Who can forget how Carrie Bradshaw, played by Sarah Jessica Parker in Sex And The City, epitomized Fashionista-Meets-Badass. Today Sarah Jessica Parker can afford luxury buys, but like Carrie, knows her way around a thrift store. In a recent cover story she explained why she will only buy secondhand clothes for her son James: after seeing the film The True Cost, and learning of the labor and conditions that enable the creation of fast fashion.
There’s a new norm in town, and SJP’s current role in the new HBO series, Divorce encapsulates the zeitgeist of the day just as it did in Sex And The City. Think: Carrie moving from Manhattan to Westchester and transforming from badass fashionista to badass mom. In a case of art reflecting demographics and Millennials as a buying force to be reckoned with, SJP’s latest role has avoided her wearing any designer labels, with the costume designer of the show, Arjun Bhasin, telling Fashionista, “I didn’t set foot in Bergdorf or Barneys or Saks. We did all the clothes from flea markets, vintage [shopping], eBay, and Etsy.”
While secondhand and vintage may have been the secret weapon of designers and fashion insiders like Carrie, in the era of online shopping, Snapchat and Instagram, resale is no longer a Seventh Avenue secret. More and more savvy shoppers, from busy moms to style seekers, are searching online resale sites in pursuit of one-of-a-kind accessories, everyday basics, and stylish clothing at huge discounts. If there is one thing that the Millennial consumer wants more than anything else, it is the ability to customize and be unique – if they can do so while saving money and saving the planet, all the better.
thredUP Reinvents Resale
When Millennial dad James Reinhart started thredUP seven years ago it was a site where parents could swap boxes of used children’s clothing–it was a practical solution for his own kids’ outgrown clothes. In 2012 he tried an experiment: he sent a handful of his customers large bags and told them to put into them whatever clothes they didn’t want anymore. If they sent the bags back, he would buy what he wanted to resell on the site. When about 70 of 100 people sent the bags back—a far better rate than at which users were swapping boxes–James knew he was on to something.
Since then, as described in an article in the Washington Post, thredUP has, “reinvented the resale business 20 years after eBay.” The article describes how thredUP, along with like-minded digital apparel resale sites such as Tradesy and Poshmark, are attempting to remake the secondhand clothes market by innovating on both sides of the consignment equation in a way that could meaningfully expand the ranks of people willing to shop and sell goods this way.
There are tangible signs that the thredUP model is getting traction; the company received 3.8 million items from sellers in 2014 and $81 million in fresh funding in 2015 in a Goldman Sachs led round, with backing by Trinity, RedQueen, UpFront Ventures, Highland Capital, Nextview and a few private investors.
Rocking The Hashtag
#badassmoms is a thredUP series that celebrates the women who are defining the new norm. Jenna Bray, Senior Director, Brand Marketing at thredUP told me that #badassmoms began as a supportive community that shared stories of moms shopping on thredUP. The program has resonated, particularly with Millennial moms. Over the past year, social posts from the program have received 5 times higher engagement than any of thredUP’s other content. In fact, in September, thredUP’s first ever #badassmoms’ Facebook Live yielded more than 200,000 comments, views and shares.
According to Jenna, moms are ready to celebrate themselves and are totally rocking the hashtag. As she passionately told me, “I adore the #badassmoms program, because it really is our archetypal customer. These are women that are juggling life, work, family, financial pressures, and defining their own norm, and making it work. Being a badass mom is empowering. Moms self-identify with the phrase and see it as a compliment, taking pride in the acknowledgment. It’s grown in force at a time when the national dialogue has women across America talking about issues they care deeply about.”
Paula Sutter, former president of DVF and current member of the thredUP board said, “Vintage used to be reserved for these high society, or fashion involved people that had a really distinct eye and with all the time to troll through and find the perfect pieces in vintage markets. Now we’ve managed to make it possible for these savvy shoppers–these busy badass mom style seekers–to access these one-of-a-kind pieces.”
“The treasure hunt is so much more acceptable now,” Sutter continued. “They can find what they’re looking for, maybe they don’t have time to thrift shop through the streets of their local towns and cities as we can. But now they can do it with a glass of wine in the evening when the kids have gone to bed, from their sofa, on an app.”
Resale Is $$$exy
The secondhand industry is gaining momentum. Growth in the resale market is expected to outpace all e-commerce and retail sectors over the next 10 years with a $25 billion total resale market being predicted by 2025.
The growth in online resale is fueled by wallet capture from adjacent markets such as value retail and offline thrift. Value retail, which includes off-price retailers, outlet stores, discounters, and mainstream department stores, is a $175 billion market and growing. Offline thrift is a $12 billion market today and an increasing portion of this market is moving online in search of a wider selection of brands and styles.
According to Jenna, if 1 in 100 American households shopped resale, they would collectively save over $1.4 billion every year; enough for each of those households to pay for 2 years of college. Got loans? Resale is your new BFF. From a $$$ saving perspective, if 1 in 100 American households cleaned out they could collectively generate $297 million in resale earnings every year; enough money to cover a year’s food expenses for over 43,000 families.
Resale Is Sustainable
As The True Cost showed, fast fashion casts a long dark shadow, and comes with a huge cost to both people and planet. While many fashion houses are adopting more sustainable manufacturing practices including relooking raw materials and adopting compostable biodegradable packaging, by shopping resale, the consumer can play a major role in mitigating the environmental cost of fast fashion.
As Jenna explained to me, “If 1 in 100 American households shopped resale, it would save over 1.1 billion pounds of CO2 emissions – that’s the equivalent of planting 24 million trees per year. Over 99 billion gallons of water every year would be also be saved.”
As the thredUP website explains, “When customers clean out their closets, they make room to fill their closets with fresh new items. As the velocity of closet turnover increases, consumers get more use out of the clothing in the ecosystem and fewer items end up in landfills – domestically or abroad. In other words, more people share the enjoyment of every clothing item.”
The company highlights that as an industry, more needs to be done on the sustainability front, giving a frightening factoid that 85% of all clothing that gets donated ends up in landfills, and that only 15% of what is donated ends up being recycled–most of that recycled product ends up overseas.
The impact of clothing headed to resale as opposed to landfill is huge. Jenna told me that if 1 in 100 American households cleaned out and sent their clothes to resale, it would keep 95 million pounds of clothing out of landfill every year–that’s the equivalent weight of 1,500 recycling trucks.
A final seasonal sustainability factoid: if 1 in 100 American households cleaned out, they would collectively generate 140 million items that could be resold or reused; that’s enough fabric to create a blanket big enough to cover the island of Manhattan.
Does thredUP have a secret sauce or is the momentum the result of excellence through harmony from strategy-meets-structure-and-culture? Same horse, different color. The bottom line is that thredUP is making resale sexy in the city–particularly New York, San Francisco, Miami and Dallas. They are making resale colorful, fun, super-easy and about more than being just fashion-conscious. thredUP is about a much broader, global consciousness, and that kind of style looks good on just about everybody.
Gail is a Chicago-based food scientist who writes for leading US and European food and technology publications. A devotee of all things shiny, electronic and buzzing, with a passion for building on-line communities and conservation, she is an entrepreneur and founder of a sustainability and social media startup who moonlights on weekends as DJ Moongirl on Moonalice Radio. Clients range from rock bands and media companies to high-tech startups.