How The Vintage & Resale Economy Is Finding Its Voice
A habit that spiked during the pandemic, resale and vintage shopping is projected to surpass fast fashion over the next decade. From the red carpet to the streets, Dan Ahwa unpacks the cultural shift
There’s a skit from the TV series Portlandia where comedian Carrie Brownstein sheepishly enters a clothing consignment store with a collection of her treasured hand-me-downs to sell.
The bitchy sales assistant, played by Carrie’s cohort Fred Armisen, unloads her garbage bag of unwanted clothes, gingerly taking out each garment between his thumb and index finger in disgust, accompanied by a sniffing commentary.
“Oh my God, do you live on a banana farm? Many of these clothes we can’t take because of the smell ... and some of the designs aren’t sellable anymore,” he says patronisingly, before settling on a collection of shorts he pays $4 for — which in consignment world means Carrie receives a paltry $1.65 cut for her troubles.
As Carrie leaves, Fred begins installing a window display with his newly acquired shorts underneath a loud sign that reads ‘Saggy Ass Sad Girl Shorts — Now In Stock.’ Like most things in fashion, what’s old is new again.
There’s a current of nostalgia sweeping through the cultural zeitgeist right now; a torrent of references pinned to Pinterest moodboards, outfit inspiration from bygone eras tucked into archived folders, pre-loved finds added to the wishlists and shopping carts of virtual checkouts left in limbo, waiting for us to make a decision about buying something that used to mean something to someone else.
In its recent resale report for 2021, the online consignment store ThredUp revealed the uptake in thrift shopping during the pandemic is introducing the concept to people who pre-pandemic wouldn’t have given secondhand clothes another thought.
The global secondhand market is expected to grow significantly from 24 billion dollars to 51 billion dollars in the next five years.
By 2028, resale will be 1.5 times bigger than fast fashion, and used items are forecasted to account for an average of 13 per cent of people’s wardrobes.
Murray Lambell, the GM of eBay UK, told The Guardian that over the past year, sales of pre-loved fashion and homewares reached 60 million items, citing a change in mindset driven by consumers under 30.
While resale and vintage shopping growth is partly brought on by people looking for more cost-effective ways to buy clothes during frugal times, it’s unsurprising a more socially aware demographic is driving this shift, with 18 to 37-year-olds buying pre-owned apparel, footwear or accessories 2.5 times faster than other age groups (according to ThredUp).
“The demand for pre-owned clothing has increased significantly over the last decade as younger customers have become more aware of the environmental impact of fashion, turning to pre-owned and the resale market as a way to access desirable fashion in an eco-friendly way,” says the team from Vestiaire Collective, the popular French-based pre-owned luxury fashion marketplace that launched in 2009 and takes up to 35 per cent commission on items sold.
Depop, the London-based peer-to-peer social e-commerce company is distinct from other resale platforms with 90 per cent of its users under the age of 26. Boasting a 300 per cent year-over-year increase in items sold during the pandemic, the user-friendly experience Depop offers is just right for the market — all that’s required is a phone and a Paypal account.
Here, users have the convenience of selling their own niche items such as crochet crop tops, while keeping tabs on a vintage Dior saddle bag they’re saving up for. It’s the democratisation of fashion.
“What’s really interesting is that we’re not just a place to buy and sell — we’ve fostered a community of like-minded creatives, young entrepreneurs and sustainable enthusiasts who are truly transforming the fashion industry,” says Aria Wigneswaran, the general manager for Depop Australia and New Zealand. “This is a generation that’s not being served by the current industry — it’s hard to break into, trends are set from the top and Gen Z doesn’t want to be told what to wear.”
At a time when authenticity is the pinnacle of self-expression, vintage clothes and accessories can help reinforce individuality.
“The pandemic has shone a light on the values of community and sustainability more than ever,” explains Aria. “There has been a shift towards more mindful consumption — people are inclined to align their purchases with their values, and turn to secondhand as an affordable way to find individual fashion items. Along with shopping for trends, Gen Z has a definite desire for unique, one-of-a-kind pieces that no one else will have and this includes designer vintage pieces.”
