Second-hand: 33 million new customers in 2020 in the United States alone

Thirty-three million consumers purchased second-hand clothing for the first time in 2020 in the United States.

Due to the global pandemic, consumers were unable to go to the shops to add to their wardrobe in 2020. But that hasn't stopped them from turning to second-hand clothing, a market that has clearly been on the rise since the health crisis began. As many as 33 million consumers bought second-hand clothes for the first time in 2020 in the United States, as a new report reveals.

Budget-savvy, environmentally friendly, and already integrated into the digital sphere, the second-hand market has attracted fans all over the world. Not only does it reduce waste, through the purchase of existing, pre-owned clothes that therefore minimize the quantity being produced, but it also offers the possibility for sellers to earn or at least save some money. It's a model of circularity that could explode even further in the coming years. Currently estimated at $36 billion in 2021, the global second-hand market is expected to double over the next five years to $77 billion, according to a report by fashion resale platform Thredup * in partnership with GlobalData. This means that the resale market could grow 11 times faster than the traditional retail sector by 2025.

An "eco"-nomic solution

While buying second-hand is nothing new -- thrift stores have been around for decades -- it has however evolved considerably in the last few years, both in form (its digital transformation) and in content (it is no longer just about buying a rare or vintage garment, but about getting cheaper clothes and/or acting with the environment in mind). But in the end, no matter what drives consumers to this new circular model, they are doing it in droves. The report tells us that some 33 million consumers bought second-hand clothing for the first time in 2020 in the US, more than three-quarters of whom already plan to increase their spending on second-hand clothing over the next five years.

But consumers aren't just filling their wardrobes with used clothing, they're also sorting through them and reselling the pieces they no longer use. As a result, the report estimates that 36.2 million people sold clothes for the first time in 2020 in the United States, for a total number of sellers set at 52.6 million. A figure that could quickly rise to 118.8 million sellers, according to projections, since 76% of respondents who have never resold clothing say they are willing to try.

Could second-hand become more powerful than fast fashion?

Around the world, the pandemic has changed the shopping and consumption habits of individuals, who are gradually adopting more responsible behaviors in terms of sustainability. As we have seen in the last few months, this is largely taking place through second-hand shopping and clothing rental as well as through innovative new materials and committed, ethical brands. But what about fast fashion? Some giants of the sector are also trying to reinvent themselves with recycling services and more sustainable collections, but that's no guarantee that they won't see some consumers turning away from this type of fashion often described as "disposable." According to the report, the second-hand market is set to be twice as big as the fast fashion market by 2030 (worth $84 billion versus $40 billion).

But beyond these estimates, consumer behavior patterns could suggest that fast fashion may not necessarily have a bright future ahead of it. Nearly half of millennial and Generation Z consumers in the US now say they refuse to buy from unsustainable brands and retailers, and a portion of second-hand shoppers say they are swapping their fast fashion purchases for second-hand clothing.

The trend isn't expected to wane in the coming years as consumers become increasingly concerned about the environment. One in three say they care more about wearing sustainable clothing than they did before the pandemic, 43% are now more concerned about the quality of clothing, and more than half say they are more opposed to waste.

*ThreduP's annual report contains research and data from GlobalData. GlobalData's assessment of the second-hand clothing market is determined by consumer surveys, retailer tracking, official public data, data sharing, store observation and secondary sources. This data is used by analysts to model and calculate market sizes, channel sizes and market shares. GlobalData also conducted a survey in March and April 2021 of 300 US adults over the age of 18, asking specific questions about their second-hand behaviors and preferences.

Christelle Pellissier