Vintage, thrifting, second-hand, resale. Depending on your level of interest and integration you know it by its many names yet it amounts to the same thing: buying and wearing someone else's clothes. But that's not all this growing segment of retail means; for many it offers individuality, affordability, and that feel-good moment of rescuing an item from the landfill and reducing the environmental footprint. This also makes it the retail unicorn, that rare occasion when a single store can appeal to stylish fashionistas, value-conscious consumers and passionate environmentalists. And, as one of the few segments of retail seeing positive growth, we can rejoice for shopping that is good for both the economy and the environment.
According to research, the resale industry for apparel and jewelry in the U.S. has annual revenues of close to $4 billion, and with more than 25,000 resale, consignment and not for profit shops across the country, about 16 - 18 percent of Americans will shop at a thrift store during a given year. This is significant when compared to other brick and mortar options: 11.4 percent of Americans shop in factory outlet malls, 19.6 percent in apparel stores and 21.3 percent in major department stores. Vintage and resale finds itself sitting comfortably between outlet mall and apparel stores and its share of market is growing.
Richard Wainwright, co-founder of Los Angeles based vintage pop-up A Current Affair attributes the growth of this segment to technology. He shares:
"The traditional runway to retail calendar has a problem with response time. We're seeing collections 6 months before they hit the stores, and by that time we're bored with them and excited about the next season. Vintage shop and dealers can respond much quicker to trends and curate an aesthetic that isn't tied to a specific season."
While vintage and resale calls forths the cliche 'everything old is new again,' it goes further than that, states Wainwright, "Street style blogs inspire their readership to create a look that is unique and so many bloggers have embraced vintage as a way to develop a signature style."
Vintage style blogger and buyer for Pinup Girl Clothing, Jasmin Rodriguez concurs, "Buying vintage offers shoppers unique pieces to add to their wardrobe that won't break the bank. With so many companies like H&M, Zara and Urban Outfitters creating mass-produced clothing, it is hard to keep your originality without looking like the person sitting next to you. Buying vintage supports individuality."
Supporting individuality is one aspect that appeals, the other is price point. The resale market is blossoming thanks to value-conscious consumers. At a time when consumers are feeling the pinch to spend less, vintage and thrifting offer an opposing (and ethical) choice to cut-rate or fast fashion.
That's the point for Ariana-Boussard-Reifel, founder and creative director of Mode Marteau Vintage, "In this day and age our wallets, not our votes, are our most important political tool. Food, clothing and daily necessities are our biggest discretionary purchases so it is vital that we make those spending choice with personal ethics in mind." Words that ring true after the recent press coverage surrounding the Rana Plaza tragedy anniversary, worker strikes in Cambodia, and more factory closures due to safety in Bangladesh.
"By buying vintage or used clothing," Boussard-Reifel continues. "You are doing good in a variety of ways: you are choosing not to sponsor the creation of new products, all of which, even the most sustainable create a burden on the earth through their manufacturing. You are spending your money somewhere that will benefit a small business or charity and you are acting outside of the consumer culture."
Resale, thrifting, vintage, second-hand shopping, whatever name you choose to give it is a chance to enhance your style with unique pieces, at prices that are very affordable, giving articles of existing clothing a second life and supporting a small or charitable business, all while breaking the vicious cycle of mass production and consumption. A unicorn indeed.