What if the growth of secondhand is not so sustainable?

“It’s good that resale is growing, but the potential risk is that people see secondhand as fast fashion”. This is one of the comments in this article, which, along with other considerations, opens the door to a potential dark side of a fast-growing market segment. Secondhand, in short, may not be as sustainable as it claims. Or as it would like to be. And its success would be to blame


A joint study by BCG (Boston Consulting Group) and Vestiaire Collective finds that the estimated value of the global market fuelled by the resale of clothing, footwear, and accessories is between USD 100 and 120 billion. This is more than three times as much as in 2020. Two surveys of 6,000 consumers worldwide in 2020 and another 2,000 in 2022 say that 40 percent of them see second-hand shopping as a way to buy sustainably.

So, of course, everyone, but really everyone, is jumping on the second hand. For example, even the much-discussed Shein, which has just launched its resale programme: Shein Exchange. It is based on peer-to-peer dynamics, is online only (app-supported), and is available in the US. Fine, fine, but: ‘It’s good that resale is growing, but the potential risk is that people see the second hand as fast fashion,‘ says writer and consultant Aja Barber in Vogue Business.

What if it is not so sustainable?

“When one turns to the second hand,” Barber continues, “one should do so because one believes that it is better for the environment than buying a new product, not as an excuse to consume again and again. Instead, this risk seems much more concrete than expected because consumers are obsessed with novelties and also look for them second-hand. The consequence is paradoxical: the second hand could become like fast fashion. This is also confirmed by reports by The RealReal and ThredUp, from which it is clear that even when buying second-hand, customers want to find constant new things. In other words: they use second-hand platforms to keep up to date with fashion trends. When they find them, they buy them. Relentlessly.

As a sport

There is also another aspect. Consumers, especially those under 25, see the second hand as a kind of sport. That is: they buy to resell a second time. According to Bloomberg, this trend has become particularly popular with rising inflation, according to The RealReal‘s Luxury Resale Report 2022. In fact, since the start of the pandemic, re-sale, i.e. the rate at which users buy and then resell items on the same platform, has doubled.

Each of these steps has an environmental impact on packaging and shipping, a problem that The RealReal is trying to address with more recycled and recyclable packaging and carbon offsets.

Venetia La Manna, activist, and sustainable fashion advocate, says: ‘Moving from overconsumption of fast fashion to overconsumption of second-hand luxury is progress, but overconsumption of anything will not save us.

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