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Ecommerce has made it easy to buy clothing and gear from your favorite brands, but a strange trend is taking shape. Your favorite brands are now getting their clothing from you. Many top fashion and outdoor brands are increasingly offering secondhand items on their websites, typically from their own brand. And if you have stuff you’re looking to get rid of, and it’s in relatively good condition, many brands are now offering to compensate you for it.
That means that shoppers can go to Patagonia and browse the brand’s discounted secondhand section the way they might browse a sale section. The difference is that all of this gear and clothing has been previously used or worn. It’s all part of a burgeoning industry referred to as recommerce, and it’s touched pretty much every sector ranging from tech to physical media to clothing and more.
Naturally, online recommerce is nothing new. eBay has been around since 1995, and it’s always been a hub for value-based shoppers looking for secondhand clothing, timepieces, and just about anything else. On the fashion side, more recent examples include the RealReal, which sells luxury goods, Grailed, which primarily focuses on men’s streetwear (though it has plenty of women shoppers) and StockX, the near gold standard for special edition sneaker resale. Another major player is thredUP, an online thrift store that sends you a pre-labeled box and offers cash or credit when eligible items are sold; it focuses on women’s and kids’ clothing.
And, of course, brick-and-mortar reselling has existed for about as long as brick-and-mortar itself, whether that’s thrift shops and vintage boutiques or used bookstores and record shops. But the idea of a fashion brand having old and new clothing share digital floorspace is a relatively novel one, but it’s one that’s taken hold across the industry. Mainstay mall brands like Levis are doing it, outdoor gear brands like the North Face and Patagonia have their own reselling programs, and high-end labels like Oscar de la Renta and Alexander McQueen offer curated vintage pieces. Even fitness gear brands like Lululemon have resale programs with the newly expanded Lululemon Like New.
So why does your favorite brand want its clothing back? Many brands are attempting to bolster their sustainability credentials, and secondhand clothing and gear are a big part of that. And, since consumers are increasingly looking into thrift and vintage, major retailers are looking to get a piece of the pie. Beyond sustainability, there’s an appreciation for items that are seen as authentic; a vintage, worn-in pair of 501s or a Ralph Lauren fleece from the 80s tells more of a story than a new garment does. Increasingly, brands recognize that “old” isn’t a dirty word to consumers.
In addition to brands like Levis and Patagonia, which sell their used wares, department stores like REI and Macy’s have offered secondhand clothing and gear from many of their stock brands. Many third-party sites facilitate buying and selling, such as Poshmark, thredUP, StockX and Vestaire Collective. One unique brand in this space is Out&Back, which focuses on reselling used outdoor gear from various brands in categories ranging from jackets and hoodies to tents and sleeping bags and offering cash payments — not just store credit — to sellers.
We spoke with Out&Back’s founder and CEO Barruch Ben-Zekry about sustainability, reaching new customers, and the future of recommerce. In addition to his work at Out&Back, Ben-Zekry has had a hand in shaping the sustainability efforts of some of the other companies mentioned, including working on Levi’s Water<Less initiative and developing recommerce initiatives at VF Corporation (parent company to The North Face, Eagle Creek, Kipling, among others).
The majority of the brands’ recommerce pages that you see online mention sustainability and reducing the environmental impact of clothing. But with the rise of greenwashing, shoppers are understandably somewhat skeptical of anything labeled “eco-friendly” or even the word sustainability itself. Reusing clothes does save carbon emissions and reduces water usage since a new garment isn’t using the resources devoted to that of a new garment. But this is on a one-to-one basis, and it doesn’t necessarily answer the question for the whole industry and there are a variety of issues with secondhand and thrift.
Part of the problem is that it’s difficult to quantify how sustainable resale is because it depends a lot on shoppers’ habits. As Ben-Zekry explains, “it’s all predicated on your assumptions; whether or not the person is returning the item three times, whether or not it’s actually displacing a new purchase, which is really the big one.”
For his own company, Out&Back, he points out that outdoor gear likely has a much higher displacement rate than other sectors like fashion. “[If] someone is buying a used piece of outerwear from us or a used tent from us, [that] means they’re not going to buy something else. On the other hand, if you go to fast fashion, for example, looking at a business like Poshmark, whether or not a person purchases another very cheap tank top as a result of purchasing a used item is very elusive.”
