Secondhand sites such as ThredUp, Poshmark and the RealReal have become destinations as eco-friendly alternatives to fast fashion. As resale goes mainstream — the market is projected to triple in three years — department stores have become an unexpected next step to woo younger shoppers.
“We want our customers to feel good not only about what they’re buying, but how they’re buying it,” said Olivia Kim, Nordstrom’s vice president of creative projects.
The secondhand offerings take up space once filled with Burberry, a luxury British clothier, at the Manhattan store. Nordstrom also is buying back customers’ used clothing, shoes, jackets and accessories, which will be cleaned and repaired as needed before being sold. The company will pay as much as 60 percent of an item’s resale value, in the form of a gift card. The initiative, known as See You Tomorrow, also will accept merchandise by mail.
On the website, the mix of resale items listed Friday ranged in price from $7 for an Adidas tank top to a $2,557 Pamella Roland evening gown. There also were designer options for men — Moncler jackets, Versace loafers, Tumi wallets — and Burberry rainboots for children.
Consignment shops, thrift stores and garage sales have been around for decades. But analysts say the mash-up between traditional retailers and used-clothing purveyors is pushing the limits of how, and where, secondhand items are sold.
“The resale business is the trend of the moment,” said Mark Cohen, director of retail studies at Columbia Business School and the former chief executive of Sears Canada. “But whether this idea of bringing it into the mainstream department store has legs or not, well, that remains to be seen.”
Macy’s and J.C. Penney have partnered with ThredUp to sell secondhand items in their department stores, while Madewell is offering used pairs of its jeans for $50 a pop. Neiman Marcus, which last year took a stake in the high-end resale site Fashionphile, collects “preloved” handbags and jewelry. Even the Kardashians have gotten into the game; they offload their Max Mara jumpsuits, Valentino handbags and other designer apparel on Kardashian Kloset.
“Through extensive research over many months, we know consumers appreciate new brands,” said Michelle Wlazlo, J.C. Penney’s chief merchandising officer. “The customer demand for secondhand is strong.”
The $7 billion resale market is expected to triple by 2023, according to a report prepared for ThredUp by the research firm GlobalData. The company says 56 million women bought secondhand items in 2018, a 27 percent jump from 44 million a year earlier.
ThredUp, founded in 2009, has processed more than 100 million pieces of clothing in the past decade, according to its president, Anthony Marino. The site’s most loyal shoppers, he said, range from teenagers to 40-somethings.
“Whether you’re shopping at Target or Walmart or Nordstrom or Macy’s, customers are saying we’d love to see secondhand products here because we’re buying it anyway,” he said. “Retailers are realizing that the person who buys secondhand clothing is not somebody else’s customer — it’s their customer.”
Hundreds of secondhand tops, pants and accessories were on display at a Macy’s store in downtown Washington on a recent morning. The ThredUp section — nestled between Guess Jeans and Anne Klein in the women’s department — was filled with mall finds: a J. Crew shirt dress (marked $34.99), an American Eagle sweater ($11.99) and a silver Victoria’s Secret bag ($24.99).
Analysts said the pieces are illustrative of modern retail, where fast fashion and even faster-changing consumer tastes have created an endless churn of flimsy clothing. Taken together, Macy’s says, they represent a growing opportunity. The company now sells used clothing and handbags at 40 of its 630 stores.
“Young people are becoming much more environmentally conscious,” said Milton Pedraza, chief executive of the Luxury Institute, a New York-based market research firm. “They’ve shifted their mentality and are saying, ‘We don’t have to be gluttonous about fashion anymore.’"
But not all consumers think it’s a good idea, and analysts say retailers such as Macy’s and J.C. Penney risk alienating loyal shoppers. Kimberly Ross, 57, of Baton Rouge, La., says she was perplexed when secondhand handbags began popping up at the local Dillard’s store a few years ago. Though she occasionally goes to consignment shops, she says selling used items next to new ones tarnishes the reputation of the retailer.
“Bottom line for me is that used merchandise does not belong in a department store,” she said. “I’m not wealthy, but when I decide to treat myself to an overpriced designer bag, I want it to be brand new.”
Others say combining new with used is long overdue. After all, car dealers have been doing it for years.
“It’s not a zero-sum game,” said Tony Drockton, whose line of Hammitt handbags are often sold alongside used designer bags at Dillard’s and Von Maur department stores. “I own plenty of different brands of jeans and jackets and shirts and shoes. The smart consumer wants a nice assortment of new and secondhand."
Monica Ricci says she buys almost everything secondhand. She scours thrift stores, yard sales and a growing crop of online shops such as Tradesy, Poshmark and ThredUp for gently used items in search of a new home.
It saves money, the 54-year-old says — and more importantly, keeps clothing out of landfills.
“There is such glut of cheap, disposable fashion out there,” she said. “The last thing I want to do is contribute more waste."