When it comes to talking about the evolutions of the secondhand industry, there's one a particular party that is impossible to ignore: the reseller. While technically most businesses in the secondhand industry could be called a reseller based on a loose definition of selling a product that they didn't produce themselves, the reseller we are referring to here is the individual or business that buys up used clothing with the goal of selling it for profit.
The Business Model
The core function of the reseller is to source used clothing and turn around and sell it somewhere else, but how they do so doesn't necessarily follow a uniform business model. The beauty of reselling and its various models is that the flexibility of reselling combined with the availability of other industry stakeholders like resale marketplaces have alleviated the barriers to entry. Some resellers are hobbyists, some use it as a side gig, and some are full-blown professional resellers.
A key distinction of a reseller versus a thrift or consignment model is that the reseller actively sources and buys their inventory rather than allowing the community to donate to it. Therefore, a reseller's offerings are typically, but not always, more curated. A reseller may specialize in a certain aesthetic, vintage timeframe, sizing, brand selection, and so on. A traditional professional reseller may look like your local brick-and-mortar vintage shop. In this case, the business would source their inventory from places like used clothing wholesalers, estate sales, thrift stores, or other local or industry connections (many resellers like to keep their sources a secret).
Thanks to the rise of resale marketplaces and a customer's increased willingness to shop secondhand online, the world of reselling has expanded. While eBay allowed many to be introduced to resale as an online revenue stream, the success of platforms like Depop, Poshmark, and Mercari have made it a lot easier for just about anyone to try out resale. This newer iteration of the reseller may look like someone who scours thrift stores or Goodwill bins for items they can turn around to sell at a markup on a resale marketplace, as a pop-up vender at a local event, or even on social media. Sometimes it's a side hustle and sometimes a reseller has built an entire brand identity and website to sell their expertly curated inventory.
The reseller plays an important industry role. Two of their most important roles include recirculating secondhand goods that otherwise may not have been sold (given the sheer amount of excess in the fashion industry, new and old) and making it easier for shoppers to find secondhand that works for them thanks to the curation and distribution of reselling. While resellers may get a bad rap because people blame them for rising thrift store prices or taking clothes away from those that need it, they are actually ultimately helping divert clothes from landfill. Many find in-person thrifting overwhelming, but shopping through a reseller means they still get the cost-savings and environmental benefit of secondhand with the added perk of a curated, filterable selection without having to sort through hundreds of items on the thrift racks. In other words, resellers introduce secondhand to an audience they may not have shopped it otherwise and are, therefore, helping to rehome more secondhand that otherwise may have been cast aside.
The availability and ease of resale marketplaces have made it more accessible to become a reseller. Marketplaces allow resellers instant access to an audience already looking to buy secondhand while also offering the technology and processes to conveniently list and sell clothing within minutes. For example, 90% of Depop's user base is Gen Z including its 1.8 million active sellers. That means that even teenagers or younger twenty somethings are using reselling as a side-gig with significant income potential, something that would not have been feasible or common for that demographic 10 years ago, especially without going through the effort of starting a full blown business.
SPOTLIGHT: EMMA COFFEY (POSHFEST RESELLER
Student at Kent State by day, Poshmark reseller by night! We met Emma at PoshFest last year and then she became a Beni College Ambassador. She was even featured in Seventeen magazine! Follow along her reseller journey on IG!
Resellers occupy an interesting place in the secondhand industry because they are both customers and providers within it. They buy from many of the other players in the industry like thrift stores or wholesalers. They makeup a decent portion of the usership of peer-to-peer marketplaces. Plus, the reseller's ability to leverage social media and generate excitement for secondhand goods has driven new brands to get involved and invited new types of businesses to enter the secondhand industry as business-to-business service providers. Software as a Service (SaaS) businesses such as cross listing platforms like Vendoo and List Perfectly arose to help resellers scale across multiple marketplaces. Resale as a Service (RaaS) businesses exist as a response to the desire to tap into the resale market. While the reseller isn't single-handedly responsible for this industry expansion, they certainly played an important role in offering market validation and excitement for more secondhand possibilities.
The reselling business model's scale isn't due to a handful of major players so much as its ability to allow many smaller players in the door. The reseller isn't necessarily trying to be the next ThredUP (resale is incredibly hard to do at scale anyway), rather they are more likely in it for how it can serve their own life purposes, like achieving a flexible income stream as a stay-at-home mom or paying a their way through college and so on. Of course, there are successful and full-time professional resellers, but the nature of individual resale is inherently smaller in scale.
Each marketplace platform has their star sellers like alisonia196 and bpaigea who have collectively sold over 18,000 y2k-inspired items on Depop. Poshmark seller Suzanne Canon become the first user to make $1 million on Poshmark which she now also uses to sell her own brand. The eBay storefront POPPRI is one of the top apparel-based eBay stores with over 1.8 million sales.
Lastly, there are professional resellers who sell from their own storefronts, online or in-person. For example, What Goes Around Comes Around is a vintage luxury reseller that has been around since 1993. While they do offer a consignment service (as many vintage shops do), they are still resellers who actively source their inventory from connections around the world. As you can see, resale is an extremely varied facet of the secondhand industry.
Opportunities & Challenges
As mentioned, reselling is difficult to do at scale. It requires a lot of time to source, clean and repair finds if necessary, and then to photograph, list for sale, and market the items. There is also a level of expertise and market awareness required to sell successfully. Resale marketplaces and SaaS solutions certainly help alleviate some of these chores, but it can't entirely be automated due to the individual nature of each secondhand piece. Unless someone is specializing in higher-end resale, it can take a lot of sales to add up to money that may replace a full time job which is why many do it part-time.
Resellers do have opportunities to grow and shift their businesses including content creation, education, styling, personal shopping, and beyond. There are also many resellers who make a living teaching other people how to resell. The flexibility in and of itself is an opportunity to leverage resale in ways that work for the seller and can bring secondhand to more people.
Resellers have been a huge influence in getting more people involved in the secondhand industry.
Next up, we will dig into one of those players who want a piece of the resale pie thanks to the market validation resellers have proven: fashion brands incorporating resale into their business.