Consumers’ growing attention to sustainability issues is driving significant growth in the recommerce space, particularly online clothing resale. Already gaining momentum prepandemic, the trend has been juiced by store closures and tightened budgets over the past year. Research firm Cowen COWN +1.9% now predicts recommerce (including resale, rental and subscription models) will account for 14% of the apparel, footwear and accessories market by 2024, up from about 7% in 2020. Resale platform ThredUp suggests that apparel resale alone will be a $64 billion market by 2024.
The forecast figures show that the recommerce opportunity is too big for fashion companies to ignore and is quickly becoming a core component of the consumer-brand relationship. For those who may have felt resale was antithetical to what brands are all about, it’s time to wake up and engage the new world. But while the likes of Stella McCartney, Levi’s, Lululemon and Patagonia have moved on the trend, and while sustainability-based startup brands such as Another Tomorrow are founded around it, scaling recommerce is a whole new challenge. Many brands have neither the technology nor the know-how to address it—and they risk being left behind as a result.
The dismal statistics are likely familiar to most. The World Economic Forum estimates that clothing production has roughly doubled in the last 20 years and that people bought 60% more garments in 2014 than in 2000, but kept them for only half as long. According to the Ellen Macarthur Foundation, “the equivalent of one garbage truck full of clothes is burned or dumped in a landfill every second.” On the face of it, the data suggest consumers are not focused on sustainability issues. Otherwise, why would they be buying more and using it less?
But there’s also no shortage of anecdotal and research data showing that Gen Zers and millennials in particular are values-driven consumers who are increasingly looking for brands that are transparent about their sustainability bona fides. A 2019 consumer survey from First Insight found that 62% of both Gen Zers and millennials prefer to buy from sustainable brands. Some of these younger consumers now shop almost exclusively secondhand for apparel and footwear because it gives them access to higher-quality products they might not otherwise be able to afford, while also allowing them to minimize their consumption footprint and reinforce their social credentials.