Q&A: Why Physical Stores Can't Catch Up To Circular Fashion

Everyone has remarked on the many ways physical retailers are trying to cash in on the D2C-led demand for used clothing. Typically, higher-end brands like Rent The Runway, the RealReal and Poshmark drive much of the buzz. 

But ThredUp’s recent announcement that it will open small shops inside both Macy’s and JC Penney is a game-changer. Will mainstream American shoppers bite, or balk? 

D2C FYI caught up with Shawn Grain Carter, an associate professor of fashion business management at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology, for her take on why the integration of new with vintage won’t be so easy, and what physical retailers need to understand to connect with circular-fashion fiends.

D2C FYI: How do you think department store shoppers will respond to ThredUp’s presence in Macy’s and JC Penney?

Shawn Grain Carter: JC Penney is struggling with its customer base — it’s practically on a respirator. And this customer doesn’t necessarily want vintage clothing, or resold clothing. It’s not a destination for millennial shoppers. 

And while Macy’s is in better shape, it’s not a destination for millennials. Baby Boomers shop there, and Gen X, but not younger people.

D2C FYI: It’s clear retailers everywhere understand how important this trend is. Resale is on its way to becoming a $24 billion market.

Carter: Yes, it’s not that offering these clothes is a bad idea, and I think the market is going to expand exponentially. 

It’s that retailers need to understand why these young people don’t shop in department stores. They enjoy vintage clothes. They love consignment. They enjoy the thrill of shopping for used clothes in stores. They’ll go to Goodwill and other thrift stores. 

It has gotten to the point where it isn’t even really a trend. They are so entrenched in the sharing economy that they don’t think about it anymore. 

They don’t think, when they take an Uber or use a Zipcar, “I am doing this instead of buying a car.” It’s just becoming part of their lifestyle.

D2C FYI: Some of this is because they care deeply about the environment, and that’s the main pulse in ThredUp. What else is driving them to buy used clothes?

Carter: Yes, they want to protect the planet. They want an ethical supply chain. They want to take their old jeans to H&M when they buy new ones. 

But debt is a big driver. They care about fashion, and they love clothes. But this is the first generation to shoulder such a large amount of student-loan debt. In many ways, they are still recovering from the recession of 2008.

D2C FYI: What are the challenges stores have?

Carter: Logistics are a problem. Millennials may like to shop used, but they also want same-day delivery. But I think the key thing is understanding that they want experiences.

D2C FYI: And stores can’t provide that?

Carter: Gen Z kids don’t go to the mall. They just don’t. They shop on their devices, and they are so different from previous generations, who would wander up and down the mall with their friends.

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