When “new” can also mean pre-loved

For decades after the dawn of mass consumerism, shoppers were fascinated with novelty – purchasing products that were, quite literally, newly made, part of the latest range or trend. Thrifty habits such as mending have fallen into disuse; items were discarded when worn, or earlier. “Fast fashion”, or mass production of low-cost catwalk models, is the height of the disposable era. But disposable means a huge waste – anathema to an environmentally conscious young generation. So, today’s youth have embraced and popularized a different idea of ​​novelty: buying things that are new to them, but previously theirs – and that they can quickly sell, mostly on online sites.

A $ 1.6 billion deal this week embodied the trend. Etsy, an American online business specializing in vintage or handmade products and popular with millennials – the median age of the seller is 39 – is buying Depop, the second-hand fashion app. About 90% of active Depop users are Gen Z, or under the age of 26. It’s also a sign of how the pandemic has accelerated change – Depop’s commission income more than doubled last year to $ 70 million – and extended it to older generations. . Polls suggest the lockdown has prompted consumers to reexamine their habits and values, and sometimes to empty their closets.

Buying what the fashion industry calls “pre-loved” clothes can be a way to get your hands on Gucci or Burberry at a fraction of the original price. It combines the thrill of the bargain with the desire for individuality (buying a vintage garment rather than one from the current range makes it less likely to stumble upon someone else wearing the same thing) and the good factor. -being respectful of the planet. Depop, like some rivals, adds a contemporary social element. It allows sellers to organize clothing selections, essentially becoming their own brand online, and attracting what may be a large following.

The result is rapid growth of the second-hand or “circular” economy. In reality, it is also a form of rental economy: clothes are not so much owned as they are rented and then passed on. Like McKinsey noted, there are parallels with the shift from buying CDs and DVDs to renting or subscribing to content from Spotify or Netflix. The last annual resale report from ThredUp, another second-hand clothing site, predicts that the total US second-hand clothing resale market could grow from $ 28 billion in 2019 to $ 64 billion in 2024.

This poses strategic dilemmas, especially for luxury brands. Some have avoided engaging in resale, fearing to erode their cachet and margins. Since the second-hand economy is more a phenomenon of mature consumer markets, the trend is expected to leave big brands even more dependent on markets such as China for full-price sales growth. Yet reselling their own products can give them more control over their brand and the issue of counterfeiting. As Stella McCartney has shown through a Partnership with The RealReal, the online luxury consignment store, it can also strengthen a brand’s social responsibility.

Brands such as Patagonia and The North Face began selling used and repaired parts collected from customers. But the trend is affecting retailers far beyond clothing. Ikea has launched a purchase of furniture and a resale program, offering customers vouchers to spend in-store if they return pre-loved items such as Billy Bookcases or Hemnes Buffets. In the Netherlands, Sweden and Switzerland, it is test the rental as a payment option. When shoppers are in fact renting out not just clothes, but the wardrobes they store them in, it perhaps reflects the most profound shift in consumerism since the birth of online shopping.

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