People are not shopping the way they used to. Thanks to the pandemic and the climate crisis, conscious consumerism is becoming the norm. The fashion industry is at the forefront of this change, with second-hand, thrift and vintage shopping on the rise. And it’s not just pre-loved luxury items that people are hunting for; mid-range pieces also promise quality at lower price tags.
The pandemic has shifted consumer mindsets. Lockdown and remote working saw spending on new clothes plummet, with loungewear being the exception. Staying at home also allowed people to re-organize and detox their closets, and rethink their spending.
In the past, the fashion market was predominantly divided into high-street and high-end. But the saying “you get what you pay for” no longer rings true. Fast fashion might be cheap, but the environmental cost and links to human rights abuses are considerable. At the other end of the scale, luxury brands continue to raise their prices. In addition to superior craftsmanship, materials and longevity, customers are paying a premium for the brand name.
Middle-of-the range brands are becoming what savvy and conscious consumers are investing in. Filling the gap, they include labels such as Ganni, Staud and Toteme. “They offer elevated essentials without heavy price tags,” says Carmel Harrison, creative director and co-founder of resort wear label Second Summer, who lives in Dubai. “It’s about slow fashion, minimalistic aesthetics and quality without compromising style.”
Education and transparency are on the rise. With this arrives circular fashion, which involves pieces being circulated and reused for as long as possible. Each step of the lifestyle of a garment, shoe or accessory is carefully considered, even its final step, which results in it being decomposed of safely. This means at the beginning of the process, materials and techniques must be non-toxic.
“Designing with the future in mind is just the beginning,” says Valentina Ignatova, co-founder of cult accessories brand By Far. “We believe that we all can learn to buy better, own items for longer, and be more mindful of our choices. And when we are ready to part ways with our well-loved pieces, we can pass them on.”
Collaborating with Vestiaire Collective, a pre-owned online platform with the motto, “the most sustainable fashion is fashion that already exists”, By Far encourages its customers to resell their pre-loved pieces.
“We teamed up with Vestiaire Collective to empower our community to extend the life of their By Far pieces. Their strategy is very aligned with ours on the importance of circularity and more responsible choices,” says Ignatova.
By Far was one of the first labels to foresee second-hand market’s potential. “We get the chance to tap into new consumer segments and expand our customer base. All these factors mean that resale actually serves as an overall growth driver,” says Ignatova.
According to a report by thredUP, an online consignment and thrift store based in the US, the second-hand market is set to double in the next five years, reaching $ 77 billion. This is 11 times faster than the retail clothing sector.
Even global brands such as Farfetch are joining in by launching its Second Life service for luxury handbags. Regionally, Ounass has also taken steps with its Vintage offering.
When it comes to purely second-hand retailers, they are already hugely popular in the US and Europe, with platforms such as Vestiaire Collective, thredUP, Depop, The RealReal and Poshmark.
Although some of these platforms are available in the Middle East, the cost of shipping puts many consumers off using them for both selling and buying. This is especially true for low-cost items, where shipping might be more than the piece itself.
However, the Middle East second-hand market is catching up. The Closet, The Luxury Closet, Garderobe and La Suite are some of the most well-known and well-established platforms in the region.
“The second-hand market was already very successful in Europe, so we decided to develop it in the region,” says Alex Bouvy, co-founder of La Suite.
Housed inside the contemporary homeware store Home & Soul in Dubai, it also has an online platform to showcase its best finds. Unlike other brands, it offers a service where the team can visit its clients’ wardrobes to help select the pieces they will sell. This ensures a level of quality and means they handpick items they know their customers will want. They are also the leading platform for mid-range brands, with Iro, Ulla Johnson and Zadig & Voltaire among the most requested.
There is plenty of supply for the resale market, with thredUP estimating that nine billion clothing items are sitting unused in consumers’ closets. Mid-range items make up a considerable part of this. Unlike fast fashion, the pieces are usually made from good-quality materials with decent craftsmanship, meaning they will last and are desirable. Unlike the luxury market, customers typically don’t have to worry about counterfeits when purchasing them, either.
Selling with these platforms comes with a price, however. This is usually in the form of commission, whereby, once the item is sold, a percentage of the sale goes directly to the platform.
For some, when it comes to selling, especially mid-range items, this doesn’t always make financial sense. Instead, people are turning to social media to unload their items. Harrison is one such seller who created an Instagram page to post her pre-loved pieces. “I decided to use my community to sell my mid-range designer pieces,” says Harrison.
A creative director and stylist, she already had an audience on social media that were fans of her style.
“I sold pieces separately and styled up looks encouraging people to buy the outfit from head to toe. I was very successful and now have friends asking if I can sell their items on the page,” notes Harrison. She is not alone, with fashion lovers in the region flourishing on Facebook, where pages are devoted to style advice and second-hand fashion.
To ensure the circular-fashion system works, consumers must take care of their pieces by carefully cleaning, washing and repairing them. Once the item has lost its desirability, then it’s time to swap, sell, redesign or rent, instead of simply discarding.
Updated: May 04, 2022, 4:47 AM