From Vinted and Sellpy to Levi's SecondHand and Tommy for Life: there is growing enthusiasm for second-hand, pre-loved and vintage. Not just from brands and platforms, but from consumers too. Why is this a market of interest to retailers and brands? We asked expert Lynsey Dubbeld and spoke to Sellpy's Chief Commercial Officer, Alexandra Drissner, about their insider views.
If you look at the figures alone, it is not surprising that more platforms and brands in the retail sector are focusing on the second-hand market. A recent study by ThredUp showed that three quarters of consumers believe second-hand has become more socially acceptable in the past five years. "Positive terms such as pre-loved and pre-owned illustrate this change," says Communications Advisor and Trend Analyst Lynsey Dubbeld. In 2012, she wrote Mode voor morgen, the first book about sustainable clothing in the Netherlands, and sees the popularity of vintage increasing every year. "Second-hand is no longer shabby, old-fashioned, or grubby as per the connotations of last century. Second-hand clothing is now seen as distinctive, fashionable and sustainable."
For years, there have been various reports predicting the growth of the second-hand clothing market, Dubbeld says. "For example, in recent years, ThredUp has consistently indicated that the market for second-hand clothes is explosively growing. According to the analyses, the global second-hand market will almost double between now and 2026. The proportion of second-hand clothing in our wardrobes is expected to increase dramatically (by about 10 percent) in the coming ten years, while the percentage of fast fashion items remains the same." According to ThredUp's most recent study, two out of three fashion consumers want to move away from fast fashion and invest more in second-hand.
Why is second-hand so popular? "Second-hand makes consumers feel good: you can buy with a clean conscience and change your wardrobe regularly without feeling like you are negatively impacting the environment. Especially now that criticism of fast fashion has increased so much in recent years, buying and quickly disposing of cheap clothing is out of fashion. The fact that you may get your hands on something unique also plays a role. The vintage trend is also in line with the growing dissatisfaction with mass-produced and uniform fashion."
In addition, consumers find second-hand more accessible than sustainable fashion according to the aforementioned ThredUp study. Read: more affordable and easier to find. The attractive price is also a possible explanation for the popularity of second-hand items. According to the Global Consumer Insights Survey by accounting firm PwC, price is the most important purchasing criterion for Dutch clothing consumers.
From Brands to Platforms
In recent years, not just more brands, but more platforms that focus purely on the pre-loved market have emerged. Dubbeld: "For example, progressive initiatives such as The Next Closet and Designer Vintage have contributed to the growing popularity of second-hand. Big platforms like Vinted and Sellpy make second-hand far more accessible to consumers, and they are user-friendly."
Sellpy was founded by Michael Arnör in 2014. Chief Commercial Officer Alexandra Drissner tells the founder's story: "Michael came up with the idea of Sellpy in 2014 when he returned to his childhood home after studies abroad. He discovered that his parents had been using his old room as a storage space. Instead of throwing everything away he wanted to give the things a new life, but he quickly realised there was no simple way of doing it. Together with his friends Oskar Nielsen and Philip Gunnstam he founded Sellpy - a service that helps people to buy and sell second hand items in an easy way." How does it work? ? "Customers order a Sellpy bag, fill it with everything they don't need anymore and ship it to Sellpy for free. Sellpy then takes care of the entire sales process: from sorting and photographing the items to delivering them to the buyer. Items that can't be sold are recycled or donated to charity."
Second-Hand More Mainstream
The Sellpy range consists of over 1,5 million second-hand items, which are available in 24 European countries. Drissner and her team have observed a change in consumer demand since the start. "Consumer demand for second-hand has never been as strong as it is now and it is one of the fastest growing market segments within the fashion industry. When we started with Sellpy, price was often mentioned as the main reason from customers that shopped second-hand. This has changed quite significantly and sustainability has become a key driver. Customers are more aware of the resources needed to produce new garments and want to act more sustainably. In addition, we see that second-hand has become more mainstream - customers across all age groups are proudly buying second-hand."
Collaboration with H&M
In terms of the fashion industry, Sellpy also sees that not only more consumers, but also more fashion brands are open to the second-hand market. The Chief Commercial Officer explains: "For example, in order to support their circular business aims, H&M has recently expanded its online offer to include a curated selection of pre-loved products on hm.com in cooperation with Sellpy as its resell partner in Sweden and Germany." Sellpy is busy setting up a partnership with Wear at the moment, says Drissner. "A Dutch start-up that refurbishes and resells pre-loved sneakers. Together we'll be offering a selection of quality assured and refurbished sneakers. Through this collaboration we hope to inspire people to extend the lifetime of their products, through care, repair and reuse. In addition, Sellpy works with brands or retailers helping them sell samples or returns that otherwise could not be sold. Examples of our business partners are Stylein, Flattered or The Knotty Ones."
