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Megatrend vintage

How to benefit from the megatrend vintage for your business

12 Feb 2024

Whether it's unique pieces from luxury brands or basic items sold by the kilo, the trade in second-hand fashion is booming. The once used wardrobes are now found in prime locations, resembling modern concept stores and outranking major fashion houses. These are responding with pop-up stores and offering second-hand goods right alongside new products. How can retailers from other sectors utilise the megatrend of vintage for themselves?

The current Consumption Monitor for Sustainability by the German Retail Association (Handelsverband Deutschland – HDE) provides useful figures: about half of all consumers are already buying second-hand goods, and just as many plan to increase their purchases in this segment in 2023. The interest primarily lies in fashion and accessories (65%), toys (48%), and electronic products (37%). In 2023, the HDE expects a growth rate of eight percent to around 15 billion euros altogether.

The HDE cites three reasons for the increased demand:

  • Saving costs
  • The pursuit of an individual lifestyle
  • The desire for sustainable consumption
young woman at a flea market

Vintage alongside new goods

Various market participants have long discovered the potential and know how to exploit the vintage trend. Since July 2023, the e-commerce company AboutYou has been cooperating with the online specialist for second-hand goods, Momox Fashion, to offer its customers a significantly larger range of used fashion. Even retail fashion giants rely on experienced partners and offer vintage clothing in the integrated pop-up store by Vite EnVogue. After a trial balloon in two Breuninger branches in the autumn of 2020, the Vite EnVogue website now lists an impressive number of active pop-up stores, from KaDeWe in Berlin to Lodenfrey in Munich and Wöhrl in Würzburg.

The shoe retailer Görtz tested a new concept as a 'Lifestyle Retailer' in the Düsseldorf Kö-Bogen until February 2023. Behind large glass fronts, an attractive café enticed passers-by, flanked by changing pop-up stores designed to spark curiosity and encourage further browsing in the store. In the basement, Görtz attracted the second-hand target group with fashion from the label Vintage Revivals, thus attempting to appeal to new customer groups for their actual product range – shoes – through the trendy topic.

However, second-hand isn't just successful with fashion. Department store giant Karstadt was experimenting until recently with an entire floor of second-hand goods in its Berlin branch at Hermannplatz, supported by Re-Use Berlin. The initiative by the Senate Department for Mobility, Transport, Climate Protection and Environment showcased clothing from the charity shop Zweimalschön and Rack’n white Charity Club, upcycled furniture from Upcycle Berlin, upcycled vases and tables from The Way Up, and old records and art from Meetatart. Since this year, Re-Use has been organising pop-up stores for sustainable consumption throughout Berlin and crowns a Re-Use Superstore every month.

Second-Hand Fashion booms online and offline

What a rapid development when you consider how long second-hand shops led a shadowy existence on the fringes of cities. Online marketplaces like Ebay triggered the first successful wave of retro shopping in the 90s. The Corona pandemic gave a further boost, during which fashionistas sorted out their luxury wardrobes and new purchases increasingly took place in second-hand goods. In the Global Consumer Insights Survey, conducted biannually by the auditing and consulting firm PwC, polling consumers in 25 countries worldwide, just over half of the German consumers report using online channels to buy used clothing and shoes, while around 39 percent prefer to shop in retail stores.

Graphic from Statista: Upward trend for second-hand goods

'The second-hand market offers customers – especially younger people from Generation Z – access to higher-priced products that they might not otherwise be able to afford. This is particularly important for luxury products and brands.'

Dr. Christian Wulff, Consumer Markets Leader at PwC Germany and EMEA

The renowned luxury department stores in Paris, Galeries Lafayette and Printemps, have created entire departments in their retail spaces where customers can find not only second-hand fashion and vintage decoration but also upcycling labels and small manufacturers.

