Millennials and Pre-loved Clothing

As a design student, I always shopped in second-hand clothing stores and charity shops, living close to Leeds and then in London, there was a huge amount of choice. As I could sew, I also customized my finds. Even as a schoolgirl, I never wanted to look the same as anyone else, I loved clothes but had a limited budget. The second-hand or thrifting market (I prefer the title pre-loved) was perfect for me, much to my mum’s dismay.

Shopping in charity shops and second-hand clothing stores used to be for students, low income shoppers and the more bohemian. But the expansion and diversification of the used clothing market is attracting a new clientele, many of them younger shoppers who don’t even remember when vintage was in fashion before. Millennials are turning to second-hand buying at a rate of 250% faster than any other age groups. Mercari noted in its research, that half of all millennial’s said they would rather own fewer, high-end designer brand items than more inexpensive, mass-produced clothing. A recent UK survey claims that more than half of the consumers in the key 25-34 age group are buying second-hand fashion. As well as that, 50% of them have repaired damaged or worn-out clothes and further down the age scale, 75% of 16-24-year-old Britons say they have swapped fashion items with others or would be interested in doing so in the future.

So, it’s worth considering why second-hand fashion is now so much more popular. Younger consumers have a few specific qualities that have driven the growth of the re-sale and second-hand market and that also has implications for our planet. In a world where social media is king, the need to repeatedly produce Insta-worthy or Pinterest-worthy posts is quickly driving young people to expand their wardrobe’s. If you don’t want to be seen wearing the same item twice, you’ll either need a huge budget, or you’ll need to look to more economical ways to subsidise your look. Vintage items and rare finds can be proudly shown off in Instagram posts to envious followers, in a way that buying on the high-street doesn’t.

Additionally, 50% of the same age group are turning their fashion into cash and selling unwanted clothes. (The number doing this for the wider age range is still only 35%) Websites like Vinted can be used through a phone App and are incredibly quick and easy to use. I have been buying and selling through Vinted for several years and I would highly recommend it. Buying and selling second-hand clothing is becoming easier and more fashionable. Consumers no longer have to go to charity stores and can buy on eBay or via higher-end resale sites. Charities are increasingly offering upscale items in their online stores and merchandising their high-street stores to a high standard. The fashion industry are starting to embrace resale, with some companies like Topshop and TK Maxx offering pre-loved items for sale. Fashion rental, which has been around for decades, mostly for evening wear, is also having a resurgence.

There is a really a clear trend towards adopting second-hand fashion, whether it’s for ethical reasons, money-saving purposes or style choices. Ethical fashion is becoming more important to us, but when trying to apply ethical principles to general fashion clothing, many UK consumers say they find it difficult to know which fashion retailers are truly ‘ethical’. Researchers at Mintel spoke to over 1,800 fashion shoppers of all ages and said that “savvy young Britons are buying, selling, mending, swapping and renting their clothes”.

Vogue magazine asked its younger readers about buying pre-loved fashion, many of the comments were similar, to the one below:

 Shopping vintage or second-hand has always allowed me to feel individual, and to find pieces which excite me. I have since become more conscious of the ethical and environmental impact.

The second-hand clothing market could not be growing at a better time. Producing and discarding clothing continues to have a huge impact on the environment, even more so in recent decades because of the shorter “life” of most fashion clothing.

As the world’s economy continues to suffer the monumental impacts of coronavirus and reduced consumer spending, the clothing re-sale market is likely to be an even bigger competitor to classic retail (i.e. buying new). Having less-expensive clothes delivered to your door via courier is also likely to compete with shopping in a physical store. I wonder how this will affect the ailing high street. Many well- know fashion retailers are struggling, some well-know brands have even disappeared from the high-street all together. The last few pieces of clothing, I purchased were from a charity shop and an online second- hand clothing website. I rarely find clothing I like in shops now. Fashion retailers seem to be out of touch with what consumers actually want to buy.

Thrifting, it seems to be the way forward, particularly among young (and even more mature) British fashion shoppers.