Resale represents an increasingly important segment of the fashion industry, accounting for some $20 billion in annual turnover. What used to be a domain dominated by brick and mortar vintage shops and eBay is now populated by myriad digital marketplaces — including consignment giants like The RealReal, Vestiaire Collective, Rebag and StockX — and increasingly informal peer-to-peer transactions on sites like Depop, Poshmark and Grailed.
There are many reasons for the popularity of secondhand buying and selling, not least of which is a desire to consume in a more responsible and sustainable way. However, there are also those who see an opportunity to make a profit through old clothes, and on the surface, there seems to be a gender gap of sorts when it comes to the buying and selling on peer-to-peer recommerce platforms. Men's sneakers, rare ready-to-wear and archival designer pieces are often priced well above retail, while similar womenswear, whether luxury ready-to-wear and leather goods or more contemporary offerings, isn't tagged with the same mark-up.
The key word here is "seems": Below the surface, the resale space is much more complex than meets the eye, as customer behavior is profoundly shaped by the traditional retail market. Hype and scarcity play a big part in determining not only the price of secondhand goods, but also the premiums that people are paying for them. And while things may seem one way today, change is afoot in recommerce.
A quick, crude survey of peer-to-peer marketplaces might leave you with the impression that used womenswear tends to change hands for much less than used menswear. Noémie Provencher, a stylist and studio productions coordinator for the leather goods brand Matt & Nat, tells Fashionista that her selling wasn't mainly motivated by profits. "I hate knowing that I'm holding onto pieces that could benefit others, while they're just sitting in a bin under my bed," she explains. Marco Del Papa, an archivist who moved roughly 300 pieces of vintage designer clothing last year through Nostalgia, a page he co-runs with a partner, says that in his experience on peer-to-peer marketplaces, "men are more likely to [hold out for more] because they're selling clothes to buy something else."
However, the motivations and selling patterns of a handful of people does not a trend make. The resale market encompasses a veritable smorgasbord of product: decades-old Hermès silk foulards, seconds-old Supreme accessories, Comme des Garçons staff tees, Grateful Dead concert merch, Zara Chelsea boots, Manolo Blahniks, Yeezys. The list goes on — and there are things to be had at every price point, from a few bucks to tens of thousands of dollars, for both menswear and womenswear. For all of the products, there are nearly as many platforms, with dozens sprouting up to capitalize on small segments of eBay's market of yore.
"The thing is that on eBay, you can buy a vintage T-shirt, or Supreme — but you can also buy a dishwasher. It's not a laser-focused peer-to-peer marketplace," explains Lawrence Schlossman, who is the brand director for Grailed and Heroine, which he describes as "brother and sister platforms," community marketplaces for menswear and womenswear, respectively. (Full disclosure: I am a regular contributor to Grailed's editorial platform.)
In Schlossman's estimation, there isn't a tangible difference between how men and women behave from a reselling standpoint, at least on the platforms he oversees. "I think that, across the board, [for us] it's kind of the same. [Grailed and Heroine] probably function more similarly than dissimilarly, despite the fact that they're targeted towards two different markets [menswear and womenswear]." In fact, any differences actually run counter to the conclusions drawn from a surface observation: The average sale price is 20% higher on Heroine than it is on Grailed.
Which raises two questions: What accounts for the difference, and why are we left with a perception that is different than reality?
Differences in the way men and women shop is "a way bigger sociological conversation," Schlossman says, and any trends in the resale space are probably attributable "to the nature of the [retail] market." Steve Dool, head of community partnerships at Depop, a global social peer-to-peer marketplace boasting 13 million users, shares a similar observation. (Dool has also contributed to Fashionista.) While the company won't publicly disclose data relating to sale prices, Depop has noticed that there are similarities between menswear and womenswear assortments that are otherwise disparate. "We break it down to brand types," explains Dool. "For example, Chanel behaves similarly to how Supreme does. We see that when there's a big piece of news involving either of those brands, the search numbers will see an uptick."