But it's not just the younger audience that finds the offering attractive; other consumer groups are also enthused. The unique character of the pieces, the experience of discovery, and the rummaging through 'pre-loved' items with a history are highlights, especially when travelling. The product acquired in this way is charged with more emotion than an online bargain or basics from a retail chain.

The desire for sustainable consumption - Case study: Re:Think Store by Globetrotter

That customers are increasingly questioning and adjusting their consumption has long been recognised by Globetrotter, which convincingly positions itself as an environmental protector and responsible provider of everything that enables an environmentally conscious nature experience. The commitment ranges from saving electricity in the branches to recycling and rental services, all the way to a sustainability podcast. The provisional highlight of Globetrotter's sustainability efforts is the Re:Think Store in Bonn.

In 2017, the outdoor equipment supplier opened a new branch in Bonn in a store previously used by Conrad Electronics. Following the Cradle-to-Cradle principle, a large part of the inventory used by the previous tenant was reused and supplemented with used shelves and structures from other Globetrotter branches. For example, on the test track for hiking boots, different old materials were installed according to the patchwork principle. Customers are made aware of all these measures through informative display boards, which positively strengthens the brand.

Upcycling shelves and a test course made from used flooring at Globetrotter in Bonn (Source: Globetrotter)
Upcycling shelves and a test course made from used flooring at Globetrotter in Bonn (Source: Globetrotter)

For new products, Globetrotter demonstrates its commitment to a greener range with its own label, which identifies items that have been vetted by the in-house Corporate Social Responsibility team against no-go and positive criteria such as materials used, chemicals employed, compliance with human and labour rights, animal welfare, environmental protection, or circularity. At the point of sale, banners and explanatory boards highlight 'Greener Choice' products, and the items themselves are marked as the more sustainable option compared to comparable alternatives.

Integrated workshop and an extensive 2nd-hand range at Globetrotter in Bonn (Source: Globetrotter)
Integrated workshop and an extensive 2nd-hand range at Globetrotter in Bonn (Source: Globetrotter)

Range of second hand and repairs

With the second-hand section and the workshop, Globetrotter in Bonn shows even more impressively how well the retailer understands its customers. Used hardware and functional clothing 'with a history' are purchased and offered for sale in the 2nd-hand area, while in the workshop, damaged items are examined, refurbished, and then put back into circulation with a full one-year warranty. A smart idea: according to the HDE, consumers spend 3.7 billion euros annually on repairs, and specialist retail stores are the most popular port of call alongside specialists from the crafts sector.

How can retailers in the consumer goods sector benefit from this trend?

It can be worthwhile for companies to take into account more conscious consumer behaviour and the vintage trend in their own business strategy. But what is the best way to do that? Here are some ideas.

1. Integration of used items into their own range

Retailers can learn from the large department stores and offer old alongside new. This is easiest through a partnership with an established player in the second-hand market. The established retailer shows with the 'Preloved Corner' that it is on-trend and promotes sustainable consumption. Both partners can benefit from new customer groups.

For example, the Paris department store Printemps collaborates with Debongoût for its range of tables, vases, lamps, and mirrors. Behind Debongoût is an artist who collects vintage pieces from flea markets all over France and creates furniture and objects by hand and responsibly in small quantities.

Whether a revenue-strong business model emerges from the mix of first and second-hand depends on the experiment. If no suitable partner is found, it is up to the retailer themselves to source used goods through their own network or the purchase of inventory stocks. Even a few striking vintage pieces can enhance the range of modern tableware, giving it an individual twist. Here, expertise about the products and their history is required, as well as competence in consultation. The HDE found in a study that second-hand is increasingly in demand for gifts as well.

At Ambiente 2023, curator Angelika Niestrath showed in the special presentation Ms. Paper & Friends how stores for stationery, design-oriented gifts, accessories, and home decoration can utilize the vintage trend. There, for example, was a clothing rack that, amongst precious Japanese papers, also presented selected fashions from the 1950s and 60s. 'The exclusive dresses harmonized fantastically with the textile feel and kimono patterns of the handmade papers,' recalls Niestrath. 'Both almost magically attracted the predominantly female target audience.

