A ThredUp sorting facility in Phoenix. Matt York/AP
Even more transformative is secondhand clothing’s potential to dramatically alter the prominence of fast fashion – a business model characterised by cheap and disposable clothing that emerged in the early 2000s, epitomised by brands like H&M and Zara. Fast fashion grew exponentially over the next two decades, significantly altering the fashion landscape by producing more clothing, distributing it faster and encouraging consumers to buy in excess with low prices.
As researcherswho study clothing consumption and sustainability, we think the secondhand clothing trend has the potential to reshape the fashion industry and mitigate the industry’s detrimental environmental impact on the planet.
The market for secondhand luxury goods is also substantial. Retailers like The RealReal or the Vestiaire Collective provide a digital marketplace for authenticated luxury consignment, where people buy and sell designer labels such as Louis Vuitton, Chanel and Hermès. The market value of this sector reached $2bn in 2019.
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More mindful consumers?
The fashion industry has long been associated with social and environmental problems, ranging from poor treatment of garment workers to pollution and waste generated by clothing production.
Our latest research supports this possibility. We interviewed young American women who regularly use digital platforms like Poshmark. They saw secondhand clothing as a way to access both cheap goods and ones they ordinarily could not afford. They did not see it as an alternative model of consumption or a way to decrease dependence on new clothing production.
Whatever the consumer motive, increasing the reuse of clothing is a big step toward a new normal in the fashion industry, though its potential to address sustainability woes remains to be seen.
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