Of course, comparing T-shirts to handbags is akin to comparing apples and oranges, but it speaks to the importance of what's being sold. The pinnacle recommerce pieces are very different for women and men: For the former, they tend to be designer handbags or shoes, while the latter gravitate towards T-shirts or sneakers. It stands to reason that the secondhand women's pieces may sell for more, because they initially cost more.
But while the average prices of womenswear may be higher on recommerce platforms, that doesn't necessarily mean that buyers are paying a premium. The menswear space is driven by hype — whether it's limited-edition sneakers or archival designs — and that affects price. That's the "nature of the retail market" that Schlossman was alluding to; it helps to explain both the preponderance of for-profit resale within men's segments and the comparative dearth within womenswear. It's largely driven by Nike x Off-White sneakers, Supreme T-shirts and, to a certain extent, traditional luxury brands like Louis Vuitton, Dior Homme and Balenciaga — at least in their current forms. It's a micro-industry built on limited supply and overwhelming demand.
"The logistics and functionality of how releases happen in womenswear are different, which affects the third-market," says Schlossman. "But I imagine we'll see more [for-profit resale] in the future as the drop model proves successful on the men's side." Del Papa, the archivist and reseller, agrees with Schlossman. As far as the new product he flips purely for profit, Del Papa says it's almost exclusively menswear, because that's where the hype is. "If there were money to be made with women's streetwear and sneakers, I would," he asserts, citing the Aleali May Jordan 1 as an example.
The hype extends beyond new, limited product drops, too. "On Grailed, you definitely have [inflated pricing] with archive Raf [Simons] or Dior Homme," says Schlossman. "On Heroine, you don't have that kind of hype-driven markup in the womenswear space because that's not how the business at large functions." The menswear resale space is predicated on buyers' willingness to pay a premium for goods and, unless you're lucky enough to buy something at retail as soon as it drops, it's hard to turn a profit. Really, a Supreme drop is tantamount to an initial public offering, with profits to be had only to those who get in at the outset, and that mentality has seemingly permeated throughout the entire market. We tend to focus on instances of $50 T-shirts reselling for $500 or sneakers that go up in value by thousands of dollars; the outsized profits of a small segment of the menswear recommerce space make it seem like the entire market, and only that market, acts that way.
Of course, womenswear recommerce is not immune to similar behavior: Consider the market for Birkin bags, for example, which sees buyers willing to pay a premium in order to bypass the traditional Hermès waiting list. Outside of a few limited similarities, though, the womenswear peer-to-peer marketplaces are, instead, ripe with opportunity. "Womenswear can be more profitable […] it's easier to find pieces that are undervalued and thus profitable," explains Del Papa. "In my experience, women are willing to spend a lot on something they really want." He also pointed out that many of the leading archivists have taken note of the fact that there are profits to be had in womenswear, while the menswear recommerce space becomes increasingly crowded. "So many people are competing for the men's pieces that a lot of the big archives have to go into womenswear — and acquire Jean-Paul Gaultier pieces, for example."
But that shouldn't come as a surprise. Sellers aren't pre-programmed bots — though they may use them to acquire their inventory — and have shown an ability to read market trends, react to them and capitalize. "Our community is, generally, very price-sensitive," says Dool. "We see our top sellers do their research and they know what similar items are going for and they adjust." There have been hints at what's to come, says Del Papa, referencing the boom for 1999 Prada designs and vintage Dior Trotter bags we've recently witnessed — two trends that he has capitalized on, along with other archivists who have essentially bought up most of the supply to create market scarcity.
So, while womenswear may be trading hands for larger amounts, most pieces aren't being sold at a premium and there are still plenty of good deals to be had. But things are changing, it seems. Womenswear is gradually adopting the drop and scarcity model used in streetwear, and as evidenced by what happens with Birkins, with increasingly scarce product will come increasingly large premiums.