Angelika Niestrath at the special show Ms. Paper & Friends

To gauge the revenue potential of vintage products for their own target group, Niestrath recommends a pragmatic approach: 'Retailers can simply start by incorporating selected unique pieces, for example from flea markets, as saleable decoration into their merchandise displays. They will quickly find that these items with history give the range a very special charm and emotional depth – and that customers often ask about a price for these special items of their own accord. If the test works as hoped, the offering can be expanded or even specialized, for instance, focusing on fashion and accessories from a certain era, watches, or vinyl records. The more cult the theme, the better.'

According to Niestrath, a certain level of personal commitment and competence is a prerequisite for success: 'To transform a piece of bric-a-brac into a unique object of desire takes a spark of real passion, both in front of and behind the sales counter.' As a source for extraordinary finds, besides markets and junk halls, household clearances or portals such as eBay can also be considered.

2. Shop fittings in the vintage trend

Just start! Industrial lamps, old tables for product presentation, decorative objects from bygone times, old gymnastic equipment as seating: With a bit of imagination, there are great ways to evoke positive feelings for beloved items in decoration and as a retailer to gather first experiences with secondhand. There are many suppliers and also consultants for sourcing and implementation.

3. Events around the trend topic of Vintage

The second-hand-affine Generation Z likes to shop in-store but tends to avoid the long-established shops. With eye-catching events, retailers can gather first experiences with this target group and make themselves known. When planning an event to present a new collection, an artist could show upcycling live. If you sell accessories or decoration, participating in a pop-up fair like VinoKilo could be interesting. Many consumers buy used fashion at flea markets or events for artisanal design, DIY products, or manufactory goods – how about presenting a selected range with your own stand at these events?

4. Repairs, alterations, and refurbishments

Here too, novices learn from the pioneers: Secondhand goods are pre-owned, alterations are called upcycling, and a repair provides the old things with a re-fresh. Retail doesn't necessarily need the trendy English terms, but the additional offer is interesting and for some, it has long been part of the service. Thus, the jeweller can have a goldsmith transform grandmother's jewellery into a current design. The furniture store has contacts with an upholstery workshop that can reupholster the old sofa. In customer consulting, deep product knowledge about the items in one's own range can also be applied to used pieces. The specialist consultant knows whether the repair is worthwhile, has suggestions for solutions and knows the right service providers. As a problem solver, he can distinguish himself from the anonymous online trade, which usually offers no advice and rarely individual services. Further ideas are provided by the article „Retail moves towards sustainability”.

Goldsmith tools

5. Assess and mark new goods according to sustainable criteria

Products from brands that commit to social and ecological standards can enrich the retailer's assortment and be prominently presented. For the clever purchase of such products, the Ethical Style program at the Frankfurt consumer goods fairs marks those exhibitors whose environmentally friendly and ethically produced products are considered particularly sustainable. They present themselves in the following categories: Eco-Friendly Material, Eco-Optimised Production, Fair & Social Production, Re-/Upcycling Design, Handmade Manufacturing, and Sustainable Innovation.

They can be found using the Special Interest "Ethical Style" filter in the exhibitor search:

An independent jury of experts on behalf of Messe Frankfurt provides the assessment so that retailers do not have to conduct the research themselves, as Globetrotter does. After the purchase, the task is rather to highlight the "green" assortment on the sales floors accordingly and to get to know the new target groups better through consultation.

Ethical Style by Ambiente

6. Do good and talk about it

The maxim for successful public relations also applies to the topic of sustainability. Many owner-managed stores uphold family-oriented values and operate in a resource-efficient manner for cost reasons. It is important to make the 'green' commitment visible.

The website, social media presence, and point of sale offer many opportunities to show the attitude and activities with which the retail sector takes on social, economic, and ecological responsibility. These opportunities should be utilized.