ThredUp CEO Says Sustainability Will Win Over Fast Fashion, Luxury

One morning James Reinhart, cofounder and chief executive officer of ThredUp, realized he had a closet full of clothes he wasn’t going to wear. And that was the beginning of a movement into resale that has already shifted the way consumers shop.

“I thought they had a lot of value but didn’t have a lot of value to me. So I went to a consignment store and the lovely lady there said ‘We don’t take these things. We just do luxury.’ But I thought the clothes had real value — a J. Crew sweater, a Brooks Brothers shirt, cashmere,” Reinhart said speaking at WWD’s recent Culture Conference on Sustainability & the Human Element. “It was that ‘ah ha’ moment that made me do some primary research and I learned that 70 percent of a woman’s closet isn’t worn, which means there is a tremendous amount of value locked up in there.”

To unlock the value of unused clothes and cater to those interested in shopping sustainably — particularly secondhand — Reinhart was part of a team that created ThredUp a decade ago. The San Francisco-based fashion resale marketplace is on a mission, he said, to inspire a new generation of consumers to think secondhand first, while helping those with clothes they don’t wear resell them.

“Everything we do is trying to create this experience that shopping secondhand is indistinguishable from shopping new. It’s not this dusty thrift store, or this crazy uneven buying experience,” Reinhart said.

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ThredUp distributes prepaid “cleanup bags” to load used clothes for pickup by FedEx or the U.S. Postal Service, which deliver the bags to ThredUp facilities. The items then get listed on the web site.  “We process more than a 100,000 unique items everyday. We sell 45,000 brands across 100 categories,” Reinhart said, noting that orders are wrapped in tissue paper and shipped in “beautiful boxes” to “elevate the experience of shopping secondhand.”

Despite social distancing and widespread fears of contacting germs from people or things, “secondhand online is a true bright spot,” in an otherwise pandemic-riddled retail industry, according to independent data, Reinhart said.

“Resale is poised to take advantage of changing consumer trends, specifically during the pandemic,” he said. “It’s about young people. There is a shopping experience and generational shift happening. Gen Z and Millennials are shopping secondhand in really meaningful ways. Even for Gen X and Boomers, you have seen acceleration.”

A ThredUp report released earlier this year cited Global Data statistics indicating the secondhand market should reach $64 billion in the next five years. Since shelter-in-place orders swept the U.S., ThredUp has maintained 20 percent growth.

“Consumers are looking for more value,” Reinhart said. “Four in five people are open to shopping secondhand to save money; 79 percent of consumers plan to cut apparel spend over the next year.”

Sustainability is “core to the shopping experience of just about everyone, in particular young people. You can really see they want to shop from sustainable brands, and resale and secondhand in their minds are a big portion of that sustainability.”

Noting fashion’s gross pollution, which he said comes in “just behind oil and gas” Reinhart said, “We can [reduce] CO2 emissions, save water and keep things out of landfills at meaningful rates if people shop secondhand regularly.”

What’s more, he added, “Secondhand, sustainability, Amazon, off-price — all these categories and players are winners at the expense of department stores, fast-fashion and luxury players.”

Retailers, too, are embracing resale. In the last 18 months, ThredUp has partnered with companies such as Cuyana, Reformation, Walmart, Abercrombie & Fitch, J.C. Penney and Madewell, among others.

“For retailers and brands, it’s ‘how do I maintain retention among my best customers?’” Reinhart said. “How do I drive true brand loyalty. Can resale bring in more revenue and drive more foot traffic, and how do I tell a story that is compelling to customers?”

From his vantage point, a company like ThredUp, Reinhart said, could “power the next generation of the resale economy.”

“We think about ThredUp as a platform” for setting up retailers with distribution, pricing, technology, software and other functions to participate in resale,” he said. “We want to be a complement to retailers and brands…and really deliver what we know is this growing consumer base that wants to shop secondhand in all sorts of places — not just at ThredUp.”

James Reinhart of ThredUp. Courtesy Image

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