Nothing fits quite like an old pair of jeans.
Understanding that, Levi Strauss & Co. launched Levi’s Secondhand earlier this month, a platform and program dedicated to the well-worn and well-loved.
The first of its kind jeans-specific buyback program allows shoppers to return older denim pieces to Levi’s stores, including the American Dream location in East Rutherford, for $15 to $35 in store credit.
The pieces then go on Levi’s Secondhand online platform for between $30 and $100, and then into the shopping carts and closets of their next owner.
The reason for the launch? The environment. Extending the life of clothing by an extra nine months of wear reduces the carbon, waste, and water footprints by 20%-30% per item, according to the company.
“This is the single most significant intervention in the lifecycle of clothing,” the Levi Strauss & Co. website said.
The environment is also a factor for shoppers, according to retail analyst and sales consultant John Livesay. “With the whole focus on ‘let’s not be so wasteful, we’re recycling our garbage. Does it make sense to throw away our clothes?’ No, we want to give it to someone who can enjoy it, and we’re not thinking of ourselves as people who have disposable stuff,” Livesay said.
“Helping the planet, there’s kind of a branding in that. Like, did you get your dog at a puppy mill or get a rescue dog? That’s how people are thinking of it. ‘I got this at thredUp because I’m a smart shopper and I’m doing something to help the planet.’” ThredUp is a consignment and thrift marketplace.
When retailers like Levi’s enter the secondhand market, the eco-friendly branding reflects well on them, Livesay said.
Consumers gravitate toward secondhand retail for other reasons as well. On one hand, they can go to the store and buy something that not everyone else is going to have; and because each item is cheaper, they can expand their wardrobe without expanding their budget.
The appeal of worn denim is especially high. According to Livesay, while doing field research for his part in Kramer vs. Kramer, Dustin Hoffman allegedly tried to buy a pair of well-worn jeans from a creative director he was talking with. The creative director allegedly said something to the effect of, “You can’t buy these. I’ve worked too hard to wear them in and nothing else will be this comfortable.”
“That’s where it started, the concept of ‘how great would it be if I could have something that’s already broken in?’ It’s kind of like having a puppy that’s already been house broken, in a way,” Livesay said.
Last summer, Macy’s and JCPenney launched separate deals with thredUP, dedicating 500- to 1,000-square-foot sections inside some locations. The Macy’s in Willowbrook Mall and Newport Centre Mall both had sections. But JCPenney quietly pulled out of its partnership with thredUp this year; and though Macy’s corporate office didn’t return a request for comment and still has thredUp assets on its website, a representative at the Willowbrook Mall store said that the section was taken out when it opened up again after being closed because of COVID-19.
But consignment is trending up overall during the pandemic, according to Megan Zamiska, spokesperson for luxury consignment company The RealReal, which operates warehouses in Perth Amboy and Secaucus.
The RealReal’s Resale Report found that during COVID, its consigners have increased by 27% in the second quarter—37% of whom were Gen Z and millennials. More than 25,000 virtual consignment appointments have been held during the pandemic.
Additionally, the report said, The RealReal’s vendor channel is showing strong growth. Brands and retailers have increased their interest in resale by 22 times during COVID, and brands that work with The RealReal have increased the items they’ve consigned by 46%.
“From stores shuttering to orders cancelling, the ripple effect of the pandemic is driving the fashion industry to evolve its approach,” according to the Resale Report. “Brands are rethinking their distribution and the role resale can play in more sustainably addressing their excess inventory, embracing it as a way to give new life to pieces from past seasons.”
Year over year, the gross merchandise value of consignment items sold by the brands and retailers working with The RealReal went up 19%.
A spokesperson for Gap Inc. told NJBIZ that its partnership with thredUp hasn’t changed since it was announced in February. The retailer is offering closet clean out bags and labels to customers who wish to send unwanted items, brand notwithstanding, for credit at Gap’s suite of banners.
“As the resale revolution continues to gain momentum, participating in re-commerce is not only good for our planet, but good for business,” President of Specialty Brands Mark Breitbard said at the time of the announcement. “Our customers are diversifying their closets, whether with new clothing, rental pieces, or secondhand goods. We’re thrilled to partner with thredUP in offering a sustainable and innovative way to shop for the closet of the future.”
For major retailers getting into the secondhand market, Livesay brought up the case of Blockbuster and Netflix: “Nobody takes their position for granted anymore. I’m sure the people at Blockbuster were very busy until the whole thing fell apart, whereas the people at Netflix were like ‘what’s the brand, what can we be doing?’”
Walmart, for example, is no stranger to co-branding. In addition to Walmart.com’s partnership with thredUp, the retailer also has a co-branded credit card with Capital One, and it launched a partnership with small business retail platform Shopify earlier this year.
“[Cobranding] is another way to get value,” he said. “It’s another way to stay cool and not have anyone else eating our lunch.”
At walmart.com/thredup, shoppers can find 750,000 pre-owned items across women’s and children’s clothing, footwear, accessories and handbags.
To stay relevant, retailers will innovate to grow—including, in this case, to make what is old new again.