UK consumer interest in second-hand clothes set to surge - report

UK consumers are switching on to second-hand clothing in ever larger numbers as their interest in fast fashion wanes, a new report claims. In a poll conducted by waste management agency, BusinessWaste.co.uk, a large proportion of the 1,500 respondents (45%) said they would buy clothes that had been pre-owned. The researchers said that this mirrors other studies that show that the second-hand clothing market is “set to double in the next five years.”


More UK consumers are keen to buy second-hand clothing with the young particularly enthusiastic


Fast fashion has seen plenty of negative publicity in recent years based on its environmental footprint and conditions for workers in the supply chain. This has shone the spotlight on the second-hand channel, which has transformed itself at the same time. Not so many years ago, it was all about either vintage, or newer pieces bought at jumble sales/boot sales largely because they were very cheap. But with today’s consumers more eco aware and eBay and various resale sites making second-hand the first choice for some, it has evolved noticeably.

BusinessWaste said “consumers are beginning to shake off their prejudices about wearing second-hand clothing. While just 20% said they currently regularly buy second-hand clothes, a huge amount said they could be influenced to start doing so.”

But where would such includes come from. Some 90% of people said that if friends or family started buying second-hand, they might do too. A bigger 94% said they’d be influenced by celebrities (which is worth bearing in mind for brand marketing around sustainability), and only 6% said nothing would influence them to ever buy second-hand.

It’s interesting too that the strongest pro-second-hand attitudes seem to be among the youngest and oldest consumers. As many as 80% of those aged 16 to 21 and 91% of those over 60 are at ease with the concept. But the average across all age groups is only 45%, suggesting that many of those in-between still see second-hand clothing as second-best.

Communications director Mark Hall said: “Older people are used to buying clothes that were made to last and passing hand-me-downs through families, which explains this age group’s willingness to buy second-hand. And, on the other end of the scale, young people are increasingly environmentally conscious, which could certainly influence their shopping decisions and cause them to turn away from fast fashion. However, those in their 30s and 40s are perhaps of a generation more used to consumerism – it’s certainly an interesting generational divide.”

Of those who said they would be happy to buy second-hand garments, there was a clear consensus that image played a part – with charity shops still carrying a slight stigma. Only 62% said they would be happy to purchase from charity shops – much lower than the 80% who would buy second-hand from a high street retailer.

Hall added: “People are turning to second-hand clothing – not just out of financial necessity, but out of choice. There’s a huge opportunity here for retailers to improve their green credentials and tap into a growing number of consumers who would like to buy stylish clothing, but without the ethical concerns. Some well-known retailers already feature vintage or pre-loved selections in store and there’s clearly room for these to be more widely available – consumers still have the benefit of shopping curated lines of [second-hand] pieces in line with their preferred style, but without the environmental impact.”

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