Home - T Singapore

Is Second-Hand Shopping Just Another Means for Mindless Consumerism?

By Mier Foo

In today’s digital landscape, it has become easier than ever to shop second-hand — but could resale be just another avenue for rampant consumerism?
 
Marisa Xin
In today’s digital landscape, it has become easier than ever to shop second-hand — but could resale be just another avenue for rampant consumerism?

My first instinct upon waking up, like any other tech-dependent millennial, is to reach for my phone. Increasingly though, rather than scrolling through social media threads or checking my messages, I find myself browsing resale apps. It has become almost second nature, whenever I have time to kill the trawling begins — not looking for anything in particular but often stumbling upon great finds: an Isabel Marant blazer I snagged at half off its retail price and arrived with its tags still attached; or the vintage lace Dior blouse which fit perfectly once I had the sleeves taken in.

Not to say second-hand shopping doesn’t come with its own perils, I once ordered a pair of boots which was listed as in a “good condition”, only for it to arrive with the leather battered and the soles completely worn out. I had to toss them out because, frankly speaking, they were unwearable and the seller had a no returns policy. So much for circularity. 

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

sorry they didn’t fit your expectations or your feet

A post shared by Depop Drama (@depopdrama) on

 

My experience, as it turns out, is not such a rare occurrence in the resale community. Instagram account, Depopdrama, boasts well over half a million followers from documenting Depop user exchanges, ranging from the inane to the outrageous. One user reported receiving two left shoes in the mail and the seller adamantly refusing to refund them. The app’s user-friendly interface strategically resembles that of Instagram itself and largely targets the same audience of Generation Z and millennials who are given full control over the selling process, from the listing of to the shipping of the item, which more often than not leads to mishaps.

Although the proliferation of such resale apps has freed us from rummaging through flea markets and charity shops in search of vintage finds, being unable to tangibly assess the quality of an item before purchasing it can often make shopping second-hand online feel like a hazardous guess.

The arrival of high-end resale sites such as Vestiaire Collective and The RealReal has aimed to diminish the number of such disputes by making the consignment process as streamlined as possible. Both websites employ a team of specialists who sort through the thousands of items submitted for consignment every day to ascertain the item’s quality and condition before it is approved for sale, edited onto a white background and posted online. Unlike more casual-use apps like Depop and Poshmark, users don’t need to sift through the detritus of others’ wardrobes before finding an item they are interested in. 

Courtesy of Vestiaire CollectiveVestiaire Collective employs a team of specialists who sort through the thousands of items submitted for consignment every day to ascertain the item’s quality and condition before it is approved for sale, edited onto a white background and posted online.
Vestiaire Collective employs a team of specialists who sort through the thousands of items submitted for consignment every day to ascertain the item’s quality and condition before it is approved for sale, edited onto a white background and posted online.

Historically, Asia has long been a supply-orientated market but the growth in demand for unique, one-of-a-kind pieces from a new generation of conscious consumers has led to a revitalised interest in resale. Since launching in Hong Kong three years ago, Vestiaire Collective has seen nearly double the number of orders coming from Asia as compared to traditional European markets where vintage fashion has always been a mainstay.

The ability to buy luxury items first-hand was once a signifier of socio-economic status. But consumers have begun moving away from using brands as markers of social class. The influx of western influences through social media has caused many Asian consumers, particularly the younger generation, to become partial to the style aesthetic of the past. Celebrities have been steadily turning to pre-loved fashion, either by wearing vintage items or auctioning off their own, fuelling the demand for secondhand fashion. On TikTok, a new breed of micro-influencers is promoting a subculture of thrifting and individualised fashion, translating their buzz into sales on apps such as Depop. 

Fashion psychologist, Dawnn Karen, sees a shift in consumer values in Asia as stemming from a rise in consumer sophistication. “People are placing less emphasis on conformity, de-emphasising external value markers and favouring their creativity and sense of personal style,” she explains over email from her office in New York. “In simple terms, people are no longer looking to a brand name to give them some sort of credibility or confidence boost.” I remember watching “Clueless” (1995) for the first time then spending a good half an hour sifting through resale sites for the diaphanous Vivienne Tam organza jacket Cher wore in the movie nearly twenty-five years ago. As more and more people start hunting for archival gems, timeless clothing, ‘It’ bags and obscure luxury brands from the past have become the latest trends, and brands have started to take note. 

