When the idea of secondhand clothing entered the public’s attention, it seemed as though a new age had begun. Thrifting has been redeemed and rewritten as a circular antidote to an increasingly hungry and unfettered consumer civilization, while being a behavior that has always existed but was by nature inferior to in-store purchasing.In particular, it was widely believed that increasing the amount of clothing that was bought and then resold throughout the world could lengthen their lifetimes while democratizing fashion. All of these expectations, however, have only been partially met: while it is true that the boom in the secondhand market has led to a more responsible mindset among many consumers, it is also true that the accessibility of used clothing at lower prices ultimately fueled the public’s consumerism, leading them to buy and sell ever greater amounts of clothing.For instance, a recent ThredUp report claims that not only is the second-hand clothing market expanding at a rate three times that of first-hand clothing, with a turnover that will increase from $35 billion to $81 billion in four years, but that it could also double in the following ten years, “colonizing” the rest of the market.
The success of these platforms is founded on “the promise of an endless sequence of images stimulating serotonin releases and a gamification of experience based on the excitement of discovery,” according to a related report by The Real Real, in addition to the motivations for economic convenience. In other words, it appears that secondhand clothing has evolved into a vicious pleasure, akin to addiction, like that which results from playing Candy Crush, as a result of new digital platforms. The Real Real’s research also states that “shopping to sell (and selling to shop) is becoming an increasingly popular approach of decreasing your environmental impact, since more than twice as many things originally purchased on TRR have been resold on TRR since the start of the pandemic.”According to The Real Real’s research, “more than twice as many things originally purchased on TRR have been resold on TRR since the start of the pandemic, suggesting that shopping to sell (and selling to shop) is becoming an increasingly popular strategy to reduce your environmental footprint.” Given that it is in and of itself positive, but it also shows how purchasing and reselling used clothing online has well exceeded the limits of necessity and pleasure by evolving into a new kind of compulsive consuming. James Rogers, The Real Real’s head of sustainability, sees the rising public awareness as a sign of hope:
There is no way to recycle low-quality rapid fashion. The benefit of luxury resale is that luxury goods are expertly crafted from higher-quality materials, giving them a longer lifespan. Not only do more and more customers recognize it, but they are also being sold again and again.
These data raise questions about Gen Z’s purchasing habits, which, according to Neil Saunders, managing director of GlobalData Retail, “have shown the world that it cares about the planet more than any other generation, but are flooded with buying options that make senseless consumption easier than ever.” This concern extends beyond the environmental impact of such a sales volume, which in the case of secondhand helps reduce water waste and carbon dioxide emissions.According to our statistics, one in three Gen Z customers feel addicted to quick fashion, highlighting the conflict that today’s young consumers must navigate. ” The issue is therefore dual: in the face of such a volume of trade, we find on the one hand new generations of consumers who are now habituated to overconsumption and on the other, businesses that, in spite of new sustainable strategies, continue to be associated with overproduction.In essence, as journalist Rachel Cernansky stated in her article for Vogue Business, “resale offers a method to prolong the life of used garments, but the model does not account for what happens to clothes when they are discarded, nor does it guarantee that clothes are manufactured more sustainably. Additionally, it has little impact on the volume of fresh apparel produced or sold in the fresh market.