Tracy DiNunzio started Tradesy over 10 years ago, a time when she says people were, for the most part, "ick about pre-owned."
Today, shopping secondhand is not only no longer "ick": It's increasingly how the cool kids shop as Gen Z's priorities shift from fast fashion toward sustainability. The Kleiner Perkins-backed luxury resale startup just raised another $67 million in series D funding and, according to DiNunzio, is the biggest private company in the category.
Customers have fully embraced buying used for themselves, but what about gifting used? According to executives, shoppers and influencers in the space who spoke to Protocol, consumers increasingly view secondhand gifting as a fun, cheaper and more meaningful way of giving, as well as a more convenient one in the age of the supply-chain crisis.
'I'm proud to say I'm lowering my carbon footprint'
Tijana Lazic is a full-time Poshmark "power seller" and stay-at-home mom based in Los Angeles. Her closet is 95% secondhand, and she gifts secondhand not just for the holidays, but all the time. Her last new purchase? A pair of Zara boots, four years ago.
For Lazic, the primary lure of buying and gifting secondhand is the environmental impact of the fast-fashion industry. "I'm proud to say I'm lowering my carbon footprint," by not "participating in the ritual of wearing once and tossing it."
DiNunzio first started noticing the shifting perceptions of secondhand gifting among holiday shoppers in 2019. While Q4 is typically the busiest time of year for traditional retailers, that's historically not been the case for the resale market. But that year, Tradesy started seeing significantly more activity on the platform during the holiday season: Gift categories like wallet sales were up 25% compared to other quarters that year, for example.
Even the company's data-science algorithms that help predict sales in 2019, which were "extremely accurate" in the first three quarters of the year, failed to predict the Q4 jump in items that are often gifted: small leather goods, bags and certain types of shoes like slippers and loafers. Tradesy also saw a jump in male visitors to the site, 26% in Q4 compared to 16% previously, another sign pointing to an increase in holiday gift-buying.
Since then, the trend has continued to hold. It held in 2020, and this year, Tradesy and others like Poshmark and Depop have increased marketing that's targeted at the gift-giving season. Platforms are starting to promote gift guides in email campaigns that once used to only feature dresses to wear to holiday events. According to customer research conducted by Tradesy's head of product, nine out of 10 women who shop pre-owned would also gift pre-owned.
"There is no difference in how we approach the gifting season than how any other fashion brand approaches it," said Justine Porterie, Depop's global head of sustainability.
Supply chain woes, Gen Z are driving hand-me-down gifts
Sustainability isn't the only thing driving consumers' heightened interest in secondhand gifting. Sam Blumenthal, the director of consumer communications at thredUP, said supply-chain issues are also prompting younger generations to purchase used. According to a recent report by thredUP, half of consumers are looking into alternative gift options like thrifted items because of the supply crunch, and a good majority of Gen Z is open to receiving a hand-me-down gift for the holidays.
According to DiNunzio, consumer worries about supply chain delays are driving them to start their holiday shopping even earlier. Tradesy's October sales were ahead of its projections, with overall sales up more than 50% year over year. Customers are "scared by supply chain issues, and they're scared by the postal services issues," she said.
Nearly every Big Tech company, from Amazon to Apple, is feeling supply-chain pressure, even though they're making major pushes to get people's holiday presents in on time. Supply-chain issues impact the resale market less because everything on platforms like Tradesy and Poshmark is already produced and available. It makes the case for the circular economy that much easier to make, DiNunzio said.
Blumenthal said if someone is just getting into a secondhand platform like thredUP, they should ensure they use filters to boil down exactly what they want, and get a gift card if they're unsure exactly what to give. "The best way to cut waste is to go for a gift card so the recipient can pick out exactly what they want!" she told Protocol in an email.
Sourcing secondhand gifts requires more work
Jon Pulido is a top seller on Depop and collects potential gifts year-round for his friends and family. "Throw them in the back of your closet," he recommended. "By Christmas, I have bundles of things for everybody."
