If you were around in 1965, chances are this was a tune going through your head: “Second-Hand Rose,” from the Broadway musical Funny Girl, had become an international hit. Performed by the legendary Barbara Streisand, it captured the stigma of having to wear what was once the property of someone else.

“I’m wearing second-hand hats
Second-hand clothes
That’s why they call me
Second-Hand Rose”

That sense of shame persisted for decades. But times have changed.

The resale apparel market is now booming. Before getting into the reasons behind it, let’s take a look at the data provided in a robust and often-cited 2019 report by threadUP, the world’s largest fashion resale marketplace.

  • The second-hand market, at $28 billion in 2019, is projected to reach $51 billion in 2023.
  • There are more second-hand shoppers than ever before. In 2016, 45% of women over 18 had bought or were open to buying second-hand. By 2018, it had grown to 64%.
  • Second-hand is attracting consumers of all ages, with Millennials and Boomers currently buying the most, comprising 33% and 31% of the market, respectively.
  • Growth in the market is being driven by Millennials and GenZ, who are buying second-hand apparel 2.5 times faster than other age groups.

Why Second-Hand Is Taking Off 

People Have Less Money

The origin of the boom can be traced back to the Great Recession. As early as October 2009, Reuters was reporting that second-hand sales were flourishing, citing “recycled designer apparel” as the “new chic.”

And with Millennials being among those most hard hit by the recession and its aftermath, it’s no surprise they continue to drive the market.

But it’s about more than money. Here are just a few additional reasons why second-hand is taking off.

Environmental Concerns

Millennials, and especially GenZ, have a particular concern for environmental sustainability. And the fact is, fashion is the second most polluting industry globally, right behind oil. Whereas ethical shopping used to come with a pretty high price point, thanks to the second-hand market cash-strapped consumers can now reduce their environmental impact at a fraction of the cost.

Social Media And Personal Branding

The lives of young people are increasingly becoming a performance on social media. As they post images and videos of themselves on a regular, if not daily, basis there’s pressure to maintain a continuous change of wardrobe. Second-hand fashion is an affordable way to solve the problem.

Nostalgia And Originality

Millennials have been described as the most nostalgic generation ever. Second-hand shopping offers them an easy and authentic way to enjoy the fashions of the past. And it provides a broad palette of styles they can mix and match to create a unique identity.

The Trend Against Owning

Consumers increasingly value access, outcomes and experiences over ownership. Added to that is the decluttering trend promoted by personalities like Netflix star Marie Kondo. A sub-culture of second-hand shopping is using subscription services that let consumers “borrow” clothes and then return them so that others can borrow them. This model relieves the burden of ownership while also offering the chance to have an ever-changing wardrobe.

Where Does Market Research Fit In?

With a sector growing this big and growing this fast, market research has an important role to play.

Obviously there are segments within the second-hand market that need to be defined and understood. Along with that, companies like Rent The Runway and threadUP are creating new products especially designed to be resold or rented. What kinds of products they develop will require robust consumer insights.

Additionally, established retailers like Macy’s are now partnering with companies like threadUp to offer their own branded or co-branded second-hand experience. Brand Strategy, just as it is in any other category, is important. How one retailer distinguishes its second-hand offering from another, how it curates its selection, who it’s targeting vs. its competitors – all of these questions will need consumer input to be answered properly.

Indeed, we’ve come a long way since Barbara Streisand belted out “Second-Hand Rose.” And if the resale trend continues, it might have all of us singing a very happy tune.

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