Thrifty Retail

Retail Reset: 
The Shift to Thrift

As cautious post-pandemic consumers with spend-savviness now embedded in our everyday behaviours, fashion retailers are having to reimagine retail in smarter, more earth-kind ways. From reinventing their business models around repair and subscription schemes to becoming champion creators of lifelong products, how is the shift to thrift challenging brands like never before and where is the potential to become a trailblazer?

Amid the deteriorating cost of living crisis, inflation in the UK has hit its highest level in four decades. Energy bills, fuel prices and global food prices are also surging, plus the costs of raw materials, household goods, furniture and restaurants and hotels. With the stage set for a potential recession and consequent surge in unemployment, is it any wonder that consumers are treading a far more cash-conscious line and reassessing what constitutes value for money? 

As spending comes under scrutiny by a more cautious post-pandemic consumer, product functionality and purpose will drive purchases. Value can now be measured in quality, convenience, and a cool currency that tops any luxury one, with spend-savviness now embedded in everyday wellbeing and sustainability. 

For fashion brands, this could mean recentering their messaging around long wear, timeless design and repair options or exploring subscription retail options and eco-frugal signalling. 

How businesses reinvent retail in smarter, earth-kind ways is a question which hovers insistently over the thrifting conversation, casting a shadow over brands who have ignored consumer calls for sustainable shifts while those who embraced a more conscious way of being are already enjoying the light.

In Love with Pre-loved

The re-commerce market is evolving rapidly: globally, resales alone will grow by 93% to $64bn by 2024. According to ThredUp, 60% of US consumers are now more opposed to wasting money than before the pandemic, leading to a frugal approach to fashion that is manifesting in multiple ways. 

Not only are global consumers looking to save money (76% state that this is their primary reason for shopping second-hand) but a restored obsession with the ‘thrill of the hunt’ has transformed thrifting into a viable, $28 billion industry that is expected to eclipse fast fashion by 2029.

As we discussed in The Future of Jewellery, the combined rise of the re-commerce revolution, a newfound disillusionment with the relentless tide of new-season products and a desire for more meaningful luxury caused by the climate crisis is driving an infatuation with pre-loved goods and archive culture.

Second-hand shopping is no longer just a local, community-driven hobby, and a huge new commercial opportunity now exists beyond luxury consignment sites. From resale and nearly new merchandise, to kilo sales and stock seconds, there is potential for brands and retailers at every market level to profit from this thrifty revolution.

Gen Z have embraced second-hand fashion faster than any other age group and account for over 40% of global consumers in this market. Catalysed by social media,  the changing habits and vast purchasing power of this ever-conscious generation are driving the value of resale startups like Depop and Vinted skyward.

Established brands already lending their business models to second-hand fashion include fast-fashion giant H&M, who launched their One/Second/Suit free 24-hour rental programme to support those attending job interviews, while Levi’s work to “keep coveted pieces in circulation” with their Levi’s SecondHand initiative based on a buyback system that works in tiers: consumers receive $30-35 of store credit for vintage denim (items over 20 years old); $15-25 for other denim; and $5 for non-sellable denim which Levi’s then recycles. The items are listed on the SecondHand microsite for between $30-100.

Swapping and buy-back schemes are big business too. Swiss recycled tarpaulin bag brand Freitag tapped into the trend with its own S.W.A.P (Shopping Without Any Payment) microsite where users can exchange their bags with other owners for free. 

Other brands include Canadian athleisure giant Lululemon, the first athleisure brand to trial recommerce with its ‘Like New’ resale pilot. This rewards consumers who trade in clothing with gift cards with all profits from the scheme reinvested into Lululemon’s sustainability projects – it plans to be recycling 100% of its products by 2030. 

At Ikea, the buy-back scheme lets consumers sell their used furniture back to the brand, sold in Ikea’s bargain section in return for a voucher totalling 30% to 50% of the item’s original value. From September 2019 to August 2020, Ikea gave 39 million products a second life. 

Thrift-Flipping 

The most sustainable garment is the one already in your wardrobe.” Orsola de Castro, Upcyclist, Fashion Designer & Author.

