The US alone is home to more than 20,000 resale, consignment, thrift and antique shops, where people spend about $15 billion annually – but that's just a fraction of the market. Online resale is the fastest growing sector of secondhand shopping, with an expected growth of nearly four times by 2026. Resale platform Depop has more than 30 million users with an estimated 1.8 million active sellers – a significant increase from its 1.3 million active sellers in 2019.
All this is to say: the secondhand market is crowded, and those hoping to build a thrift empire just keep on coming. For those working in the space – or are thinking of jumping in – success requires more than just a discerning eye when digging through clothes bins.
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‘Before, we could get away with just buying and reselling, but now everyone else is doing the same thing,’ says Sara Fernandez, who's been selling secondhand clothes online for four years, amassing more than 217,000 followers to her thrifting-focused TikTok. ‘To achieve long-term success, you have to offer your customers a thrifting experience that they can't get anywhere else.’
While Sara started out by selling one-off items, she's found that curation is the way for sellers to stand out. Her niche is selling clothing bundles based on a customer's style and a co-created lookbook – recent clients have requested ‘gothic couture’ and ‘nineties Chanel, but preppier’. Sara's clients get the services of both a personal shopper and a personal stylist in one. She says her inbox is inundated with people who want to be styled by her.
‘My reputation on social media tells my clients that they can trust me to build and diversify their wardrobe,’ she says. ‘My style sets me apart from the others and my clients can see that from the videos and pictures I post.’
Despite Sara's success online, she's now in the process of opening a physical store in Miami, so she can build a deeper connection to her community. Meanwhile, more vintage markets are cropping up as people want to return to in-person shopping: ‘I prefer selling at vintage markets rather than online, because you get to connect with your buyers and that's always good for business,’ says Florida-based Janessa Rowe, who's been thrift reselling for the past six years, online and at markets. ‘You get to make an impression, which isn't as easy online.’
Curation is still key, especially as secondhand shopping is filling up with fast-fashion brands and people are seeking a more purposeful shopping experience. Markets like Known Source and Alfargo's Marketplace are targeting this more discerning secondhand shopper. Vendors at these markets go through a rigorous vetting process to ensure the quality of goods and the seller's point of view.
Josh Eyitayo from vintage fashion brand Thrifty Towel is a founding dealer on Known Source. He offers rare archival pieces from a variety of brands, from streetwear labels like Stüssy to high-fashion brands like Prada. He has more than six years of experience selling secondhand pieces, but his client reach has skyrocketed since he began vending on Known Source – and he can charge more. Some of Josh's items reach the £500 mark – a price point he says he can hit because the Known Source community is willing to pay for his eye.
‘People choose to shop on Known Source because they appreciate the effort and care that sellers put into curating their offerings, which leads to a more sustainable and timeless wardrobe, compared to other shopping platforms,’ he says.