Another significant environmental aspect of the online recommerce market is shipping, which is carbon-intensive, and packaging, which almost always entails more boxes and plastic wrapping than purchasing in person. As with the sustainability of recommerce in general, the specific shipping issue is hard to answer. Ben-Zekry responded, “Do I worry about shipping and things like that? Yeah, big time. On the other hand, this business is really hard to do without that component.”
The focus on online shopping and direct shipping is that his brand, and others like it, are attempting to reach consumers who might be looking for a specific item rather than just browsing. Facilitating the shopping experience online makes it logistically easier for both the buyer and the brand. “Unlike a normal store environment that’s selling whatever kind of gear or clothes … you have a really hard time getting the black in the medium of the jacket that I want. Because I can’t order it, so I just got to have it; relative to a normal new item business, you need a lot more stuff, way way more.”
In short, the advantage of online recommerce is that it allows brands to reach a new kind of shopper. For many secondhand shoppers, the hunt is part of the appeal. Combing through the racks at a thrift shop, going down an eBay rabbit hole, or crate-digging for that rare vinyl is fun, but it’s not for everyone. There are plenty of shoppers interested in secondhand, but who don’t want to put in the time and effort to find the right thing in the correct size. Shopping online makes it easy to find something that, if not exact, is close to what you’re looking for. That’s because online recommerce shopping at stores like Levis, REI, Patagonia, Out&Back and Lululemon mirrors that of the online experience almost exactly.
The items are uniformly displayed and well-photographed. Because you’re buying directly from a well-known brand, you don’t have to worry about verifying the seller’s authority the same way you would on eBay, Craigslist or other similar sites. You can also find goods much more easily. For example, Levi’s Secondhand storefront allows you to filter by waist size, inseam, fit number, and even more granular details like whether the garment is distressed or made in the U.S.; Lululemon’s Like New lets you filter by size, color and activity; Patagonia enables you to filter by size, item type and the item’s condition.
Then, there’s the selling side of the equation. The new crop of online recommerce options appeals to people who don’t necessarily want to donate or chuck something but who aren’t interested in the legwork involved in becoming a seller on Grailed or eBay. Generally, most of these sites will accept your clothing in exchange for a gift card or store credit, allowing you to save on something new (or used!) from a brand you already shop.
Out&Back offers cash payments in exchange for your gear while still handling the effort of cleaning, photographing, and pricing the items. As demand grows, more brands will likely compete by offering more competitive pricing options, such as cash, and a streamlined process for sellers, such as prelabeled packages (many brands, like Levis and Lululemon, require that you make trade-ins at the store). As Ben-Zekry notes, “we are just scratching the surface of the selling side of this equation.”
While the idea of recommerce may be new to many brands and consumers, it’s clear that it’s not going anywhere any time soon. But whether or not it slows the accelerating fast fashion industry and overconsumption of clothing remains to be seen. Nonetheless, it’s a clear sign that there’s a radical shift underway in the world of fashion.
Read on for a list of some of the brands offering secondhand clothing, what kinds of deals you can expect as a buyer, and the brands’ offers for your gear.
Because Levi’s has been around for so long, the pricing varies considerably depending on whether the item is made in the U.S. and what collection it’s in. On the higher end, some pairs of jeans can surpass $300. But for the most part, you can pick up used jeans for less than $40, up to around $80. Unlike other categories, more worn-in jeans are often more desirable than newer styles. And since sizing has changed considerably over the years, Levi’s offers guides on finding a pair that’ll fit you.
And if you have jeans that you want to get rid of, Levi’s offers in-store trade-ins with gift cards for sellable items. The pricing structure favors older items; you can get $35 for a trucker jacket from more than 20 years ago, whereas a newer trucker might only net you between $5 and $20. However, you have to trade-in in a store; Levi’s doesn’t offer online trade-ins.
