One of my favorite feelings in the world is the burst of adrenaline after scoring a vintage garment that feels like a piece of fashion history. For example, when I found a Gianni Versace-era slip dress in a London pop-up store; or the polar-bear embroidered parka from Canadian heritage brand Northern Sun that I bought from a seller who was clearing out their closet online.
While thrifting has been inciting these emotions in the decades it’s been around, the last 10 years have seen a rise in the mainstream popularity of secondhand fashion. According to Vestiaire Collective’s 2022 Impact Report, 33 million people bought their first piece of secondhand clothing in 2020, and by 2025, the resale industry is expected to grow 11 times faster than the new clothing industry.
But while today’s most sought-after vintage styles hail from the ‘90s and early ‘00s, thanks to the Y2K aesthetic comeback — with luxury labels like Prada, Jean Paul Gaultier, Balenciaga, and Fendi being some of Vestiare Collective’s highest sold brands this year — the thought of a 2020s trend revival in 2040 (considering the 20-year timeline it takes for something to be considered “vintage”) feels, well, like it’s going to be massively overstocked.
Today, there are more brands than ever before, thanks to social media and direct-to-consumer models, but, in particular, we have an overabundance of fast fashion. Four months into this year, Business of Fashion reported that fast fashion giants had already produced hundreds of thousands of clothes, with Shein at an extreme lead with over 300,000 products. As shoppers continue to be tempted with perfectly-curated drops of weekly — even daily — newness (the market is expected to grow from 2021’s valuation of $91 billion to $133 billion by 2026), how will our shopping habits today inform our vintage shopping in the future?
To find out what can we expect from the resale industry next, we turned to the experts.
Luxury Brands Will Continue To Embrace Resale
Luxury resale is a piece of the secondhand puzzle that’s only recently begun to fall into place. With mounting consumer interest in shopping preloved, more and more people are wanting designer items at a comparable cost. Shilla Kim-Parker, CEO and founder of the digital vintage marketplace Thrilling, points out that luxury brands will miss out by not embracing resale at this stage in the game — and need to invest in it in the future.
“Luxury brands have had very different reactions to [resale]. Some, like Gucci, have embraced it wholeheartedly. Others are fighting it tooth and nail. They feel resale deteriorates their brand’s value and that they're losing control over the consumer's experience of their brand,” Kim-Parker says. “Unfortunately, for the latter camp, I suspect they will end up on the losing side of this war.”
It's because of this that many luxury brands are swiftly embracing the resale space, like Kering — which owns the likes of Balenciaga, Bottega Veneta, Gucci, and Saint Laurent — who last year made an investment in Vestiaire Collective. “It's part of the circular economy approach,” Marie-Claire Daveu, Kering’s chief sustainability and institutional affairs officer, tells Refinery29. “We made that investment because we think that secondhand is really where business and sustainability fit well together.”
Daveu says it’s important for fashion businesses to think about the lifecycle of their products from their inception, and have a holistic approach to sustainability if they are to remain relevant in 20 years with consumers who are looking for more eco-conscious ways of consuming fashion. Other luxury players seem to agree: Brands like Mulberry are launching their own repair and buy-back programs, and retail giants like Neiman Marcus are investing in resale platforms like Fashionphile.
This embrace of resale comes at a time when the secondhand market is expected to be worth $47 billion by 2025, according to the Ellen McArthur Foundation, which might explain how brands went from burning excess goods to avoid markdowns to endorsing the resale market in a span of a few years. This approach to circularity and a product’s lifespan will also help brands authenticate its goods, an issue that has plagued secondhand platforms like eBay and The RealReal, and has resulted in some techy solutions, too.
One example is the Digital ID, a tool that can trace a product’s authenticity and age. Already implemented by the likes of Mulberry and Gabriela Hearst, the technology allows visibility into the piece, from production to supply chain and purchaser. This not only retains — and, in some cases, even increases — the goods’ resale value but also encourages shoppers to invest in luxury brands that they can resell down the line.
Quality Vintage Won't Go Anywhere
“We love getting ‘60s pieces and ‘70s pieces in because of the way they're created — everything from the pattern to the stitching, it’s so unique,” says Londiwe Ncube, a stylist and co-founder of the luxury vintage store Atijo (which means “in the past” in Yoruba). “[The future] is going to be trying to find those pieces that are left”
Kim-Parker agrees that vintage fashion from eras past isn’t going anywhere, despite today’s disposable shopping habits. “Fast fashion companies are selling billions of clothing items every year for an average price point under $10. It is impossible to create well-made, high-quality clothing that will stand the test of time for that price,” she says.
Ncube also notes the diminishing stigma of secondhand shopping: “A lot of people don't really have a clue about the impact that fast fashion has and as that transparency happens more and more — real transparency, not greenwashing — people will have different attitudes towards secondhand shopping.” Looking toward the future of vintage fashion, she envisions an emphasis on slowness and thoughtful curation from reseller perspectives.
Today's Most Exciting Brands Will Be Tomorrow's Vintage Must-Haves
So are there any brands producing clothing today that will become coveted finds in 20 years’ time like Tom Ford-era Gucci today? Ncube says yes, and points to a new generation of innovative designers like Wales Bonner, Maximilian Davis, and Martine Rose, as well as more established brands with a distinctive point of view like Coperni, The Row, and Jacquemus.
Kim-Parker also points to new talent like Telfar, Christopher John Rogers, Christian Siriano, and Brother Vellies, as well as post-Millenium brands that have truly incorporated sustainability, like Stella McCartney and Mara Hoffman. She identifies these future vintage frontrunners as the brands that are already creating timeless pieces, and whose clothes are “both high-art and high-quality.”
So perhaps the future of vintage depends on several factors, including the work that brands dedicate to improving their circularity, and how we shift our shopping habits from today. But if there’s anything that is certain, it’s that vintage lovers will be the driving forces behind the continuation of the industry. “I look at it and I get so much joy because I can't imagine who has worn it,” Ncube says while pulling out a canary yellow 1980s Givenchy jacket. “The women that have these clothes and the stories that they tell you are incredible. There's so much beauty in these pieces.”