It’s no secret that in 2020, shopping made a big pivot to online. Thrifting, a hobbyist shopping sport that had long been enjoyed in-person, was among the categories to see that shift in drastic ways. With flea markets largely closed, and vintage stores and resale emporiums striking nerves with consumers over hygiene and crowding, serial thrifters headed online — trading the risk of a poor fit for the safety and convenience of shopping from home at any time of the day or night.
This trend of online thrifting, resale and vintage shopping will only continue as time goes on, fueled by social media, a growing comfort level with online resale platforms and a shift in behavior among young consumers toward sustainable, value-driven purchases. Look no further than Poshmark’s upcoming IPO as a sign of what’s to come, with the company now claiming more than 31 million users and a reported valuation exceeding the $1 billion mark. This added to previous IPO filings by growing resale platforms The Real Real and ThredUp. French mega-resale platform Vestiaire Collective is taking strides to grow its footing in the U.S., where the secondhand market is more developed than in Europe.
In its annual resale report, ThredUp projects that general online secondhand spending will grow 69 percent between 2019 and 2021, while the general retail industry is expected to contract by 15 percent. The site reported that shoppers spent 2.2 million hours on its platform in May, a 31 percent jump from pre-COVID-19 times.
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“For all the challenges COVID-19 posed to our assumptions about consumer behavior, one thing is clear: consumers everywhere are prioritizing value and accelerating the shift to thrift,” wrote ThredUp president Anthony S. Marino in an opening statement. The report estimated that what was a $28 billion resale market in 2019 could balloon to $64 billion by 2024. While resale transactions paled in comparison to typical thrift and donation-fueled secondhand sales in 2019, the company projects that by 2024, resale will outweigh thrift by $8 billion, via a 39 percent annual compound growth rate.
The appeal of online thrifting for young consumers is limitless; rather than travel to stores, users can toggle between platforms from their couch — offering shoppers an endless window into the discovery of odds and ends. It’s a mental break from social media and the news and has an “art of the hunt” element — bestowing bragging rights on rare or undervalued purchases.
In 2020, the emergence of the online mega-vintage dealer was cemented. Dealers like Thief Island Vintage, Moth Food and The Nongrak grew their audiences on Instagram, posting products and conducting flash sales via Instagram story. But still, many used Etsy as their everyday storefronts. This year, that all changed, with dealers striking out on their own and creating individual e-commerce sites through Shopify. They developed newsletters and started selling product in “drop” formats similar to streetwear. Much of the product sells out within hours, as shoppers clamor for clothing they can’t even try on, and in many cases cannot return for credit or refund.
A model poses near the Paris Theater on 58th Street in a look from Missoni’s fall 1973 ready-to-wear collection in New York City. Peter Simins/Fairchild Archive
Trends in vintage and thrift sales have pushed the hand of big fashion brands to reissue or design products inspired by their previous hits. A few years ago, the Dior Saddle bag’s popularity in the resale market prompted the brand to reissue the bag to great fanfare. The same goes for Prada’s new reedition format for popular styles from the early Aughts.
It is clear that what becomes popular in vintage is a precursor to what’s will be trendy in the larger fashion industry. Young creative types scavenge the Internet — eBay, Poshmark and The RealReal — looking for cheap, archival styles on a budget and style them in a way that looks new and cool.
Through the lens of trendy vintage dealers like James Veloria, styles from Prada Sport, Jil Sander, Moschino and Vivienne Westwood gained new popularity with young shoppers over the last few years.
So what’s next on deck? There’s already growing appreciation for old Missoni menswear sweaters — to be paired with easy navy slacks. The luxe minimalist designs of Romeo Gigli are becoming hipster fodder, already trading a high resale values on eBay. More brazen designs by Roberto Cavalli and Blumarine are finding popularity via online vintage dealers based in Italy (like Olivia La Roche and collective The Zoo), who rummage through piles at local flea markets and sell them to a style-inclined digital audience. And imperfect, discontinued styles by Louis Vuitton, offered on-the-cheap via eBay and other resale sites, are now falling into ironic favor.
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