It’s about a mental shift too, says Aimee Egdell, founder and owner of popular local consignment business Tatty’s. “I’m not going to lie, the biggest shifts in our customer base have been in the last two years. Secondhand and designer vintage clothing are now seen as an option for all shoppers. Customers are proud to buy secondhand and to resell — the shame has finally lifted. I say this as having been in the industry for 39 years (my mum founded and ran The Recycle Boutique).”
Aimee says there’s a palpable excitement from customers purchasing high-end wardrobe items, and an increase in those who are comfortable to spend money on these pieces. “Local labels becoming sought-after, as much as international, is also a heartwarming change to observe,” she says.
It’s a sentiment echoed by sustainable fashion stalwart Stella McCartney, who explained at the recent Cop26 summit that fast fashion’s time is up. “It’s not the future. Resale, renting, vintage, charity shops, community... that’s what the youth of tomorrow want.”
At a mass level, Hallenstein Brothers and Glassons house a range of selected vintage from L.A. to complement its main collections, adopting a similar model to overseas retailers Urban Outfitters and Asos. It’s a section of the chain store framework that sits incongruously with the business model of these big retailers who are still churning out product for their main collections — which begs the question, is this all still lip service?
Surely the point of shopping secondhand clothing is the opportunity to slow down the churn and ultimately encourage a truly circular economy. If buying and selling vintage is matching the pace (and ultimately surpassing) that of fast fashion, doesn’t this defeat the purpose? The gentrification of old clothes is a problem. Buying secondhand clothing and marking the price up to resell is a business model as old as time, but the impact this has on smaller businesses like our beloved charity stores means they’re the ones who lose out.
Some of the impetus behind big retailers moving into the secondhand market is the mounting pressure to reduce the environmental footprint of fashion.
According to a report published by the United Nations Environment Programme and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, the fashion industry is responsible for 10 per cent of annual global carbon emissions — more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined.
While buying and selling vintage won’t solve this problem entirely, it will help refocus and re-educate us about our complex relationship with clothes.
“Earlier this year, we launched a partnership with Alexander McQueen, with a focus on circularity, quality and durability, aiming to transform the industry by placing resale at the heart of the brand’s business model,” says Vestiaire Collective. “We’ve also teamed up with Ganni to launch a series of videos sharing tips to dressing more sustainably, which helps to keep pushing for more integrated circular and responsible fashion practices for everyone’s wardrobe.”
Renting clothes is not a new phenomenon, with local business Designer Wardrobe leading the local conversation since it launched in 2013, focusing on its online operations after closing its physical stores in October due to Covid.
In August, Our Closet entered the market, offering shoppers the chance to fulfill their red-carpet dreams at a cost much lower than retail. At a luxury level, Jean Paul Gaultier launched its own rental service in October. Announced as part of its circular e-commerce revamp, the rental service comes off the back of Diane von Furstenberg’s own subscription rental platform, DVF Link, offering customers the chance to borrow her iconic signature wrap dresses.
Despite this growing byproduct of the vintage resell economy, the renting market still needs to reconcile its own issues of managing its high carbon emissions from drycleaning, transport and packaging.
A little high-profile endorsement doesn’t hurt the agenda as the politics of dressing the red carpet has slowly morphed into a more inclusive business thanks in part to the growing awareness around more sustainable choices.
Actor Emma Watson — a celebrity who had already been thinking about mindful red-carpet dressing pre-pandemic — attended the Earthshot Prize ceremony in London wearing a look created by rising American designer Harris Reed made from upcycled wedding dresses found at an Oxfam charity.
Fellow attendee, The Duchess of Cambridge, wore a lavender Alexander McQueen dress she’d previously worn to an event in 2011, this time updated with a gold belt.
Kim Kardashian was one of the first mass celebrities to embrace vintage on the red-carpet, working with her team of stylists to acquire looks from rarely opened archives at Thierry Mugler and Jean Paul Gaultier. Lady Gaga’s natural obsession with vintage fashion stems back to 2011, when the star chose to wear archival Versace for two months straight.
Fast forward to her role as Patrizia Reggiani in the newly released Ridley Scott film House of Gucci this summer, where Gaga worked closely with costume designer Janty Yates to recreate the high-octane Italiana glamour of the specific period during the early 1980s.
Rather than shirk from the film’s scandalous plotline which centres around the real-life murder of Maurizio Gucci, the grandson of the brand’s founder, the house has given the film its blessing, offering carte blanche access to its official archives. In September, the brand launched the Gucci Vault, an online collection of vintage Gucci sourced from the likes of eBay housed alongside work by emerging designers.
