mainstream retailers embrace second-hand clothing

High street retailers are following in the footsteps of their online rivals, offering more second-hand clothes to lure in shoppers wanting to steer clear of fast fashion and hunt for bargains amid a cost of living crisis.

The second-hand clothing market has exploded over the last decade to an estimated £6.5bn last year, largely thanks to online sites like eBay, Vinted and Depop. That figure is expected to double by 2027.

In 2022, eBay saw a 24 per cent increase of circular fashion businesses join their site, and searches for pre-loved clothing on eBay UK have skyrocketed 1600 per cent since last summer.

Kirsty Keoghan, eBay UK’s global fashion general manager, told City A.M. that shoppers’ changing habits are down to two factors.

“The first is related to consumers’ growing awareness of their individual environmental footprint, and the second is related to their expectation of high-quality products at great value, which is more important than ever as we grapple with the cost-of-living crisis,” Keoghan said.

“A potential recession, the climate crisis, and global unrest are all reasons that, going into 2023, consumers are making shopping decisions based on value… as well as personal values,” Rati Sahi Levesque, co-CEO of online second-hand marketplace The Realreal, said following the publication of a report by the firm on the boom in circular fashion.

But, worried about losing out to online sellers, now mainstream high street retailers want a slice of the pie.

Last week J. Crew Group announced the launch of a resale programme ‘J.Crew Always’, which will sell curated vintage styles in select stores and customers’ pre-owned threads online in return for credit.

Selfridges has also set up its ‘Reselfridges’ scheme, saying it aims for 45 per cent of transactions to come from its circular scheme by 2030.

Similarly, John Lewis has introduced a successful recycling scheme, which allows customers to receive discounts when they bring pre-loved clothing items for resale or repurpose into store, and recently noted a growth in sales of repaired products.

A spokesperson for the store told City A.M. that whilst they can’t be certain, the recent uptick was likely driven by “cost of living and customers wanting to be sustainable”.

Elsewhere, the likes of Marks and Spencer, Boohoo, Tesco, Asos and Asda have committed to the Textiles 2030 action plan, which aims to promote recycling clothes, while brands like Zara, Lululemon, The North Face and Urban Outfitters, have also launched resale programmes in the past year.

But despite lots of promising new strategies, there are worries that major clothing retailers might be ‘greenwashing’ by jumping aboard the green bandwagon of sustainable pledges while continuing with business as usual elsewhere.

“We’re now seeing corporate brands, with huge PR and marketing budgets, win over customers based on their ethical stances and sustainability goals. One of the biggest challenges is figuring out which businesses are truly value-driven and which only care about using the green agenda to boost profits,” said Hannah Cox, organiser of the Better Business Summit that was held last week.