Clothing retailers seizing second-hand opportunity as fast fashion fades
“We love when we see things come back into our store, because it means that they’ve had a cycle of life with one kid and they’re ready for another family,” says Elizabeth Shaw, who runs the Calgary shop with business partner Caroline Frain.
Sales at Fresh Kids, which carries maternity, baby and children’s clothes, have more than doubled year over year. And some 25,000 items have been resold since the store opened in 2015.
Between 60 and 70 per cent of sales are online.
“When we put these items on our site, they sell out within seconds,” says Frain. “We have moms tell us they pull over their car when they see our stories (on Instagram).”
Toronto retail expert Bruce Winder says the popularity of clothing resales is no passing fad and there’s no longer a stigma against second-hand.
“It used to be for folks who were maybe down on their luck,” he says. “Now, it’s for everyone, especially young people.”
Winder says environmentally conscious consumers are cooling to “fast fashion” brands and are keen to save money by buying quality preloved items.
Forever 21, known for its cheap and trendy fashions, shuttered its Canadian stores earlier this year.
“New generations don’t have the money,” says Winder, who notes the flat wages, high student debt and astronomical housing costs in some cities.
“Nor do they want to spend the money on full-price clothes, when they can reuse clothes and save that money and put it back into experiences – dining out, travelling, things that they love to do.”
Lauryn Vaughn, founder of high-end Calgary clothing reseller The Upside, says most of her clientele aren’t Gen Z, but professional women between 35 and 44. The Upside consigns upscale brands such as Rag & Bone and Theory.
The business is online right now, but Vaughn says a lot of customers want to see and feel clothes before they buy them. So The Upside is planning to break ground early next year on a showroom, where customers can sip on coffee and consult with stylists while they flip through the racks.
A lot of brick-and-mortar consignment shops have great finds, but it takes work, she says.
“We really want to change up the game for the customer journey. It’s no longer that your arms hurt from trying to move the hangers on a rack to be able to see a piece.”
Kelly Drennan, founder of the sustainability advocacy group Fashion Takes Action, says the traditional motto of “reduce, recycle and reuse” has been updated to add “repurpose, rent, repair and resale.”
She says consumers buy 60 per cent more clothing than they did 20 years ago, but keep garments for half as long. In Canada, about 85 per cent of cast-off clothing ends up in landfills, Drennan says.
It’s mainly because cheap clothes are seen as disposable.
“So when they do get a hole or a button falls off or a seam splits, we tend to just throw it out because we didn’t pay a lot for it and we can go out and replace it fairly cheaply.”
Garment manufacturing has a hefty environmental footprint because it can use enormous amounts of water and pollute rivers with toxic chemicals, Drennan says. There is also a big carbon footprint from making the garments and shipping them around the globe.
Some textiles can be recycled, but the roster of developing countries that can make use of them is always shifting. Clothes often end up sitting in landfills or burned a half a world away.
“If it was more economically feasible to figure out something to do with it locally, then that would be a game-changer. It always costs more to do the right thing,” says Drennan.
“It’s that whole out-of-sight, out-of-mind mentality.”
Harris Kuipers, an online boutique founded earlier this year by long-time friends Laura Harris and Shelley Kuipers, has found an upscale use for clothing castoffs.
They have been designing and making new garments out of used clothing made from high-quality, natural fabrics.
“We didn’t want to be a company that was just making more stuff,” says Kuipers, an entrepreneur who splits her time between Calgary and Salt Spring Island, B.C.
“We’re creating pieces that people will covet and cherish,” adds Harris, a Victoria artist.
“We’ve also said, ‘Use them as long as you can use them well. And when you’re done using them, send them back to us.“’