The following month, Google revealed searches for vintage Gucci had increased 92 per cent this year. But it’s the woke generation propelling the message forward.
It’s 23-year-old American beauty influencer and social media personality Bretman Rock with 17.9 million Instagram followers wearing a cowl-neck feathered Roberto Cavalli dress to the VMA Awards in September — the exact same dress worn by the late R’n’B singer Aaliyah to the same awards show 20 years ago.
It’s 18-year-old singer Olivia Rodrigo who wore a strapless mermaid-hem gown constructed from bright coral satin lining, wrapped with layers of magenta tulle from Atelier Versace’s spring/summer 2001 haute couture collection at the same awards.
It’s reality TV stars like couture client and socialite Jaime Xie of Netflix series Bling Empire’s balloon-shaped leopard print Roberto Cavalli gown from spring 2005 worn on the red carpet at the Venice Film Festival, or her parade of rare archival looks from Dior and Balenciaga worn to Paris Fashion Week in October.
Described by her stylist Law Roach as the ‘princess of the archive’, Xie’s remarkable one-of-a-kind looks capture the essence of what haute couture vintage means right now — the ultimate antithesis of the sometimes over hyped and over marketed world of ready-to-wear.
CLICK & COLLECT
Even Vivienne Westwood’s iconic corsets from the early 90s have become the new status symbol. When a corset from the designer’s fall 1990 ‘Portrait’ collection featuring a print from 18th-century decorative French Rococo painter Francois Boucher (a print recently revived by the designer for her fall 2021 collection) was worn by Dorit Kemsley from the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills for her to-camera confessional interviews, it sent a ripple of surprise from the fashion industry.
Here was someone from a Bravo reality TV show wearing a piece of couture history, a volte-face from the typical uniform of a Beverly Hills housewife — a bodycon peplum dress with peep-toe platform Christian Louboutin heels and a garishly large designer handbag.
“I think buying vintage is definitely a thing of the future, not the past, as people recognise it’s a way to be environmentally conscious,” Kemsley explained to American Vogue in June. “You can purchase these pieces and keep them perfect and ready to sit in a museum, or you can wear them like I do. I might get a little bit of makeup on it or something, but I want to enjoy it, because for me — it’s like candy to a kid.”
Described by Vogue as the ‘king of corsets’, founder and owner of Pechuga Vintage in Los Angeles and avid vintage collector Johnny Valencia is a go-to source for hard-to-find vintage couture — particularly from Westwood’s back catalogue. “I have an undying love for Vivienne and period dressing,” Valencia says, speaking on the phone from L.A. “Vivienne was a genius for taking this garment that once really oppressed women, and putting a zipper in it. It was her way of saying ‘f*** the patriarchy’.”
Valencia is on speed dial for the likes of celebrity stylists Law Roach and Kollin Carter, and was recently commissioned by The Wall Street Journal’s luxury magazine WSJ to create a custom ostrich feather hat for cover star Lil Nas X.
Responsible for introducing these rare gems to pop music misfits and drag artists including Cardi B, Doja Cat and Violet Chackhi, Salvadoran-born Valencia says he’s grateful to be part of a cultural shift toward the value of vintage fashion, especially when it celebrates people of colour who are historically underrepresented in the rarefied, Euro-centric world of haute couture.
“I’ve always just wanted to dress my friends and people who look like me, a Salvadorian immigrant. I recall walking into a Dolce and Gabbana boutique when I was 11. I asked the sales associate the price of a bag. He said it was $800. I thought ‘Oh my God it’s like a month’s worth of rent!’. Since then on I’ve never been afraid to ask for the price of things, that it’s okay to feel like ‘I deserve this.’ ”
Valencia’s passion not only extends to educating his clients about the historical value of vintage but also its significant part in helping us change our attitudes to consuming.
“The pandemic has given people the time to do their research, to hone in on what they really want. There’s a certain artistry to what this business is, to what Pechuga is. I want people to know that you can consume slowly and that you don’t need something new every single day. As Dries van Noten says, ‘Just because something is old, doesn’t mean it’s no longer beautiful’."
This story was originally published in Viva Magazine – Volume Six
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