The Future of Clothing is Nothing New: What the New York Times Missed About the Consignment Economy.
I am somewhat of a consignment…obsessive. I’ve pawed through clothes that first belonged to someone else for 18 years. It’s a sport, a hobby, a passion, and a collection. I’ve waxed poetic about it before.
The times have caught up. Specifically the New York Times last week, with their piece on living in an “era of consignment”. The internet has caught up to the resale trend too — making it easier than ever to buy and sell used clothing. Whether it’s Tradesy or Snobswap, or The RealReal, which just announced $163 million in funding, it’s clear that consignment and resale are a huge part of the new retail economy.
The New York Times piece, while informative about the new sites popping up to sell or trade your wares, missed the point — the larger implications of everyone being their own consignment shop. The big picture is this — as a society, sharing (whether or you want to call it the “sharing economy” or not) has reached the point of sharing fashion. This isn’t a completely new idea — Rent the Runway’s success has proved that borrowing too is a lucrative business. RTR launched Armarium in a beta, where you can rent from people’s couture closets, and have created corporate programming for Hearst. It’s just the beginning of borrowing everything from everyone and owning very little. (Great little known fact — RTR is a write-off because it’s technically a “uniform” and you return it.)
Everyone should treat his or her closet as I have treated mine over the past two decades — a turnstile for bags, shoes, or jackets that come and go. To not be making money off of your wardrobe — or at least giving your clothing several lives — is a missed opportunity. I have made thousands of dollars from reselling clothing — or flipping some purchases and selling them for higher prices, and you can too. It’s not just high-end designer pieces that get you money — some of the best selling brands these days are J. Crew and Lululemon.
The idea of sharing everything — rides, services — has extended to what we’re putting on our bodies. Your closet, clothing, is not permanent anymore. I own less clothing than I ever have — because it’s always being swapped out. I have a friend who doesn’t buy clothing at all anymore — she uses Rent the Runway’s unlimited service to wear new clothing nearly every week. As a whole we are living in smaller spaces, wanting to own less or manage it better, particularly in large cities. Companies like Omni are popping up to fulfill this need, with certain customers treating the service as a closet instead of a place to store rarely-used skis.
I strongly believe that the future of fashion is rooted in the reuse of materials that already exist. This is supported by the success of many brands of recent that have either recycling, vintage, or consignment element to their label. Look at the trendy, grungy, slightly-confusing-but-also-alluring Vetements, which sells $1600 reworked denim. The Parisian fashion house is led by Demna Gvasalia, who was just named the new Artistic Director of Balenciaga. How about Re/Done — all reworked vintage Levi’s at $300 a pop. Or the trendy and popular cult brand Reformation out of Los Angeles, based on the premise that all of their clothing is from recycled materials. What about Nasty Gal? Sophia Amuroso, its founder, is on the current cover of Forbes and worth $280 million. She began her business as a vintage re-seller on Ebay, and grew her business to retail locations and a thriving e-commerce store of her own designs. However, Nasty Gal still sells vintage tee shirts and Chanel bags among new shoes and tops.
This trend also means people are no longer buying investment pieces. Does the investment piece still exist at all? It’s debatable. Because you can now buy, sell or trade high-end items with ease like a watch or a piece of jewelry, it’s less about investment and more about what you want at that moment, knowing full well you can get value by selling the pieces. I treasure clothing I bought in other countries, or things that have been passed down to me, but beyond that this idea of “investing” in a few nice items is less necessary.
The emergence of selling sides like ThredUp, Snobswap, or Tradesy also compliment our current environment of everyone being their own shop, and an entrepreneurial and intrapreneurial economy. Everyone is enterprising, and it works. The Vintage Twin is a small but wildly popular pop-up in New York and Los Angeles, primarily selling vintage. This idea of boutique resellers will continue to expand.
This trend (or development, as I believe it will continue) also means that we are doing a new kind of recycling. Large stores like H+M are launching conscious brands and giving discounts for recycling of clothing. Wearing clothes that belonged to someone else or giving them to a store for a second or third life is recycling and reduces your carbon footprint. People also want to be more aware of what they’re buying, and buy things with meaning and purpose, like Conscious Commerce, founded by Olivia Wilde and Babs Burchfield.
I’ve always wanted to launch something related to consignment, and so today I’m launching Consign + Co™. Primarily a newsletter with tips and tricks on shopping, resale, and consignment, it’s rooted in my love for digging through the bin of tee shirts, but also that consignment really is for everyone. It’s about building the wardrobe you want, and dressing to be the person you want, without the constraints of the price of a new price tag. Learn more here: www.consignand.co.
Happy shopping — I hope I can teach you something new with something old.