Going from the humble thriftstore of yesterday to the fastest-growing apparel segment today – what does it take to succeed in Secondhand?

The amount of clothing we throw away is staggering. Americans alone produce approximately 37kg of textile waste per year per person, and European consumers toss roughly two million tonnes of textiles annually.  Globally, the vast majority of textile waste still ends up in landfills or is incinerated. In parallel to this, we at least 60% more clothes today than we did two decades ago and keep each garment for half as long. This has seen the energy, chemical and carbon footprint of the textile industry skyrocket.

But there’s hope: The secondhand clothing market is also skyrocketing. Can it help turn the tide?

Credit: Arc’teryx ReGEAR

Growing Faster Than Fast-Fashion

Based on independent market research, the 2022 “Annual Fashion Resale Market and Trend Report” published by Thredup, finds that secondhand is indeed booming. In 2019 in the US, secondhand sales expanded over twenty times faster than conventional retail apparel. And even now when secondhand sales have never been higher, the report predicts that secondhand’s best days are still to come as it continues to eat into market share: While fast fashion is predicted to grow by 20% in the next ten years, secondhand is projected to grow by 185%.

As the trend towards secondhand clothing has grown – and continues to show such future promise – it’s no surprise that the industry has expanded in response. Alongside the explosion of clothing “swaps” and secondhand “vintage” stores now dotting the cityscape, the rise of online secondhand shopping has brought all the reach and convenience of e-commerce to an economically and environmentally-motivated consumer. Outdoor brands and retailers are also jumping on this quickly growing trend, offering designated secondhand areas in their brand and retailer stores as well as their own branded online platforms.

Outdoor’s Resale Platforms

One such outdoor brand betting big on secondhand is Arc’teryx. Launched in 2019, Arc’teryx’ resale platform ReGEAR has the overarching goal to encourage a shift from a buy-consume-discard linear economic model toward circularity. And according to Dominique Showers, VP of Arc’teryx’ ReBIRD circularity program, consumers don’t need much encouragement:

“We’re excited to see our guests really getting behind this move and becoming custodians of their gear to help keep it in use for years to come. We’re also seeing new guests join our community via ReGEAR: sustainably-minded, passionate outdoor advocates who make the conscious choice to shop in a more circular and sustainable manner, without sacrificing performance in the mountains.”

While many outdoor retailers and brands do now promote resale programs, these are more often than not on a local and fragmented basis. With availability across the US and Canada, ReGEAR represents a major expansion to the norm.

One common limitation to scalability that many resale initiatives are said to encounter is that of costs and logistics: Widescale collecting, sorting, cleaning, repairing, storing, reselling and shipping require resources and specialized skills that are far outside the core business competency of most brands and retailers. But with this doesn’t need to stop them from getting in on the secondhand action.

Founded in 2016, The Renewal Workshop receives warranty returns and other damaged products from its brand partners, refurbishes them and then resells them, effectively turning a profit on product that would otherwise likely end up as waste.

“Our success has been in helping brands find beneficial solutions for items brand partners have in their control through damaged returns,” shares Nicole Bassett, co-founder of The Renewal Workshop.

“We also have created a process and way of managing products that were not designed to be resold to be done so in a way that is efficient, enabling more products to get resold. The goal is that brands generate revenue off their renewed items, and that reduces the pressure on generating revenue from making new items.”

With the intention of scaling these services up and expanding into the lifestyle and fashion markets, TRW was acquired in March 2022 by the logistics expert Bleckmann. With both logistics and a sustainable business plan in place, it has expanded its service from North America to include Europe.

While Dominique Showers admits that third-party platforms have been very important to helping their gear last over the years, she says that Arc’teryx prefers to keep these services “in-house”:

“Creating the ReGEAR platform allows us to keep a really tight hold on the quality of the goods being sold. Every single piece is fully authenticated and assessed by our team and any repairs are performed to the highest possible quality to ensure its original function. We’re proud that every item sold via ReGEAR will perform to the same level as a brand-new piece of gear.”

Credit: Arc’teryx ReGEAR

Central to Sustainability Goals

Financial and customer satisfaction arguments aside, with its ability to reduce product impacts on multiple fronts, secondhand is increasingly seen as a way for brands to meet their own sustainability goals. TRW, for example, considers its services to be perfectly aligned with the climate goals of many leading brands and believes that secondhand can be a critical part of any brand’s decarbonization strategy. It recently conducted research comparing the LCA of a new product versus a renewed item and found that the renewed item represented a 51% reduction in carbon emissions.

Similarly, Dominique Showers sees resale fitting into a larger picture where it checks off several objectives at Arc’teryx:

“Most of the emissions from the lifecycle of a jacket come from the manufacturing stage, and the next largest impact comes at the end of its life. Taking a circular approach addresses both aspects. Reducing waste is one of the most powerful levers we have for achieving our science-based targets and protecting the planet.”

But pulling this lever, and actually seeing the benefits of secondhand translate into a reduction in global production, requires a much more widespread shift in consumer mindset. And if the ThredUp report’s projections turn out to be correct, this might happen much sooner than we think.

Her years at TRW has made Nicole Bassett confident that the growth is not just a passing trend led by young Generation Z consumers, observing that a combination of price and environmental values is able to draw in consumers from diverse demographic backgrounds. Dominque Showers suggests that there may also be a third, more sentimental, value at work:

“We try to help guests see another value in buying used gear: That each item holds the history of its adventures, and that makes it so much more than just a jacket, or a pair of pants. It has a story.”


Lead Photo: Arc’teryx

Jonathan Eidse
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