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Second-hand market wave grows (and Zara joins the bandwagon)


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The Conversation

Teresa Sádaba

Director of ISEM Fashion Business School

A few weeks ago, Zara, the Spanish fashion chain with stores all over the world, announced its entrance in the second-hand market. With a pilot test in the UK, through the Zara Pre Owned platform, it will offer the possibility to resell to another individual, repair, or donate used clothes of any season to the Red Cross.

This initiative is part of the steps that Inditex, its parent company, is taking in the area of sustainability. In this way, fast fashion enters a market, the second-hand market, which in many countries is experiencing a golden age.

A rising market

The buying and selling of second-hand goods appeared and expanded in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries but in the twentieth century suffered a decline and stigmatization. Now, in plenary session of the Executive Council 21st century, it emerges with renewed popularity.

In the United States, estimates from ThredUp, one of the giants in the sector, point to the global second-hand market growing by 24% in 2022, and doubling in volume to $82 billion by 2026.

In the case of luxury goods, the growth of the $24 billion second-hand market is growing four times faster than that of the primary market (12% versus 3%).

Many analysts attribute the origin of this enormous growth to the economic crisis and inflation data and, therefore, to the need for savings and price-oriented purchasing. However, the academic programs of study point to a more complex scenario, in which purchase motivations present an interesting mix that allows us to observe new consumer trends.


In the United States, frugal consumption has emerged as a new lifestyle, which has been accentuated in the wake of the pandemic and confinement. People are looking to buy less and be more creative with what they choose, so that price (what a good costs, an objective issue) and value (what the buyer attributes to it, a subjective issue) are now particularly relevant to shoppers.

The possibility of recycling garments or repairing them to give them a new life is a change of mentality and attitude, especially in a hyper-consumer market such as the North American one.

Some brands have been able to channel this revolution in consumer values to become benchmarks of sustainability, such as Patagonia, which used to donate 1% of its profits annually and has just announced the donation of the brand to the fight against climate change. Because for frugal consumers, social and environmental impact is an important purchasing variable.

A game for centenarians

The motivations of second-hand consumers are not only economic or sustainability. Factors such as leisure or entertainment also seem to play an important role in this new consumer patron saint .

Browsing for clothes and looking for bargains or treasures are also important stimuli. Especially for the youngest shoppers, who seem to find shopping to be a diversion that brings shopping closer to play.

In fact, the same ThredUp report notes that 62% of millennials and Generation Z are looking for pre-owned products rather than new.

The playful component in this case is accompanied by other values on the rise for adolescents: authenticity or the search for their own style. And, also in this context, for some authors, nostalgia appears as a factor linked to the second hand.

Inspired by an aesthetic revived by series like Stranger Things, young people feel nostalgic for times they haven't even lived through.

Second-hand business models

The digital world has led to the emergence of a wide variety of interaction models and exchange between people with resale platforms subject Wallapop, Etsy, Vinted or Mercari. Even Facebook launched its own resale platform in 2016.

All of them have generated a collaborative Economics where the consumer becomes a seller and enters the circuit experiencing the possibility of his own earnings. Thus, interactions have increased and the second-hand culture has been gaining followers.

Faced with this phenomenon, it is not surprising that brands have reacted by creating their own portals. In this way they can better control a product subject to constant devaluation and, in addition, they are joining the bandwagon of the circular Economics .

On the other hand, there are large chain stores that offer these products in the second-hand market. Walmart is one of them, with its own division for this segment. But there are also specific stores with different operating models.

  • Second hand with a social purpose. Non-profit stores are based on donations and have an altruistic purpose. In the United States, the most recognized case is Goodwill Industries, which has more than 3,300 physical stores and 120,000 employees. Goodwill has just launched its online sales platform.

  • Among the lucrative models are consignment models, where the formula is an inverse correlation between the time the garment is in the store and the selling price, and those that work by buying liquidations of stock.

  • Vintage stores, where the scarcity and exclusivity of products from another era (vintage is now understood as 20th century fashion) has consumers willing to pay even a premium to find an iconic piece for their wardrobe.

  • There are also those specialized by niches, where second-hand makes sense due to expiration or size changes. This is especially true for children's clothing, one of the most competitive segments in this field.

The challenges of the second hand

With such a proliferation of business models and the unstoppable growth of the market, some inventory problems and lack of storage space have also arisen.

In the second-hand market, operational issues are not simple: it takes a lot of people to sort the clothes that come into the store (not all of them in good condition for resale). In fact, The New York Times recently published a article warning of the declining quality of goods being sold in thrift stores.

The other question is what happens to the garments that are not sold in this market. Many of them go to foreign markets and, although they start from donations, sometimes they end up entering the commercial circuit, as reported by researcher Andrew Brooks.

With these issues to be resolved, in any case, the second-hand market appears as a wave to join if one wants to respond to the new aspirations of consumers. Because, now, it is also fashionable to carry used things.