Society Insights

Fashion’s second life

It’s a global trend: more and more consumers are opting to buy used fashion apparel, accessories and shoes.

The trend

The first to go public last April was Giorgio Armani in a letter to the magazine WWD Women’s Wear Daily. A strong stance on the nonalignment – or “immorality” as he called it – of the production cycles in the fashion world. Operators are endlessly obliged to offer something new, heedless of how long the aesthetic of a product or the material it is made of actually last.


His complaint did not fall on deaf ears. In fact, a few weeks later the Belgian fashion designer Dries Van Noten followed up with a call to make the world of fashion “more sustainable for the environment and for society, realigning fashion with the needs of consumers.” Now a number of leading players in the fashion industry are adding their voices to his.


In and outside of the industry, the issue of environmental and social sustainability in fashion has been a topic of debate for some years now. In some ways, in fact, the Covid-19 pandemic represents a powerful driver of an ongoing process.


Calls are coming from all sides advocating for fashion that unites ethics and aesthetics, fashion that is more attentive to the environment, but also respectful of the rights of fashion workers, the welfare of animals, and the wellbeing of local communities. And some effects are already apparent (think of the brands that years ago opted for upcycling or went carbon neutral).


This new sensitivity is also reflected in the choices of consumers, who are more interested today than ever before in making a positive environmental and social impact through informed choices. One such choice is buying second-hand: this market is seeing exceptional growth, both in physical stores and for online retailers.


This is most significant finding from the recent Ipsos report: Global advisor on fashion: Consumer views on the second-hand market and sustainability. In this study, 41% of interviewees said that they have purchased an article of clothing, an accessory or a pair of shoes second hand.


The broad research sample counted over 20,000 people from 27 countries (Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, France, Germany, Great Britain, Hungary, India, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Holland, Peru, Poland, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, and the United States). Findings offer an interesting snapshot revealing the attitudes of consumers with regard to second-hand fashion.


Some takeaways

The most active markets in terms of second-hand clothing are not the places where fashion was born, but rather countries like Peru, Chile and Saudi Arabia, where respectively 62%, 57% and 55% of interviewees said that they had purchased used fashion apparel, accessories or shoes at least once, placing these nations at the top of the Ipsos ranking of access to the second-hand market. With the single exception of Poland (at number six in the ranking), Europeans appear less inclined to buy used items. In Great Britain, France, Belgium, Germany, Holland, Sweden and Spain figures were lower than the global average, with Italy (third from last) at 28%. The least likely to purchase second-hand fashion items are Chinese consumers. In fact, only 22% said they had done so, while more than half (51%) stated that they never had, either in used clothing/consignment stores, or via websites/apps. So, it would seem that in this huge market there’s a cultural taboo on used fashion.


Very insightful data also emerged on the number of people who affirmed that they never purchased fashion items, accessories or shoes second hand. At a global level this figure is 32%, with European countries taking seven of the top ten positions: Holland comes in second at 48%, Italy is fourth (45%) followed by France (42%), Spain (41%), Sweden (40%), Germany (39%), and Great Britain (38%).


Among all the interviewees, Spanish and Chinese consumers are most open to the second-hand market (at 31% and 24% respectively), while 29% of the Dutch say they are not interested in buying used goods. (Italy is fourth place at 26%.)


Although it’s true that the tendency to consume used goods varies widely in European countries with respect to other parts of the world, on the Old Continent (and in the US too) there is greater awareness of the impact of the fashion industry on the environment. At a global level, 63% of interviewees believe that fashion brands are less respectful of the environment compared to other brands. The only notable exceptions are Saudi Arabia, India and China, where 60%, 45% and 39% respectively of the interviewees think that the world of luxury is more virtuous than the rest of the fashion sector from the standpoint of environmental sustainability.


Generally speaking, it remains to be seen whether the growing popularity of the second-hand market is actually linked only to the question of sustainability, or if instead consumers simply have less money to spend. Whatever the case, one positive aspect of resale is no doubt the fact that all brands are being impelled to rethink the entire useful life cycle of their products, which does not end with the initial purchase.




Fashion’s second life