The added value of second-hand fashion

Image by Kiril Stanoev

When entrepreneur James Reinhart was in college – feeling frustrated at the sight of his dull wardrobe – he realised that he wasn’t wearing over half of the clothing he owned. It was back then that he decided to start ThredUp, today’s biggest online marketplace for the selling and buying of second-hand garments. Almost ten years – and $131 million raised – after, ThredUp has, according to Forbes, upcycled over 28 million pieces of clothing, saving the customers who bought on the platform a total of $475 million.

Fortunately, as the increasing number of second-hand online marketplaces demonstrate, the stigma surrounding buying pre-owned or used products is fading. The truth is that to acquire a garment whose price oscillates between 5 and 10 pounds because of the low-end quality of the materials, and because the costs of production have been minimised at the expense of underpaid and overworked manufacturers, doesn't – or at least shouldn't – be considered a bargain. But to buy a piece of clothing for 5 or 10 pounds because of its second-hand nature, isn't just an economic bargain, it's an eye-opening agency that reveals the absurd economic system that values – and disvalues – clothes in the blink of an eye.

Buying second-hand shouldn’t just interest low-income consumers, as much as refusing to buy new fast fashion products shouldn’t be seen as a statement of a privileged person who can afford to buy fairly traded, high-end garments. Buying second-hand and boycotting fast fashion should go hand in hand; and today they’re both an accessible option to a wide range of consumers. Second-hand luxury startups are becoming extremely popular, inviting the luxury business to join the Collaborative Consumption movement, the market model that encourages consumers to live in a more collective, shared economy.

The fashion industry is evidently a profitable one, and companies such as ThredUP and ZAPYLE – one of India’s most popular second-hand luxury startups – are demonstrating the equally cost-effective result of the second-hand trade. What’s most needed is a change of attitude in the consumers, but so far that seems to be happening too.