Pre-owned, nothing newer than second-hand goods

Michele Caprini
19 Dec 2019

Pre-owned (sometimes, even pre-loved). In Italy, words such as "used" or "second hand" do only apparently mean the same thing. Actually, they don't fully grasp its meaning, complexity and size. The phenomenon that is affecting the global fashion market must be defined through three other keywords: digital, circular and sustainable.


Last spring, a study published by thredUP (the world's largest second-hand marketplace) on the state of pre-owned goods, indicated that the growing rate was twenty times faster than the one of the whole fashion sector.

Less than a month ago, Business of Fashion, an essential reference for market players, in its annual report quantified the value of resale at more than 50 billion dollars in 2023, compared to 24 billion in 2018.

A new scenario, still difficult for many (i.e fast-fashion) to understand in its innovative and competitive potential, which seems to be able to fully satisfy the choices and purchase behaviours of Millennials and Generation Z. 

Considering their preferences in terms of variety, value and sustainability, it is to be expected that growth will further increase. This is also due to the wide digital spread that characterises and drives the growth.



A few months ago, a crowd of teenagers stood in line in front of a window in Soho, New York. They didn't wait to meet some influencers straight from YouTube or Instagram, but to meet the managers of some virtual shops on Depop.

Depop is a digital platform, founded in Milan in 2011 and currently in London, where you can sell and buy pre-owned products online. It's easy-to-use: create a profile and post a photo of the item you want to sell. Considered the low prices, the platform can be seen as a mix of eBay and Instagram.

Depop best represents the new  trend less focused on property and more on possession. The user pages work as digital shop windows, where you can follow your favorite sellers, see new offers in the feed and use hashtags to search items. Some products are high-end good, and among users you can even find celebrities.

Last month the company announced that it had gathered 62 million euros to fund its expansion. Is it only thanks to second-hand goods? No, Depop invest in young entrepreneurs who are picked to be shown on the main page as the main sellers of the app. No one is more than 20 years old, usually.



Vestiaire Collective, founded in France in 2009, is an international community with 8 million active members. The company offices are based in Paris, New York, London and Berlin and count over 230 people working there. Soon, new branches will also be in Milan and Madrid.

The business is booming and, recently, the core digital identity has been matched by a physical debut.  In May last year a pop-up store was launched in Bologna, featuring a collection that combined emerging designers and premier brands (Louis Vuitton, Hermès, Chanel).

Same has been done before, in partnership with Selfridges in London and Merci in Paris. Those are places where it is possible to store items for sale through the eCommerce channel.

Vestiaire Collective is well established in the circular economy, which is an increasingly popular consumer model among younger shoppers. It is the most relevant website for online social shopping, specializing in high quality and luxury second-hand fashion.

The items come from thousands of users across different countries. Every week, tenths of thousands of new items are carefully selected by a team of designers and listed in a catalogue of more than 600,000 items. Many are the members who sell to Vestiaire Collective or sell on purpose to buy from the same community.

In May, the site launched a survey across 10 markets in Europe, the United States and Asia-Pacific. Based on the results achieved and in accordance to the commitment to comply with the principles of circular fashion by 2020 (an initiative promoted by the Global Fashion Agenda), Vestiaire Collective has created the definitive Guide to circular fashion.


77% of consumers surveyed value the sustainability of fashion as important. The most committed are in Southern Europe and Hong Kong: 85% of Italian respondents, 83% of Spanish respondents, 81% of Asian respondents.

Nothing to be surprised of, as only last month the Fashion & Luxury summit of PricewaterhouseCooper set some milestones in our market, with 80% of young Italians buying clothing and accessories online.

Up to 3 out of 10 young people declare to be keen on "sharing" fashion even for " highly personal" goods. Only 9% of Generation Z members and 8% of Millennials are not interested in second-hand clothing. Furthermore, 90% of young people are willing to pay a premium price for the purchase of fashion products made in an ethical and sustainable way.

Sustainability is the current trend indeed, yet seems to be all but transitory. Lyst is the world's largest global fashion research platform, performing 10 million global searches per month. The site and app allow you to tour thousands of online stores in real time, bridging the gap for 12,000 brands and retailers worldwide, all accessible from a single address.

According to data, sustainable shopping related searches increased by 75% in 2019. In 2020 those born between 1995 and 2012 will account for 40% of the global market.

For market players, then, it's better to adapt quickly to the new, but already consolidated, pre-owned demand. The scenario is as fascinating as it is, in some ways, risky. We are not only talking about the inevitable diversifications and transformations of typical processes, but also the risks of this particular market. Harassment and trading of counterfeit products, for instance.  Hopefully, settlement shocks of an ever increasing market.


Read also: Fast fashion. Very fast, maybe too much