Save Your Wardrobe is a UK-based online platform that enables users to view the contents of their closets virtually, resell in a second-hand market and access an ecosystem of sustainable services, from repairs to rentals. Co-founded by CEO Hasna Kourda to encourage and facilitate mindful fashion consumption, not only does the app help users rediscover their wardrobes with creative content, but it also educates on solutions and ways to upgrade items you already own.

“The 16-24 group are very keen on responsible shopping and second-hand-based services,” Kourda explains. “We’ve seen a trend where the app is used to organise for thrift flipping and reselling. They buy from our partner Thrift+, then view the ‘Empower Your Wardrobe’ section, which has DIY techniques to transform old things into new.”

Dialling Up Deadstock

The old adage of ‘make do and mend’ is gaining traction as both a genuine means to save cash and as a new means of frugality-signalling. No longer just quaint and leisurely pursuits, crafting one's own fashions, upcycling and repairing damaged goods is more than just budget-boosting, it’s a lifestyle.

DIY fashion projects with step-by-step guides are delivered by online platforms such as Australia’s Collective Gen, with tutorials on making simple everyday items and mending pieces, as well as other wardrobe rehab ideas. UK platforms Stitch & Story and Sew Pretty, as well as Dubai-based Glitches & Stitches, offer up similarly frugal fashion hacks, meanwhile Ireland’s The Useless Project leads on repair and DIY advice. 

Providing customers with the tools to be more self-sufficient is a way to show creativity and care: just as consumers are getting crafty and resourceful, they expect brands and retailers to be doing the same.

Niche, small labels are able to respond to this trend in a more agile fashion, with the likes of US brand Tonlé and London-based designer France Chaulet using remnants and deadstock to create new pieces, with the latter manufacturing locally to keep costs as ethical as possible. Although these examples have the benefit of agility, larger brands need to be telling their product’s stories when making economies in the production process (such as using obsolete fabrics from inventory), and celebrating the cost-savings and ethical practices with customers. 

DIY Dupes

Reframing copycat culture as a positive stance against mindless consumption, instructions for creating at-home dupes (replica products) for popular fashion pieces are exciting cash-strapped consumers. 

It’s a trend that comes as many younger consumers are balancing their cost-conscious philosophy with the urge to be photographed at a dizzying rate, meaning brands have to decide whether to encourage the creativity of its fans or come off as buzzkills if they try to clamp down on the activity.

Jason Dorsey, President of the Centre for Generational Kinetics in Austin, Texas, believes Gen Z – which comprises a huge part of the TikTok audience – occupies a social space in which their memories of watching previous generations struggle financially has ingrained a collective tendency for frugality, consciously or otherwise. “They want to get things at a really good deal, or they want to buy things that are going to last a long time.” 

As the most photographed generation of young adults ever, Gen Z’s omnipresence on social media dictates a need to buy inexpensively in order to have a vast outfit rotation. A willingness to be creative is also a factor. “In many places where there might have been peer pressure before to have all the fancy brands, now it’s cool to recreate the brands, and you’re smart because you did it at a fraction of the cost.”

American influencer Cindy Liu (200.8k followers) shows her TikTok followers how to mimic items from brands such as Reformation, sharing free sewing patterns for her projects via links to her website. Iconically, designer JW Anderson used the rise of ‘duping’ as an incredibly effective marketing strategy. In response to his colour block patchwork cardigan becoming a viral sensation after being worn by Harry Styles on tour, JW Anderson shared the garment pattern with the world, encouraging fans to continue creating replicas and solidifying a cultural and self-aware quality that resonates with consumers.

Timeless Wear, Again and Again

“Never forget that what becomes timeless was once truly new.” Nicolas Ghesquière, Artistic Director, Louis Vuitton

While 2021 saw a re-emergence of 2000s fashion dominate vintage shopping headlines, this year sees a shift towards pieces that will transcend the temporary nature of trends. Investment buying is top priority, with fashion fans sharpening their elbows to score rare collectibles, exquisite couture and statement jewellery that can be customised and made even more unique.

For decades, fashion trends – determined by what designers put out on catwalks and red carpets, and more recently, street stylers and influencers – have been key in guiding our new season purchases. Yet we are now seeing a move towards investing in a piece because of its story, its craftsmanship, and the special place it will hold in a wardrobe. 

