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Is pre-loved clothing becoming mainstream?

By 10th November 2020 No Comments

We’ve seen a host of online platforms selling pre-loved clothing to today’s fashion-conscious twenty somethings are changing the face of the second-hand clothing market. Making a, once niche, habit into a mainstream retail experience is putting circular fashion firmly on the agenda but at what cost?

With 45% of carbon emissions coming from the products and services we buy, the need to design out waste and pollution, buy less and keep products in use for as long as possible is key to achieving net zero carbon emissions and keeping global temperature increases below 2° Celsius as outlined in the Paris Agreement.

New market places leading to stark price differentials

Changing the way we make, consume and dispose of products from a linear to a circular model is at the heart of this process and many brands are looking to circular business models to provide business resilience against the impacts and risks of climate change and meet this growing customer focus. Reselling unwanted clothing is often the first step for many brands but what we have seen in these new market-places is buyers becoming influencers and ‘professional’ sellers themselves. With vintage and pre-loved fashion so popular, items are becoming increasing sought after and sellers are being accused of over-inflating prices. These trends are leading to what has recently been described as the ‘gentrification of Depop’ and other similar platforms.

There is a stark price differential between the high-end resale platforms and the more traditional sellers of used clothing, charity shops. Professional resellers are buying up charity shop purchases at a bargain to resell at a much higher price, potentially driving the longstanding buyers of second-hand clothing towards fast, cheap fashion. Clearly, in a growing online market, there are opportunities for all players. Will those purchasing pre-loved for purely financial reasons look elsewhere or will there be an emergence of online retailers positioning themselves for different markets? It will be interesting to see how fashion brands and charities respond to the new sellers in the medium and longer term.

Creating opportunities for all sellers to thrive

There is of course a balance to be had – nobody wants to see those who rely on second hand clothes for financial reasons to be without; and the need for us all to just ‘buy less’ can’t be ignored. At the same time, it’s encouraging to see the pre-loved clothes market becoming a mainstream way to get a fashion fix whilst embracing the circular economy.

Earlier this year, we commissioned a survey to identify used clothing purchasing patterns in the UK and understand whether there were any differences in behaviours for different social and age groups or between genders. We found that around one in three people had bought used clothing in the prior year demonstrating the healthy market for pre-loved clothes. We also found that charities are charging around one third of the value that commercial outlets charge for used clothing. This suggests there could be a real opportunity for charities to radically increase revenue with only moderate increases in used clothing pricing, in certain product categories. A small adjustment could ensure all buyers and sellers get what they want.

We want to see used clothing purchases displacing new clothing purchases, not one type of buyer displacing another. There is no shortage of used clothing so as pre-loved clothes become mainstream there is room in the circular fashion market for charities, fashion brands and the new professional sellers to all thrive.

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Who we are

QSA Partners is a specialist team of circular economy and sustainable business experts with extensive experience in fashion and consumer goods. We have worked
with many designer and high street brands including adidas, Farfetch and Ted Baker. We believe that better business models – whether based on sustainability or circular economy principles – help our clients stay relevant, grow market share and open up different markets in this rapidly changing world, providing business resilience against the impacts and risks of climate change. Find out more about our services or contact us to see how we can help your business benefit.

Image credit Waldemar Brandt at unsplash

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