For the past several years Gen Z has been at the forefront of a booming online secondhand shopping addiction, and in a report by ThredUp, the resale market will be worth $350 Billion by 2027. Many Gen Zers have pledged to continue buying secondhand and avoid fast fashion for sustainability reasons. But buying secondhand has proven to lead to more consumption, so is it really any more sustainable?
ThredUp reports some interesting positive trends in the resale market, such as the prediction that secondhand clothing will make up 10% of the global apparel market by next year. The resale market is only expected to grow, and by 2027, it is expected to have grown 9x as fast as the broader retail market. ThredUp gathered market data from GlobalData, a third-party retail analytics company.
All of these positive trends are led by the fact that Gen Z is buying secondhand more than any other generation. By surveying over 3000 adult Americans, ThredUp found that 83% of Gen Z have shopped or are open to shopping for secondhand clothing. They also found that 58% of Gen Z made an online secondhand apparel purchase in the last 12 months. With Gen Z's purchasing power increasing in the next several years as they make their way into the work force, the secondhand apparel market will only rise.
With Gen Z shoppers being extremely environmentally conscious while simultaneously facing higher costs of living, secondhand clothing provides a solution for Gen Z shoppers. Secondhand clothing is also widely accepted and even cool to Gen Z, with influencers like Alix Earle partnering with ThredUp to curate interesting resale pieces. Gen Z is taking steps in the right direction for more ethical clothing choices, but a rise in secondhand clothing is causing new sustainability issues to arise.
ThredUp reports several potential environmental changes that could take place from buying secondhand. They mention the potential of reducing carbon emissions by 25% just through secondhand purchases instead of new.
ThredUp states that "at the current displacement growth rate, if retailers produced one fewer item for every item consumers purchased secondhand instead of new, it could curb production by nearly 8% by 2027". A promising statistic to cut down on the 100 billion garments of clothing that are made each year, but companies might not be quick to cut down on production.
ThredUp announced that GlobalData found that only 1/3 of clothing manufacturers they surveyed will cut back production if they find resale to be successful, still a far cry from displacing the huge amount of waste produced each year by the fashion industry. With most manufacturers going to be producing at the same rate regardless of the secondhand industry, we will just be streamlining the life cycle of apparel straight from the manufacturer to the landfill.
Alternatively, we could instead find this excess clothing making its way to secondhand apps. There are tons of cases of sellers already dropshipping clothing and tricking buyers into thinking they are purchasing ethical secondhand clothing, when in reality they are buying poorly made Aliexpress fast-fashion. When we combine this with Gen Z’s urge to consume more under the guise that it is ethical consumption, secondhand purchasing might have an inverse effect on sustainability efforts. Instead of purchasing some fast-fashion directly, Gen Z could find themselves accidentally purchasing a lot of fast-fashion under the assumption that they were purchasing ethically.
Unfortunately, sustainable purchasing might not look as easy as we hoped. Navigating this changing landscape of secondhand clothing is a difficult task, and the easiest step towards a more sustainable initiative is committing to moderation. Ethical consumption loses its value when it is done in excess, and before the consumer worries about where they are purchasing from, they should worry about purchasing less. Gen Z is taking a step in the right direction by taking an initiative towards greener habits when it comes to clothing, but if it is not done correctly, it will all be for naught.