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Is fast fashion dying?

The future of shopping is looking a little more vintage.

Is fast fashion dying?
[Photo: Becca McHaffie/Unsplash]
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The future of shopping is looking a little more vintage, as a growing secondhand-seller market is projected to topple the mighty fast-fashion industry.

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That’s according to a new report from ThredUp, one of the world’s largest online resellers. The report, which cites statistical information from third-party analytics firm GlobalData, paints the picture of a burgeoning thrift-sale market that could overtake the likes of H&M and Zara in the next decade, as economical shopping and sustainability trends persist. According to the report, 40% of thrifters say they’re replacing fast-fashion purchases with secondhand clothing, and resale is expected to be more than twice as large as fast fashion by 2030.

Not surprisingly, the trend is being driven by millennials and Gen Z consumers, who have shown greater demand for sustainable products as mega retail chains are increasingly criticized for their environmental impact and material waste. A purchase of one item that’s used, versus new, is estimated to displace 17.4 pounds of carbon emissions normally released during clothing production, reducing its carbon footprint by 82%. According to ThredUp, the typical thrifter bought seven items secondhand in 2020, displacing 9.4 billion lbs of CO2.

But the secondhand market got a major kick-start last year for a different reason, as the coronavirus pandemic gutted many consumers’ spending budgets. Per the report, 33 million shoppers bought secondhand clothing for the first time in 2020, and 223 million said they were open to buying secondhand in the future. Another 36 million sold items from their closet for the first time last year. Overall, 60% said they were more opposed to money wasting than they were pre-pandemic. Thrifting is forecast to stick around post-pandemic, lifting the vintage market to $77 billion in the next five years.

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So what does that mean for traditional, brand-name retailers? To keep up, they might need to innovate: Nearly 24,000 retailers surveyed say they are open to offering secondhand to consumers, and almost half of executives say resale will become an important part of their business in the coming years. Additionally, more than half of executives said they would be more likely to test resale if government policymakers offered financial incentives for doing so, perhaps as part of a sustainability campaign.

Regardless, the clothing industry is already transforming in myriad ways. In recent months, companies including Express, J.Crew, and Urban Outfitters have begun featuring third-party sellers on their websites, in hopes of creating Amazon-style online bazaars.