 

 

From Raf Simons reissuing 100 pieces from his archives to Prada’s relaunch of its Linea Rossa collection, hallmarks of iconic and streetwear-focused fashion of last decade are becoming more ubiquitous than ever. Ironically, this has only increased the demand for first-edition items with vintage pieces selling on resale sites for more than double its original value. As many collections continue to reference silhouettes of the past, the appetite for nostalgic fashion will only increase.

Azzurra La Mantia, the owner of Singapore-based boutique A Vintage Tale, sees “more individuals preferring to invest their money in quality clothes [and] looking into buying vintage pieces as these items have lasted through the years.” Although La Mantia is also committed to offering her customers a wider range of vintage pieces at accessible prices. She introduced a ‘kilo sale’ model, where a portion of the clothes in her Joo Chiat shop is priced according to its weight. Currently, the rate is at S$100 per kg with no minimum spend. Adopted from a circular clothing movement in the west, the kilo sale model offers a fun and affordable way to shop, allowing customers the thrill of discovering high-quality pieces at a price that isn’t dictated by trends or designer labels. The brand is also looking to implement a clothes swapping service which allows customers to swap in their pre-loved items for others. 

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by A Vintage Tale (@avintagetale) on

 

After the hard hit of the ongoing pandemic, many brands are reporting losses in sale and a decrease in consumer traffic. For the nascent resale industry, however, it’s the other way around: the pandemic has inadvertently accelerated its growth. Vestiaire has reported nearly double the number of sales and deposits than usual in Singapore over its lockdown period. As consumers spend more time online, they begin to expect greater value for their purchases and become cognisant of the ability to monetise their wardrobe. In that regard, such online resale platforms have become perfectly placed to weather the pandemic. 

“There is a clear departure from “ownership” to “usage” and answers the need for newness”, explains Fanny Moizant, the co-founder and president of Vestiaire Collective. “This is driving a fundamental shift in our consumption habits which has created a perfect storm for the resale market to grow.” It helps that a surprisingly large proportion of clothes on bespoke resale sites are brand new. According to figures from a survey carried out by BCG and Vestiaire Collective, 62 per cent of the products sold on pre-owned luxury platforms are unworn or scarcely worn. Increasing the life-cycle of such clothing then helps reduce waste and encourage greater circularity within the industry. 

Courtesy of Vestiaire CollectiveFanny Moizant, the co-founder and president of Vestiaire Collective.
Fanny Moizant, the co-founder and president of Vestiaire Collective.

A study commissioned by ThredUp, which advertises itself as the world's largest online thrift store, estimates that if everyone in the U.S. bought just one used item instead of a new one, the carbon saved would be equivalent to taking half a million cars off the road for a year. Yet, this promotional tagline is highly misleading as it is based on the premise that buying resale and shopping first-hand are mutually exclusive when this is simply not the case. In fact, shopping pre-owned can actually accelerate consumption as customers are now purchasing more than ever for shorter ownership periods, in anticipation of the item’s resale value.

At the heart of the second-hand market is the tension between encouraging consumers to partake in the circular fashion system but also incentivising them to reinvest their earnings into purchasing more. Instead of fast fashion, consumers are increasingly turning to the new exchange economy as a way of satiating the siren lure of a new dress or T-shirt perpetuated by the pressures of the Instagram age. To put it simply: it enables shopping without the guilt. By 2028, the pre-loved market is expected to sizeably outgrow fast fashion — but is it really a sustainable alternative or just a temporary solution to the industry’s exhaustive production model?

As long as imitative, cheaply-made garments are still being mass-produced indiscriminately, fashion’s infamous parable of the cerulean blue sweater (as immortalised in a discomfiting exchange in 2006’s “The Devil Wears Prada”) will still be relevant. It is ultimately still the quality of an item — whether or not it’s pre-owned — that determines its longevity in circulation. Second-hand fashion platforms like Vestiaire are doing their part in scrutinising this facet.

But it shouldn’t just stop there: Shopping in the name of sustainability still requires a measure of discernment from us, the shoppers. Now is not just a time to buy less — but also, to buy better. And resale can only be part of the bigger picture.