In eight years, not only has the platform gained a large volume of second-hand items, but it has also gained learning experience. "When Michael, Oskar and Philip started in 2014 they never thought that after eight years we wouldhave celebrated the 1 millionth customer who has either bought from or sold with Sellpy. Key to our success is that we live to our values, meaning we obsess about customer satisfaction and are brave, resourceful and smart. For example, we think big but start small in order to test and learn quicker and then, piece by piece, make the big and crazy idea come to life. Also, we see ourselves as a tech company, so we always use technology to improve the quality of our processes for example when sorting and describing items. Sellpy's goal is to make buying second-hand the first choice. So we aim at providing an experience that is as convenient and personal as buying new but does not harm our planet."
In addition to these types of large platforms, more and more brands and retailers are making second-hand an integral part of the offering, both online and offline. According to ThredUp, almost three quarters of retailers are open to a second-hand offering for customers. According to Lynsey Dubbeld, this has to do with other factors in addition to the growing demand from consumers: "Fashion brands are increasingly being confronted with rising raw material prices and laws and regulations concerning circularity, amongst others. Reuse of materials is becoming an increasingly important business strategy. A good example: Mud Jeans, a circular brand that introduced the concept of lease jeans in 2013, is known as a leading example of sustainable business models." In order to respond to the second-hand trend with credibility, it is important for brands to be sustainable and responsible in essence. Dubbeld: "Fast fashion brands run the risk of focusing on a specific collection of sustainable items. Sustainability is not a separate element, or a marketing gimmick, but an integral part of operational management." It is with good reason that H&M stopped the 'sustainable' Conscious collection, given that sustainability is part of its overall operational management.
Community of Fans
Retailers opt for the sale of second-hand items not just from a sustainability perspective, but naturally with the goal of customer and turnover growth. Dubbeld: "A retailer builds a community by offering consumers a resale platform. The fanbase is naturally a strong basis for marketing. Or for co-creation, where you work on new collections together, with better sales, less overstock, and greater customer loyalty as a result." Dubbeld adds: "If vintage is a good match for the DNA of your brand, selling second-hand is the perfect opportunity to uphold your brand values and connect with consumers even more. For example, Levi's does that with Levi's SecondHand. Levi's has traditionally placed great emphasis on heritage and on the fact that denim lasts a long time. That makes Levi's jeans ideally suited for reuse, and the content marketing around the SecondHand platform exploits that."
The Zalando online store, which is of German origin, mentions strengthening of the customer relationship as an important commercial gain of the resale programme which started in the Netherlands in 2020. Customers can offer clothing and shoes which had been previously purchased from Zalando for resale, items that align with the image of the platform also qualify. If the clothing is approved, professional photos are taken of it and the items are offered for sale via a special section of the website. For each item brought in, customers receive a voucher for a new purchase from the store, which they can also give as a gift or donate to charity. The resale programme is part of Zalando's strategy to be the ultimate point of departure - the Netflix or Spotify – for fashion.
The complexity of the logistics process is a frequently mentioned reason for fashion brands to give the second-hand market a pass, observes Dubbeld. "Second-hand is simply not that easy to integrate into a business strategy. It is also not something a brand just does on the side. If you are going to collect items, you also need to arrange the processes for sorting, reselling and/or recycling. That requires long-term cooperation in a complex, often international chain." The solution: cooperation with competitors and the different partners in the chain. Dozens of fashion brands, textile producers and recycling companies work together on a circular solution via the Global Fashion Agenda's Circular Fashion Partnership programme. Dubbeld: "Such an approach has the added benefit that the research provides many practically applicable insights into subjects such as design and reuse for the development of a good business model."
Tommy for Life
The Tommy Hilfiger initiative, Tommy for Life, shows that you need partners. The fashion brand gives used Tommy items and damaged clothing a new life. They have saved 100,000 kilos of clothing from landfills since 2020. They unfortunately had to stop their initiative temporarily because the partner they needed for the process dropped out. They say they are now modifying the system so they can carry on again soon. There are also retailers that still view the second-hand market as a competitor. Dubbeld: "Some stores are afraid the sale of second-hand items is at the expense of the sales of new collections. You can also attract new customers, for whom second-hand clothing is an entry level product, with a vintage collection. What's more, brands that propagate slow fashion with the resale of old collections show that they are truly timeless."
Does it suit your brand?
There is much to learn from the experience of frontrunners, Dubbeld concludes. "There are different ways of responding to the vintage trend: one-off or structurally, online and/or offline, with the resale of old clothing and/or recycling of materials. Be inspired by everything that happens and seek an approach that suits your brand and your target groups. Start with small-scale pilots and experiments. But be sure to immerse yourself in your own motivation. Ask yourself whether vintage really aligns with your brand (values) and (desired) target group. If you only follow the trend because it is fashionable at the moment, it is really difficult to communicate about it credibly and convincingly."