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As Secondhand Clothing Market Heats Up Online, Startups Shift Their Focus to Men

Men looking for cheaper clothing are about to have a lot more options.
Men outside New York Fashion Week: Men's. Photo: Getty Images

Men outside New York Fashion Week: Men's. Photo: Getty Images

Over the past seven years, venture capitalists have funneled hundreds of millions of dollars into websites and apps designed to get women to buy and sell their secondhand clothing and accessories online.

Now, they are turning their attention to men.

On Thursday, Poshmark is adding men's and children's to its offerings in what will mark, in the words of co-founder Tracy Sun, Poshmark's "first big category expansion." The mobile-first startup got its start in 2011 encouraging women to part ways with their unwanted handbags and dresses, and has since evolved into a "social commerce platform" that also sells new wares from about two dozen brands via a wholesale model.

Men's items have been popping up on Poshmark for years, says Sun, but the company removed the listings. "Men shop differently from women, they require different things. We [couldn't] just slap the women’s model onto men's," she explains. For example, "men like to focus on a specific category, so getting them straight to sneakers is really important." She's particularly enthused about the prospect for Poshmark's wholesale business in the men's category, "because most men, when they like something, tend to want to buy multiples of it."

In the world of apparel, men get far less attention, and in the secondhand market, even less: Secondhand shops dealing exclusively in men's are extremely rare. That's simply because women buy the majority of apparel, responsible for 60 percent of U.S. clothing sales each year, though growth in the men’s category has been slightly outpacing women’s for the past few years, according to NPD.

For men like Matt Wallaert, a 34-year-old tech executive and father in New York City who "[doesn't] have time to go to outlet stores," eBay has become an essential resource for replenishing his wardrobe on the regular. He has set up alerts, delivered in a daily digest, that will notify him when slim-fit shirts in his size from Nordstrom are listed for below $20, or gently used John Varvatos blazers in a size 40R appear for less than $40.

He's not alone: eBay, founded in 1995, remains the most popular destination for secondhand clothing online, although its marketshare is being chipped away, particularly in the women's category, by new sites and mobile apps that have streamlined the selling process, making it easier for non-professional sellers to participate. 

Poshmark isn't the only startup looking to break into the men's online resale clothing market currently dominated by eBay. The RealReal, which focuses on the high end of the retail spectrum, has been steadily building up its men's business as of late — in fact, it's currently the site's fastest-growing category, representing about "25-30 percent" of total sales, says Mayola Martinez, The RealReal's director of men's.

Martinez notes that The RealReal's male visitors shop differently than the women who come to its site. For one, they tend to use search more to find specific items they already know they want to purchase, while women are "discovery shoppers" that favor browsing. Watches, which yield a much higher margin than clothes and shoes, are the most important category. Brand-wise, Louis Vuitton is the no. 1 draw, followed by Tom Ford, Gucci and Burberry. As is the case with most retailers dealing in men's, shoppers come to snatch up iconic items from each of these houses: Burberry nova check scarves, for example, and belts and loafers with the Gucci logo. Travel bags, suiting and sneakers are all witnessing "huge growth," she says. Unsurprisingly, many of the category's shoppers are women looking to buy for their husbands, boyfriends or other family members.

Vestiaire Collective, another luxury-focused consignment site headquartered in Paris, has also been building up its men's division, hiring Bertrand Thoral, a former executive, as its head of menswear last year. After launching with women's in 2009, the site began adding men's products to its listings in 2012, and today it represents 12 percent of total sales, up from 5 percent just a year ago. About 40 percent of those purchases come from women who are shopping for others. 

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Thoral acknowledges that men exhibit different shopping behaviors than women, but that it is "difficult" to modify Vestiaire's site and app design to accommodate those behaviors. "What we are trying to do right now is to create more editorial dedicated to men, more advice on places to go, shopping to do, best products we have to buy," he says. In terms of volume, shoes are the most important men's category, followed by outerwear and watches. The average order size is quite substantial: About 345 euros ($380), slightly less than women's.

At Grailed, rare Supreme tees abound. Screenshot: Grailed

At Grailed, rare Supreme tees abound. Screenshot: Grailed

While there are now more than a dozen companies catering to women's resale online, Grailed, launched in January 2014, is one of the very few dedicated solely to men. And not just any kind of men, but fashion-educated consumers who can tell their Norse Projects from their Robert Geller, their Kith from their Supreme.

Arun Gupta, Grailed’s 27-year-old founder, says the site was created not so much to compete with The RealReals and Vestiaire Collectives of the Internet, but to streamline — and thus replace — the buying and selling of Rick Owens jackets, Yeezys and other hot-ticket menswear items on forums like Superfuture, Styleforum and Reddit. There’s also a Basics section for more general fare, like T-shirts and Vans sneakers.

"You're not going to buy a suit off Grailed, but you could spend $300 on a rare Supreme t-shirt there, no problem," says Adam Wray, the 28-year-old, Toronto-based editor of fashion industry newsletter FashionRedef, who says he uses the site to track down specific pieces from Craig Green, Rick Owens and Maison Margiela.

Unlike The RealReal, which photographs, warehouses, authenticates and ships everything sold on its site, Grailed is relatively hands-off, facilitating only listings and payments, which keeps its costs low and allows the company to take a commission rate of just 6 percent, far less than The RealReal's 40 percent and even less than eBay's 10 percent. A team of moderators comb through the listings on the site, removing items that appear to be in bad condition, counterfeit or from designers who "aren't up to snuff," in Gupta’s words. "We try to keep everything high-level, very curated, very impactful."

Content is also key. "Right now, what sets us apart from sites like Poshmark and Tradesy is that we've built more of a brand around what we do," says Gupta. "We make buying used clothes cool and exciting, we put our voice and our taste level out there for the consumer, we hope that influences them and creates more of an aspirational shopping feel on the website, instead of a strict marketplace transaction." Gupta hired former Four Pins editor Lawrence Schlossman late last year to lead up the effort as Grailed’s brand director.

"Part of the appeal of Grailed is that it’s a whole community of people who nerd out over menswear," says Aliotsy Andrianarivo, a 34-year-old web development manager and menswear blogger in Davis, Calif., who regularly scours eBay, Etsy, Grailed and Styleforum for vintage cashmere, and pocket squares and ties from Drake's. "Where the taste level is higher, you tend to find more interesting things, though sometimes things are a bit more expensive, because people know what they're selling."

All of the men interviewed for this story said that eBay continues to be a dependable source for the secondhand duds they're looking for, whether that's contemporary workwear blazers or something a little more special. And thanks to eBay's tracking tools, monitoring new listings is a breeze. Getting men to add new sites to their shopping regime won't be easy — but these startups already have already proven themselves with women.

One thing's certain: If you're a man looking to buy designer clothing at a discount, the selection is about to become considerably bigger.

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