Focus Trends: The New (Used) Apparel Trend

by Charlene Capps, January 27, 2020

In 2020, I expect we will see similar trends in retail as we did last year such as BOPIS (buy-online-pick-up-in-store), online retailers opening physical stores, and legacy retailers shrinking their footprint. These trends are here to stay and being adopted across all categories of retail, including apparel, but we are seeing a new trend within the apparel category that is leading the growth for the industry.

The apparel category has been hit with a major disruptor that is making all apparel stores rethink their business model. According to thredUP’s 2019 resale report, 96% of senior retail executives want to advance their company’s circular fashion efforts by the end of 2020.

Yes, the new disrupter is the strong growth of reusing clothes.  Many fashion resale start-ups are calling themselves “Recommerce Stores” – resale commerce, the reselling of previous worn clothing for the digital age. Since clothing sold as second-hand is growing, it is creating innovative ways of bringing second-hand items into the shopper’s basket.

Recommerce brands such as Poshmark, thredUP and Grailed are working with major retailers like Macy’s and JCPenney by bringing used clothes into their department stores to sell.  Macy’s currently has 40 thredUP shops within their stores, and the retailer views this section as competition to their discount clothing.

We are also seeing thrift stores take over vacant big box locations, like America’s Thrift Stores. In 2019 they opened a new location in a vacant Toys R Us building in Dothan, Alabama.

There are more than 25,000 secondhand stores in the U.S. today.  If we include the growing percentage of mass market retailers like Macy’s and JCPenney, Collier’s International estimates that 51 million-square-feet of retail space is dedicated to the secondhand apparel market.

Secondhand by the Numbers

  • 25,000+ secondhand stores in the U.S. currently
  • The secondhand market has already outpaced any other retail apparel market by 21x’s over the past three years
  • In 2019, the industry saw sales of $28B with the expectation to increase to a $51B industry in 5 years
  • All age groups are adopting secondhand apparel, with the largest adoption group being the Gen Z
  • 23% of Millennials and Gen Z shopped secondhand in 2017, and that grew to 34% last year

Secondhand clothing brings benefits and value to the shopper, the environment, and the community. The community benefits from thrift store openings because shoppers view thrift shopping as a destination, which encourages other thrift and boutique shops to open nearby. It is something that fast fashion and other retailers will need to adopt in order to be competitive for the shopper that is looking for value coupled with being environmentally conscious. 

If everyone bought one used clothing item instead of new this year, we would save 449 million pounds of waste which is the combined weight of one million polar bears!

One retailer that deserves a shout-out is REI. They have a section at their flagship store in Seattle called The Garage, which has pre-owned REI clothes. I heard a cool story about a friend going to The Garage and finding a Patagonia sweater that was worn for years and returned from a famous climber, who happens to be his dad’s role model.  He bought the sweater for his dad and to this day his dad will say that was his favorite gift of all time! You never know what you are going to find when you are treasure hunting secondhand items.

It is an exciting time for retail and cities to take advantage of this growing trend within the apparel industry to benefit all parties involved.

charlene capps
Charlene Capps, Director, Research & Analytics

Charlene Capps, Director, Research & Analytics

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Focus Trends is an original informational series published by Retail Strategies highlighting trending retail topics.

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