From ‘nasty thrifts’ to R350 billion industry: Could the secondhand clothing industry eventually kill off fast fashion?

Recently e-commerce, now thrift hunting is changing our shopping habits
Recently e-commerce, now thrift hunting is changing our shopping habits

It’s now predicted that the meteoric rise of the secondhand clothing industry could eventually kill off the global fast fashion business.

But what about in South Africa?

The secondhand clothing industry has become a mega player in the world of fashion – with more and more millennials opting for retro over new. Better for the pocket and the Insta – having that key item for less is making a lot of sense in a 2019 economy. 

Bizcommunity reports that Maria Chenoweth, chief executive of a UK charity organisation, says they don’t have enough resources to “keep feeding this monster". 

And it’s becoming a similar beast in South Africa. 

Fast fashion, much like fast food has always been convenient, easily consumed and has effortlessly settled in South Africa.

With tight budgets and an unquenchable desire for ‘on trend’ clothing at a good price – our courtship has been solid for years. 

But there might be trouble in paradise. Recently, Inditex the biggest fashion group in the world, which operates over 7 200 stores in 93 markets worldwide released a report saying fast fashion made $35 billion (R510 billion) in the US in 2018 – compared to the secondhand market which saw an influx of funds - $24 billion (R350 billion) to be exact.

READ MORE: Is fashion too fast for SA?

A race that might be getting even closer. Like digital creeping up on print a few years ago, we have slowly but surely seen the signs of this shift.

Only question now is: Will we be tossing out the new and trading it in for the old? 

Sliding into DMs for a different kind of hookup 

By 2028, it is estimated by Inditex, around 13 percent of our closets will consist of secondhand threads. 

But it won’t just be stocked with retro pieces from the 80s or 90s, but also never worn secondhand, high-street brands – as a recent Gumtree SA survey showed that 65 percent of respondents owned 10 or more items of clothing which they’ve never worn.

So, we’ll be buying both retro as well as never worn new items sold by others online.

Taking fashion back, there is a plethora of local grassroots entrepreneurs invested in making secondhand clothing the fashion way forward. 

From vintage Hawaiian shirts being sold at Neighbourgood Markets, First Thursdays, to stand-alone stores in Melville and Juta Street selling in-store, online and via Instagram DM – it’s a thriving IRL and digi-market. 

And Gumtree SA is a massive player in this industry in SA – both selling and buying – as it lists more than 20 000 secondhand clothing items.

And luxe secondhand goods also have its niche as pre-owned designer clothing consignments are becoming increasingly popular – catering to our ever-growing lust for big brands for less.

Sarah Byram, owner of Better Half and Friends vintage says there has been a clear shift in the last six or seven years – with more young people buying secondhand.

Amazingly, some are even choosing to buy 100% secondhand, only opting for new essentials in the form of underwear and socks. 

Like fast fashion, it’s accessible, it’s easy, it’s considerably financially viable, and importantly for some, it’s cool now.

The way it’s being marketed is a far cry from the former ‘nasty thrifts’ most people associate secondhand clothing with. 

READ MORE: Secondhand sneakers and sugar daddies wanted: what South Africans are searching for online

Instagram has been a big player in elevating secondhand.

Styling, nostalgia and presentation have been romanticised, and it has swept fashion players off their feet - DMing Insta-brands to hook them up. 

However, the future is still uncertain says Byram, who adds that despite this spike, fast fashion is still king. “There will always be a market for fast fashion, and the need for cheaper clothes. It’s just the reality.” 

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