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How Retailers Are Embracing Second Hand Clothing

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4th July 2023

The popularity of pre-owned clothing has been on the rise over the last few years, as consumers are becoming increasingly disenchanted by fast fashion, and more concerned about the environment and sustainability. Having now lost its stigma, second hand and vintage fashion is considered stylish and sustainable

With the likes of Vinted, eBay and Depop taking the internet by storm, the second-hand clothing market is becoming a more mainstream part of the retail industry. More and more brands are getting involved to try and target their customer’s changing needs and show their support of circular fashion. In this article, we discuss what the second-hand clothing market is, and why it’s being embraced by both shoppers and retailers.

What is the Second-Hand Fashion Market?

Second-hand fashion references clothes or accessories that were previously owned by someone else. The term doesn't always mean that the clothing is pre-worn, as you can purchase many second-hand products that might still have the tag on!

The selling of second-hand clothing usually fits into two categories: the old-fashioned charity shop that sells clothing in high street stores, and the more modern resale approach that involves peer-to-peer sales on platforms such as Marketplace, eBay and ASOS.

Another popular strand of the second-hand fashion industry is vintage clothing. Vintage clothing refers to garments that originate from a previous era. Vintage clothing can be found in local boutiques, charity shops or online. The style often features a premium price defined by the age, brand, rarity and condition of the item.

Why is the Second-Hand Clothing Industry so Popular?

Younger generations in particular, such as Gen Z, are drawn to shopping pre-owned goods, due to both the lower cost and positive environmental impact. Many shoppers have a genuine concern about the environmental effect of fast fashion on the planet, and the recent pandemic may have added even more focus to these concerns. Younger people are also under more financial pressure, as they own a smaller share of wealth than previous generations did at the same age.

Buying second-hand items means that people can embrace their individuality, and create a look that no one else can replicate, so there's no danger of turning up to a party in the same outfit as someone else! You can create a wardrobe that’s completely unique to you. 

The ability to purchase second-hand has also become much easier, thanks to the countless apps and websites which make it more accessible. This means we can get our products quickly, and no longer have to spend hours sifting through racks of clothes in a store. 

Fast Fashion vs Second-Hand Clothing

The rise in the second-hand clothing market also means more people are turning away from fast fashion. Fast fashion mass produces clothing quickly, which often results in lower quality items. This leads to customers throwing away garments after only a few wears, and continuously buying new clothes.

In contrast, the second-hand clothing market offers reusable garments that last longer and can be resold again. This circular economy means less waste, and helps us live more sustainably. As people are becoming more aware of the impact their shopping habits have on the planet, they are wanting to make better choices and consume less. 

How Brands are Using the Second-Hand Clothing Market

The global second-hand clothing market has mainly been dominated by re-commerce brands such as eBay and thredUp, who are specialised resellers, but more recently other well-established online retailers have begun following in their footsteps. Various big brands are now launching their own resale programs, which are housed on their websites, and offer customers the option of picking up pre-owned items at the same time they're seeking something new. Even some of the most top-end luxury labels are wanting to get involved in the movement toward second-hand fashion.

Many retailers have also partnered up with existing resale businesses, as M&S have done with Oxfam. M&S award a £5 voucher when a donation (which includes at least one M&S item) is made to Oxfam. These types of partnerships help to broaden the brand’s customer base, as it demonstrates to customers how the retailer is supporting the circular economy and overall well-being of the planet. 

Multiple brands are now offering vintage clothing, with high street giants like Urban Outfitters and Weekday selling vintage items online and in store. Even fast fashion brands are now embracing the style. Boohoo collaborated with Glass Onion for their Kourtney Kardashian Barker range, which included vintage pieces, further bringing it into the mainstream. 

The popular reality TV show, Love Island, have also helped push second-hand clothing into popular culture by partnering up with eBay. Contestants of the show now wear pre-loved clothing for their millions of viewers, promoting the idea of wearing second-hand garments to a wider audience.

Are Brands at Risk of Greenwashing?

Greenwashing is when a brand insinuates that they are creating or selling sustainable and eco-friendly items, without real support of these claims. Greenwashing has mostly been seen in fast fashion brands, who create sustainable collections while the rest of their business might not follow the same standards.

Consumers are very wary of greenwashing by retailers who are pretending to be more environmentally-friendly than they are. Whether a brand is guilty of this or not is up for debate and it's important to do your own research first if this is something you are concerned about. 

Whether you’re for or against brands using second-hand fashion as a marketing strategy, the increased awareness of how the fashion industry is impacting the environment is considered positive by many in the industry.

Benefits of Buying Second Hand Clothing

Discover Unique Items

One of the biggest advantages of shopping second-hand, is that you'll find unique garments that no one else has. Whether it's a vintage skirt or pre-loved coat, purchasing used clothes helps you create an individual and personalised wardrobe. 

Support the Environment

As mentioned, the fashion industry is known to be wasteful, with millions of pounds worth of clothing being sent to landfill each year. It also contributes to global warming, and emits a large amount of greenhouse gases. By shopping second-hand, you can prevent clothes from going into landfill and keep them in circulation for longer. 

Support a Good Cause

Thrift shops are often managed by groups who raise funds for charity or community service. This means you can buy pre-loved clothing while supporting a good cause at the same time. 

Save Money

Buying used clothes can also save you money, as it's generally a lot cheaper than constantly buying new. Just because second-hand clothes are cheaper, doesn't mean they're worse quality, either. A lot of people only wear items a handful of times before they're ready to let them go. 

Purchase Higher Quality Garments

Second-hand clothing is often made from high quality materials, and still have a lot of life left in them. Better quality materials mean they can last for years to come, and also saves them from being added to landfill, as the quality can mean it's hard for them to break down.

What Happens to Second-Hand Clothes?

We’ve discussed the rise of second-hand clothing, and why it’s so important. If you have good quality clothes that you won’t wear again, they could be:

  • Sold on to be worn again
  • Donated to charity 
  • Swapped with friends and family

Study at Fashion at the Fashion Retail Academy

If the second hand fashion market is something you’re passionate about, why not take the first step to your dream career, and enrol onto one of our fashion courses? We offer a variety of options including Level 2, 3 and 4 courses as well as undergraduate and apprenticeship courses. 

Study Level 4 Fashion Retail (With Marketing) and you'll learn about all aspects of the industry from initial garment design to purchase. The course will allow you to explore a wide range of disciplines within fashion, such as marketing and merchandising, and maximise your career opportunities.

Our BA (Hons) Fashion Business degree will enable you to discover the different functions within the fashion industry, allowing you to explore the ethical, financial and commercial factors that impact brands. You'll learn leadership qualities and entrepreneurial skills to help you start your own fashion business.

If you think a role in fashion is right for you, take the first step and study with the Fashion Retail Academy. If you have any questions about the courses on offer, send us an email at info@fra.ac.uk.

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