For Pulido, buying and gifting secondhand started out as a financial choice and became a lifestyle. Before he became a top seller on Depop, making enough to support himself solely on the platform, he worked a minimum-wage retail job. "I could spend $50 on a button-up shirt, or I can go to a thrift store and buy four button-ups, shoes, etc., for the same amount of money," he said.
Lazic cautioned that shopping for gifts secondhand requires more time and energy than purchasing a new item online or in a store. To make the process easier, she recommended that people go in with a general idea of a thing they want to give rather than being hyper-focused on finding something very specific. "Start with an idea, and allow yourself to discover something," she said.
How to gift tactfully?
Know your audience, recommended Pulido. If you know someone isn't comfortable with secondhand, don't get them a secondhand gift. But something that people forget is that even new items exist on secondhand marketplaces. Pulido's brother is one person in his life who has never gotten on the secondhand bandwagon. But last Christmas, Pulido found a pair of Active Ride Shop khakis — brand new, in his brother's size — at the local thrift store. "I was pushing my limits, but he was OK with that."
What makes a secondhand gift special is how personalized it can be, he said. In high school, one of his friends at the time was very into amusement parks. At Goodwill one day, Pulido discovered a sweater with the Universal Studios logo stitched on the breast and back. He bought it for $4, and his friend said it was "the best thing he's ever received."
Lazic agreed that part of the beauty of gifting pre-owned is the personal aspect to it. "You found something in a sea of items that this person would really enjoy," she said.
"The fact that they're secondhand is almost secondary. You're talking about great pieces that have a great story that's an additional value add," Porterie said. When her best friend got married last year, she bought her a white silk Adidas jacket, a collaboration the brand did with Pharrell Williams a few years ago. When the bride's feet couldn't stand high heels any longer, she put on a pair of secondhand white Air Jordans, also courtesy of Porterie.
Pulido recommended putting thought not only into the gift but how you present it. He likes to find little baskets to throw everything into that allow him to display the gifts nicely.
Even the most hardcore secondhand gifters agree there are some things that you should never gift secondhand. Top on that list: socks and underwear. "Everything else is pretty game," Pulido said, even shoes. Just make sure they're in decent condition.
"You do not have any obligation to disclose whether [a gift] is pre-owned or not," DiNunzio said, although it might be a good idea to do so to educate recipients about the political act of buying used.
Online secondhand shopping can work if it's intentional
People who promote sustainable living on social media platforms like Instagram said shopping for gifts secondhand can be beneficial, as long as it's done right.
Dani Alvarado, a sustainability blogger, doesn't necessarily consider herself an "influencer." She doesn't use her platform to promote products and instead focuses on asking her followers questions about sustainability while they look at brands and consider a purchase. "We still have our followers ask questions: Can I make this myself? Do I really need this?" she told Protocol.
Dani Alvarado asks her followers questions about sustainability.Image: Sustainablykindliving.com
Alvarado said if someone is going to shop for gifts on secondhand websites, they should create a list going into it and understand what triggers impulse purchasing for them. "Sometimes we'll go to an online store and without thinking about what a person wants, we'll just start looking at the discount section, which can get a little dangerous," she said. By heading to the website prepared, she said the gifts can be more intentional because it forces people to plan ahead.
Taylor Brightt, who talks about sustainable living on TikTok and Instagram, told Protocol that rather than shopping on any secondhand platform, she encourages her followers to think about who they're supporting by making a purchase and to think about the intention of the gift. "Everything needs to be purchased with intention over appeal," she said.
Brightt said she prefers to use Poshmark or Etsy while shopping online because it allows her to connect with different sellers or small businesses. She added that Poshmark helps out sellers by providing them with shipping labels each time they make a sale.
The two companies take a different percentage of sales from sellers; Etsy takes 5% (plus listing and commission fees), while Poshmark takes 20% for all sales above $15, according to their respective websites.
"Think of the seller and how they are treated and how you can support small businesses online," Brightt said. "Anywhere I can support small businesses — I just feel better. I just know they're getting excited about my order."