The pre-owned fashion market’s growing appeal
Second-hand fashion is carving out an increasingly large space for itself in consumers’ wardrobes, an established underlying trend in the global apparel market. Between resale sites, second-hand shops and scores of traditional labels and retailers stepping into the breach, the pre-owned fashion market is a multifaceted affair, and all its players are keen to carve out for themselves a slice of a pie that is burgeoning each year.
The worldwide pre-owned fashion market is currently estimated to be worth between $30 billion and $40 billion (between €25 billion and €34 billion), equivalent to 2% of the global fashion and luxury sector. According to the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), which has carried out a new survey on pre-owned fashion for French resale specialist Vestiaire Collective, the market is forecast to grow by 15% to 20% annually in the next five years.
A growth spurt that is likely to be even more sustained in developed markets, where BCG said that “some websites might enjoy 100% growth year-on-year.” A windfall boosted by spates of new consumers flocking to the pre-owned fashion segment, adding to the existing bedrock of second-hand aficionados. In 2019, 25% of fashion shoppers worldwide bought a pre-owned item, as opposed to 24% in 2018, equivalent to approximately 10 million new pre-owned fashion customers in a year.
BCG has analysed these consumers’ purchasing behaviour in a survey carried out with 7,000 interviewees in six countries (the USA, France, Spain, Italy, Germany and the UK). Of those interviewed, 69% said they are willing to buy more pre-owned items in future. By 2023, 27% of the wardrobe of consumers who are already buying second-hand clothes will consist of pre-owned items, as opposed to 21% now.
Concern for sustainability is growing among consumers - at a pace that has been boosted by the pandemic - and this is further fostering the growth of the pre-owned fashion market. In 2018, 62% of interviewees said they were turning to second-hand fashion because of its sustainable dimension, and in 2019 the figure rose to 70%. The other criteria driving second-hand purchases are affordability, availability and uniqueness.
“Consumers are keen to own fewer but better-quality items, to reduce overconsumption and to take more care of their wardrobe. The blossoming market for pre-owned fashion helps them fulfil these aspirations,” said BCG. Of those interviewed, 70% said that buying pre-owned apparel inspires them to take even better care of their clothes, while 60% of second-hand fashion sellers would not have considered lending a new lease of life to their clothes without the existence and expansion of the second-hand market.
Besides outlining these general aspects, the BCG survey has sketched the profiles of the different types of players active in the pre-owned fashion market. It identified six profiles, each with clearly distinctive attitudes and behaviour. The first two profiles relate to pre-owned fashion buyers only: consumers who are less than 35 years old, seeking high added-value items, keen on experience and for whom authentication is key; and consumers who are 35 or older and are looking for unique, exclusive products.
Among those who both buy and sell, the survey has identified three profiles: ‘impulsive sophisticates’, who sell their clothes to buy other second-hand items, and do so very frequently; ‘trendy Millennials’, very active in terms of social interaction, they too interested in reselling in order to buy new items; and finally, players who are keen on sustainability, less active in terms of resale and who buy rarely and at bargain prices, engaging with a variety of platforms. The sixth profile relates to the ‘sellers only’ category, over-35 individuals who do not buy second-hand items but are only interested in finding platforms where they can conveniently sell their used clothes.
The survey concluded that fashion labels ought to tap this growing interest in pre-owned clothes. The options range from creating their own resale platform to launching buying programmes, and establishing partnership with sector specialists. The survey found that 62% of interviewees would be more inclined to buy from labels that collaborate with fashion resale specialists. Last year, one out of every two second-hand fashion consumers tried out a new label in this way. Additionally, 48% of interviewees would consider buying again directly from a label, once they have broken the ice by buying one of its products second-hand. In other words, the pre-owned market can be leveraged by fashion labels to acquire new customers.
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