Upcycling and repurposing clothing to sell has been around as long as fashion. The idea spun during the industrial revolution when the mass production of clothing became the norm and created a surplus of used clothing. Thrift — or consignment stores — absorbed the surplus goods and were then sold by religious ministries, like Goodwill or the Salvation Army, to raise  funds for their community programs. Historically, shopping for previously owned clothing has had a negative connotation, but this perception is definitely changing. As shared in thredUp’s 2019 Resale Report, as more consumers become environmentally conscious, they are actively deciding to purchase sustainable and affordable used items.

Did you know that many of the used items found in resale shops are completely new garments, some of which still have their original tags?‌ According to a study conducted by VoucherCloud, a survey of 3,000 women revealed that 20% of the items in their closet have never been worn. Men — who spend 10% more on clothing —  only wear 13 pieces at any given time. And after a year of closet purging, the second-hand market has seen a huge influx of ‘good as new’ garments, sweetening the thrill and discovery of thrifting.

Back in Fashion: quality over quantity

Good as new — or gently used — clothing gets a second chance in the global economy thanks to thrift stores like Goodwill, where consumers have a comparable and eco-friendly alternative to satisfying their fashion fix. From 2017 to 2019, millennial and Gen Z secondhand sales increased by 37% and 46%, respectively. For these younger generations, thrifting presents an opportunity for self-expression and keeping up with the latest fashion trends as purported by savvy Instagram influencers. Today’s modern consumer can mix and match new fashion with high-end and second-hand to create their own brand of style — one that speaks to their individual personality.

“Everyone has shopped at a Goodwill store at one time or another. Goodwill has offered our loyal shoppers the treasure hunt and unique style of thrift for over 100 years,” shared in a recent interview Lennox Thomas, Head of Retail for Goodwill Industries of Greater NY and Northern NJ (Goodwill NYNJ). “Shoppers concerned with the environmental impact of fast fashion have made thrift more relevant. We’re seeing new people, who haven’t been exposed as much to thrifting, join in on the shopping – they are proud to have helped Goodwill NYNJ to save 38 million pounds of clothing from the landfill last year,” continued Thomas. “Savvy shoppers are bringing thrift shopping to the forefront and setting the example for socially conscious people who support organizations who give back to the community. Goodwill NYNJ translates donations into workforce development services for people with disabilities and individuals who are unemployed – Goodwill store sales fund our programs.”

“As thrift has gone 100% mainstream, our Goodwill shoppers know they are spending their money in a nonprofit dedicated to a vision of creating a world with no barriers to employment for all. Our conscious customers triple their impact when they shop at Goodwill. Their purchases create jobs locally, result in positive environmental outcomes for the global community and New York consumers find unique pieces that keep ahead of the trends,” shared Katy Gaul-Stigge, Goodwill NYNJ President & CEO.

In 2018, Goodwill NYNJ launched Curated by Goodwill NYNJ, the nonprofit’s new shopping concept. At select stores throughout the NYC metropolitan region, specially trained internal stylists and featured fashion influencers stock the shops with the season’s most on-trend, cool and fashion-forward secondhand pieces. Stores that feature Curated Shops within classic Goodwill stores, including Downtown Brooklyn and Chelsea in NY, and Paramus, NJ, have seen an increase in foot traffic. And of course, Curated shoppers proudly boast that they are “consciously clothed” and “aware of the wear,” two Curated taglines that are circulating on Instagram.

The ‘Used’ Economy: By the Numbers

There are more than 25,000 resale, consignment and not for profit resale shops in the U.S. today. If we include the growing percentage of mass-market retailers like Macy’s and JC Penney who are adding resale boutiques to their store layouts, we’re estimating approximately 51 million square feet of retail space dedicated to the secondhand apparel market.

The resale market for 2019 has a $28 billion worldwide valuation, and according to WWD, is projected to hit $41 billion by 2022. The resale fashion category has grown 21 times faster than the retail market over the past three years. It shouldn’t be any surprise given consumers’ keen awareness and vocal criticism of the negative effects fast fashion has had on the environment. More people than ever are choosing to shop secondhand. In the last year, 56 million women in the U.S. bought secondhand clothing, a year-over-year increase of 30% from 2017.

The Latest Trend Towards Thrift

Once limited to auction sites like eBay, the used clothing economy has seen an uptick in representation from digital startups like The RealReal, Poshmark and the aforementioned, ThredUp, attracting socially conscious consumers to feed their love of fashion for a fraction of the cost. DePop is the latest retailer to enter the second-hand market with a look book mobile platform that connects culture, design and creative communities globally, all in the name of fashion.

On average, 12% of Americans shop at thrift, consignment or resale stores, in comparison with factory outlet malls (11%), apparel stores (20%) and major department stores (21%). And according to Deloitte, price is the predominant driver — with sales/discounts (69%) and competitive pricing (57%) —  and the leading attribute influencing consumer purchasing decisions for back-to-school and inspiring national shopping days like National Thrift Store Day (August 17) and National Second-hand Wardrobe Day (August 25). American consumers search almost one million times a month for “thrift shops nearby,” according to Onbuy.com, a U.K.-based online value-driven retail marketplace. Thrifting continues to capture the attention of consumers seeking alternative shopping options, and it’s no surprise to me. I know of at least one thrift store within walking distance of my office in San Francisco, and I’m sure you do, too.

Do you have a favorite online resale site or coveted brick and mortar where you shop secondhand? Join the conversation online and follow me on Twitter for regular updates and musings about commercial real estate and the retail industry.

Anjee continues to be an insatiable enthusiast of all things retail. She’s a student of culture with a pulse on future shoppers and the fleeting trends constantly changing the retail landscape…driving retailers, landlords and developers crazy!