First started in the 1960s, REI’s Garage Sale is by far the oldest option on our list. The Garage Sale was an annual event that was open to members, and it offered discounts on used or slightly damaged goods. REI recently revamped its Garage Sale and rebranded it as RE/SUPPLY. The difference? Instead of an annual event, you can score deals year-round. It’s still only available to members, but a lifetime membership only costs $30.
REI offers credit on trade-ins, with prices varying based on what kind of item you’re offering. A tent can offer $150 or more while running shoes might get you around $20.
Out&Back offers a more direct option for selling used gear. The company specifically focuses on outdoor gear, covering items such as Patagonia jackets, insulated pants, hiking backpacks and tents. Out&Back handles photos and pricing for anything you’re selling, and they offer instant cash for items you sell.
As for buying, the brand has an easy-to-navigate shopping experience, offering new items along with their used offerings, which you can filter on the website. If you’re looking at jackets, you can filter by size, purpose, condition and brand, although the filters don’t include color, and the selection isn’t as expansive as more established retailers like REI.
Lululemon Like New
Unlike a denim brand or vintage store, Lululemon prioritizes items as close to new as possible, hence the name. It’s no surprise that people are more likely to have reservations about wearing someone’s once-sweaty gym gear than they would a pair of faded 501s. Like Levi’s, Lululemon requires an in-store visit, and they offer store credit for any items.
Given the cost of the gear at the start, Lululemon’s offerings are somewhat meager, with a $5 credit for tops and a $10 credit for hoodies and sweatshirts. Used items sell for roughly 40% less than new, and they have both men’s and women’s offerings. Interestingly enough, Lululemon invests Like New profits into its other sustainability initiatives.
Patagonia Worn Wear
Patagonia’s Worn Wear program functions similarly to others on this list. You can send Patagonia items via mail or trade them in person. Patagonia then offers store credit on future new and used Patagonia purchases. The site offers men’s, women’s and kid’s items and gear like backpacks.
You can filter by category, size, color and condition when shopping. Patagonia’s used offerings are discounted, although they still sit at a higher price point than some others. For example, a flannel jacket in excellent condition might still cost $120 compared with the new price of $169.
The North Face Renewed
Sometimes, the world of secondhand isn’t so simple. Take The North Face Renewed, whose website reads, “We’re refurbishing The North Face Renewed.” Their FAQ claims that “The North Face Renewed will be back up and running in early April 2022.” As of publishing, the site is still not open for business. We’ll keep you updated if and when they get back up and running.
In the meantime, you can check out The North Face secondhand gear from REI and Out&Back.
Urban Outfitters Urban Renewal
Urban Outfitters’ Urban Renewal program is the most unfortunately named on our list, calling to mind the controversial urban planning practice of clearing out lower-income buildings, which often displaced black and brown communities who had little or no say in the matter. But as anyone familiar with Urban Outfitters knows, this is hardly the first time the brand has made poorly thought out decisions or decisions that were just in poor taste.
As for the offerings themselves, Urban Outfitters supplies secondhand and vintage items from brands like Lee and Dickies and reconstructed branded items made from old clothing. Unlike other options, Urban Outfitters’ program doesn’t rely on trade-ins, but they seem to have buyers who select vintage pieces. The prices sit at a substantially higher point than thrift such as Goodwill or curated thrift like Buffalo Exchange, where pieces like a Carhartt jacket fetch $129.
Dockers Vintage is another option that sells secondhand Dockers items without the trade-in. Instead, the brand sources the articles themselves, allowing for a higher price point. A pair of retro-inspired pleated pants come in at as much as $145, while some shirts sell for $99, well above the less than $70 you’d pay for a new pair of Dockers. The costs are high, and the selection is limited, so this is more for vintage enthusiasts than anyone else.
Oscar de la Renta Encore
Resale has even hit the world of high fashion and haute couture. Sites like TheRealReal and Vestiaire Collective have offered secondhand designer goods for over a decade, but now high fashion brands are getting in on the action themselves. Oscar de la Renta’s Encore offers authenticated and refurbished runway items. And while these items still fetch thousands of dollars, it’s substantially less than a new item from the brand. The collection consists of dresses and jewelry. You can also sell on Encore, though the process is a little less straightforward and transparent than it is for a pair of jeans or a sweatshirt.