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The 'Post-Pandemic Consumer' Is Embracing Secondhand Clothes

And more insights from Thredup's latest report on the resale industry.
thredup shopper

One may not need charts and graphs at this point to know that, in the past couple of years especially, the buying and selling of used clothes has become mainstream. Any stigma that once came with thrifting pre-worn goods has practically disappeared. Thredup, Poshmark and The Real Real have all gone public. The concept has been proven.

Still, for the past five years, Thredup has been tracking and projecting the growth of the secondhand clothing market, releasing annual reports conducted in partnership with third-party research and analytics firm GlobalData. The company just released its 2021 Resale Report, complete with plenty of staggering figures — it's still one of the fastest-growing segments of retail, projected to double to $77 billion by 2025 — as well as some new insights on how resale fares when there's a global pandemic. (As Thredup predicted one year ago, it fares quite well.)

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Evidently, the pandemic birthed millions of new secondhand shoppers: 33 million consumers bought secondhand apparel for the first time in 2020. And according to surveys, 76% of those first-timers plan to increase their spend on secondhand in the next five years. In other words, the pandemic may have helped accelerate the growth of fashion resale even further. It also created more resellers: There were an estimated 36.2 million first-time sellers in 2020.

As we've covered, the pandemic changed our mindsets around shopping in several ways. And the new "post-pandemic consumer" has been a boon to the secondhand market, according to Thredup's report, which found that a third of consumers care more about wearing sustainable apparel than they did before the pandemic, and that half of consumers care more about value than before the pandemic. The report also found that 43% of consumers care more about clothing quality than they used to (implying they want items they'll be able to resell rather than dispose of) and that over 50% care more about avoiding waste than they did before. 

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Thredup also highlighted the post-pandemic shopping habits of mothers: One in two moms with young kids plans to spend more on secondhand in the next five years, representing a bigger "shift to thrift" than any other consumer group, according to the report.

The main motivators for people to shop secondhand are saving money and reducing environmental impact, but secondhand stores aren't their only options to reach those goals. They could shop from a fast-fashion retailer or a discount chain to save money; they could rent clothes or buy sustainably-made new clothes to reduce environmental impact. While off-price and fast-fashion retail is still growing, it's doing so more slowly than resale and rental, and Thredup found that demand for new clothing marketed as "sustainable" is declining as well: 42% of consumers plan to spend more on secondhand clothing in the next five years, while only 26% plan to spend more on "sustainable" new clothes.

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As much as resale has become a mainstay of our shopping lives, there's still more market share for Thredup and its competitors to capture. Thredup estimates that 9 billion clothing items are sitting idly in consumers' closets, and that 34 billion are thrown away in the U.S. each year — 95% of which could be recycled or reused. 

So, aside from changing consumers' mindsets, what needs to happen to get those clothes into the resale market? Thredup points to getting more primary market retailers and brands incorporating resale into their strategies (i.e. buying back and reselling their own used goods) or incentivizing consumer to recycle their wares in some way. (Thredup powers resale for 21 brands and retailers, like Gap and Reformation.)

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Government policy incentives could also drive more adoption of circular fashion: Imagine if retail companies got tax breaks for investing in resale, or if consumers didn't have to pay sales tax on secondhand clothing. 

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Thredup loves to also share how many clothing items it helps divert away from landfills by reselling, but this year, notably, it also delivered some facts and figures around its own internal sustainability practices. 

Every retail company — even one that sells used clothes — has a significant environmental footprint by virtue of operating facilities and the shipping and receiving of goods. The report also touched on workplace diversity, shown below. Could Thredup share more of these details? Sure. Is this at least a step in the right direction? Definitely.

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You can view the full 2021 Resale Report here.

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