a significant component of the goods shipped from the United States and Europe to nations with lower average incomes. In addition to this trash that is stacking up, there are also enormous quantities of clothing that are donated to thrift stores and the offline resale market but are not purchased. Let’s say that some of the merchandise that is sitting unsold at thrift stores finds its way onto online marketplaces. At some point in time, it is quite likely that two things will take place. The number of fashionable items that can be found in thrift stores is expected to decrease (on the assumption that no new items will be donated to these stores), and as a result, the growth of the used clothing market will come to be dependent on the expansion of the new clothing market.
To put it plainly, the model of resale at scale is probably not the most effective strategy to cut down on waste in the sector. The process of resale is not completely circular; rather, it is possibly a smaller loop within a linear model. Every product has a fixed lifespan and, at some point, must be discarded, regardless of the number of times it was used. Reducing the amount of new products being produced while increasing the amount of reused products is the primary concern. How certain can we be about the industry’s potential level of sustainability unless we place the utmost importance on the latter?