Millennials are driving a re-sale clothing boom

At first glance, the small boutique looks like many others that line Newbury Street in Boston: Sleek glass shelves and chrome racks are filled with luxury purses, coats, and other accessories arranged by color, designer, or occasion. Despite appearances, all these items in Luxury Garage Sale’s pop-up store share a unique trait  – each one has been previously owned. 

But this isn’t your typical thrift store or charity shop. It’s an example of a retail trend that is emerging with surprising momentum. Instead of waiting for clearance sales on the season’s latest styles, millions of people are spending their dollars in the resale market. From Millennials trying to pay off debts and save for a down payment to young professionals looking for bargains on otherwise unattainable items, the resale industry is expected to double its sales to $41 billion by 2022, according to independent research firm GlobalData. 

It’s a trend that many applaud as progress against the tide of fast fashion that has led to offshore manufacturing operations in China, India, and Bangladesh infamous for cheap labor and lenient worker regulations – often in violation of human rights.

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Consumers are increasingly making deliberate purchases – whether it is an ethical choice or to find one-of-a-kind items, says Trish Lukasik, chief executive officer of Chicago-based Luxury Garage Sale, which has several locations in addition to pop-up stores across the United States. “[Millennials are] really helping drive a pattern of responsibility and not just accepting the way things have been.”

Activists have long pointed to the toll clothing production also takes on the environment. A single cotton T-shirt, for example, requires 2,700 liters (713 gallons) of water to manufacture – the equivalent amount one person drinks in 2-1/2 years, according to the World Wildlife Fund. 

And to an outwardly focused, eco-
conscious generation that grew up with the mantra “reduce, reuse, recycle,” the savings on a cheap item isn’t worth the overall cost.  

“Once I started being informed of the amount of waste that we as consumers produce, it really struck a chord in me and made me sit back and look at my life, my closet, my things I owned,” says Brookelynn Weaver, a college student studying fashion merchandising who recognizes the problems with her future industry. 

In high school, Ms. Weaver started selling her clothes, which she mainly buys at resale stores with an eye for current trends, on peer-to-peer marketplace apps like Depop and Poshmark. On these apps, customers talk directly with prior owners of an item to assure them of the quality of the clothing.

She’s not alone. Millennials – who account for 28 percent of all daily per-
person consumer spending –  are increasingly choosing to spend in the resale market, in part because doing so extends the life of clothing by 2.2 years on average, which reduces its carbon, water, and waste impact by 73 percent, according to a report by thredUP, an online thrift store.

But that doesn’t have to mean wearing sensible shoes and brown corduroy jackets. And part of the immense growth of the industry can be accredited to business owners who’ve made resale relevant and youthful.

“People can often look at being sustainable as something punishing or difficult, but with clothes it’s fun,” says Amy Redfern, a resale boutique owner in Boothbay, Maine.

Ms. Redfern, who opened her own consignment curating store, Amelia, in July, got her start as a creative consultant before branching out into resale clothing. She sells mainly pre-owned luxury clothing items at her bricks-and-mortar boutique, and offers personal styling services whether for a one-time occasion or an ongoing wardrobe rejuvenation.

“You get a beautiful outfit that makes you feel great; you didn’t break the bank buying it; and you’re contributing to making a choice that helps keep things out of the textile waste stream,” Redfern says. “It’s exciting that you get to make a sustainable choice while also feeling really good.”

Granted, the resale industry has a long way to go before catching up to the $400 billion retail market, but its rapid growth  reveals an uptick in consumer mindfulness.

“Obviously it’s very Millennial driven right now, but if it’s done in a way where … you’re trying to teach people and make people a little more aware, and you’re not just trying to sound like you know more than everyone else, people are willing to listen,” Weaver says.

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