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Is secondhand luxury the next big trend in fashion?

A growing desire for a sustainable life, along with tighter budgets and easy online accessibility, is pushing more people to consider the future of their closets

Research shows people in the 18-37 age group are adopting secondhand apparel 2.5 times faster than their older counterparts. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo (REUTERS)

The resale market of luxury goods is enjoying a bump in popularity, thanks in part to the pandemic. A growing desire for a sustainable life, along with tighter budgets and easy online accessibility, is pushing more people, especially the ambitious millennials and post-millennials, to consider the future of their closets.

A recently released survey of 7,000 people, conducted in June by marketplace of pre-owned items Vestiaire and Boston Consulting Group (BCG), shows 85% of shoppers spread across France, Spain, Italy, the US, and the UK, have turned to the secondhand market to help reduce overconsumption, switching from excess fast-fashion purchases to fewer, higher-quality, longer-lasting items. The prime reason for the switch is a more eco-friendly lifestyle: 70% of those polled said sustainability motivations drove them to purchase secondhand goods.

Such is the demand for affordable luxury that the global secondhand market, which is worth around $40 billion and represents 2% of the broader fashion and luxury market, is likely to grow over the next five years by a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 15% to 20%, according to analysis by BCG.

The resale business, especially apparel, has been seeing a steady flow of consumers for the past three years. Since 2017, the apparel resale business grew 21 times faster than sales of new clothing, according to ThredUp, which defines itself as the world's largest online thrift store where you can buy and sell high-quality secondhand clothes—everything from Gap and Gucci. Those in the 18-37 age group, are adopting secondhand apparel 2.5 times faster than their older counterparts, shows ThredUp’s research.

The growing interest is also pushing high-end luxury brands to take the secondhand route, a space they have historically avoided. Early October, Gucci announced plans to open an online shop with luxury consignment site The RealReal, which will offer used and unused product directly from the Italian label. Brands like Stella McCartney and Burberry, too, have done deals with The RealReal focused on getting shoppers to consign goods. UK department store Selfridge’s has, meanwhile, partnered with Vestiaire Collective, and Ralph Lauren has teamed with app-based marketplace Depop and fashion companies.

While back home, Indian luxury houses are yet to join the bandwagon, startups offering secondhand high-fashion online are seeing a steady flow of customers after a dry spell during the lockdown.

After the lockdown restrictions were eased, Aanchal Saini, CEO of fashion rental service Flyrobe, was surprised to see the sudden increase in clients. “The way things are going, we will be able to achieve our goal within two-three years rather than the earlier estimated 2025,” she says. “The consumer is getting smarter. They don’t just want to fill their closets. They are becoming more conscious about what they own.”

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