Holly Tenser, Ready-To-Wear Buying Manager, Browns Fashion

Customers are really making more considered and thoughtful purchases as a result of the global pandemic, and are making sharp changes to their lifestyle…They are definitely seeing the value in investing in good quality, timeless pieces that make up your classic and sustainable wardrobe base.

While consumers are seeking out products that will last a lifetime, or at least represent value for money, they’re also increasingly interested in budgetary purchases that look expensive and timeless – again, extending a product lifespan beyond a traditional season. Built-to-last items, ‘stealth wealth’ looks and a focus on end-use are all key. “Shopping with a conscience seems to be the new approach, and sustainability is at the forefront of this.”

Subscribe & Save

In response to economic pressures, store closings, and changing priorities that have defined our recent history, consumers are increasingly testing out new behaviours putting the security of brand loyalty at risk, with 36% of consumers trying a new product brand and 25% incorporating a new private-label brand (brand promiscuity). Of consumers who have tried different brands, 73% intend to continue to incorporate the new brands into their routine while Gen Z and high earners are most prone to switching brands.

An ideal counter to rising brand promiscuity, the subscription model bloomed during the pandemic and is continuing to draw on lockdown-triggered behaviours with long-haul resonance across industries.

Leading in the beauty subscription space is Beauty Pie, an exclusive beauty buyers club, which exposes the elevated mark-up pricing structure of premium beauty brands, offering factory prices for luxury skincare, fragrance and cosmetics alongside a monthly membership that starts at just £5 ($7). Membership more than doubled in the first lockdown of 2020 and revenue has more than doubled in the past year. 

H&M’s 2021 subscription concept Singular Society offers quality home and wardrobe items to members at cost price, profiting via membership fees alone. A flagship showroom in Stockholm complements the service. Evidence in the form of a lengthy waitlist shows that consumer appetite for this model is strong, and an idea worth considering for other brands.

In the world of subscribable fashion, StitchFix has been blazing a trail for brands and fashion lovers alike since 2011, offering a monthly or on-demand subscription box overflowing with pieces to elevate everyone’s wardrobe without the permanence. A host of other fashion subscription services have since joined the fold, niching down to various styles or categories like activewear or lingerie.

Arguably, these subscription services aren’t optimally sustainable, often encouraging overconsumption due to lower price points and risking greater waste, however, used consciously and purposefully – either as a deterrent from overspending on multiple brands and eCommerce sites or a bridge to bypass the hassle of second-hand shopping – subscription services are a valuable stepping stone to a more sustainable fashion industry. 

Less Is More

Maintaining consumer relationships and ensuring brand loyalty means finding ways to encourage shoppers to spend wisely – and rewarding those that do. Fresh thinking includes championing budget-savvy concepts alongside instilling and promoting longevity in product, service and experience, all while managing corporate social-responsibility efforts to build truly authentic brands.

There’s money in it too. Recommerce presents a major value added for brands, both via sales and eco-signalling credentials. According to UK-based consumer psychologist Kate Nightingale, successfully marketing to cash-strapped, post-pandemic consumers means “approaching frugality from a sense of achievement, not […] addressing bad luck”. Astute brands and agencies are making consumers feel good via campaigns that hero intelligent spending, mastering new skills, and conflating eco-credibility and mindful consumption with having less, a new idea of luxury. 

Three Key Takeaways for Luxury Retail Brands

Think about and optimise the life cycle of your products from start to finish.

Conscious consumers are no longer interested in short-term luxuries, they want to invest in long-lasting, timeless products. The way you tell your story can play a key role in this.

Embrace the shift.

Work it into your business model, whether it’s lifetime guarantee with repair options or second-hand and sell-back options, offering your customers a chance to act more sustainably will build brand belief and loyalty.

Once you’ve achieved the above, show it.

Signalling your values on sustainable and eco-frugal subjects encourages overwhelmingly positive responses from your customers, with research showing that they are far more inclined to put out positive word of mouth recommendations and build your customer base.

If you'd like to discuss how we partner with companies to provide strategic design and tech services, please get in touch via hello@matterofform.com to arrange a time to speak with our team of consultants.

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Published by MOF Team

We are a 60-person Luxury Brand and Digital Agency with soul. We help timeless brands design what’s next. STRATEGY + DESIGN + TECH