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Secondhand shops offer stylish, sustainable fashion: Young people enjoy resale stores as they offer unique options

Jan 29,2020
From left: Secondhand clothes on sale at Market In You look like they are brand new; customers look at Christmas sweaters at Million Archive last December; Kolon FnC’s SotSot Market on the first floor of the Nakwon complex in central Seoul. [MARKET IN YOU, JOONGANG ILBO]
Many people start the year off reorganizing their closets, getting rid of items they don’t really wear and making space for new clothes that will be in vogue in the year ahead.

Organizing experts insist that people throw out clothes that they have hardly worn during the previous year because it’s unlikely that they’ll wear them again. That’s when one’s guilty conscious comes in, as most of the clothes one is about to throw out are still intact and indeed wearable if they were inside someone else’s closet.

ThredUP, a U.S.-based online thrift store where people can buy and sell high-quality secondhand clothes, issues a Resale Report annually. According to its 2019 report, the world of “resale has grown 21 times faster than the retail apparel market over the past three years.” The report predicted that the secondhand market will reach $51 billion in five years.

“Resale is on the move,” says James Reinhart, co-founder and CEO of ThredUp, in the 2019 Resale Report. “Even traditional retailers are starting to embrace secondhand. The resale customer is no longer somebody else’s customer, they are everybody’s customer. Mass market or luxury, if people can find a high-quality product for much less, they’ll choose used. I’ve never been more excited about resale’s potential to delight customers and help create a more sustainable future.”

Young people in Korea have taken notice of this trend, opening up small and trendy stores selling secondhand clothes and fashion items in Seoul’s hippest neighborhoods. Such markets use Instagram as their main platform to communicate with customers.

Million Archive in Seongsu-dong, eastern Seoul, is one of them. It is not a permanent market, but a pop-up store that plans and opens up resale markets under different concepts. Last Christmas, for example, Million Archive opened a resale market for a couple of days selling only Christmas sweaters. Some 4,000 to 5,000 sweaters with Christmas designs on them were on sale, and of course, they were all secondhand.

“I like shopping at this kind of secondhand shop because clothes from fast-fashion brands like Zara and H&M all look the same,” said Lee Ji-won, a 26-year-old from Seoul, who added that she “hates spotting other people on the street wearing the same clothes” as her.

Choi Ji-won, 27, who also frequents Million Archive, said that she enjoys visiting the store because she can find a lot of unique items at an affordable price.

“I usually shop at secondhand stores because I’d like to be environmentally-friendly when it comes to fashion. I do not want to buy new clothes. Therefore I’m so glad to see so many trendy secondhand clothing shops like Million Archive opening up these days.”

Another difference between these trendy resale clothing markets and traditional secondhand thrift stores is that most of the clothes on sale are targeted toward younger people’s tastes.

Lee Do-hee, a 17-year-old who likes shopping for vintage goods, says she usually goes shopping at the famous Dongmyo Flea Market in central Seoul. But the clothes they sell there do not have a “clear concept” like the new resale markets that are popping up in Seoul.

Jeong Eun-sol, founder of Million Archive, said most of her customers are in their teens and 20s and that she specifically collects secondhand clothes that will appeal to the age group.

“Early last year, we opened a market for only blouses, and then in May, we only sold secondhand dresses,” said Jeong. “Because we offer different concept markets, there are a lot of returning customers, and the number continues to increase.”

The upcoming market Jeong has planned for next month is the “Kilo Kilo Market,” where customers can buy clothes by the kilogram.

Clothes that weigh less than one kilogram costs 20,000 won ($17), 1.5 kilograms will cost 30,000 won and two kilograms will cost 40,000 won. The market will only be open for two days, on Feb. 1 to 2, from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Market In You is another resale clothing market that operates three shops in Donggyo-dong and Mangwon-dong in Mapo District, western Seoul, and Nonhyeon-dong in Gangnam District, southern Seoul. The market’s main concept is to sell secondhand clothes that look like they are almost brand new. In fact, unlike other resale markets, clothes on sale at Market In You stores look like they are new, and often times people walk in unaware that it’s a resale shop.

“We have a very strict guideline when it comes to purchasing secondhand clothes,” said Kim Seong-gyeong, head of Market In You. “We not only select clean clothes to start off but also the items that are not very outdated.”

The price, therefore, is more expensive than other resale markets, but they are at least half the original price of the same clothes on sale at department stores, which attracts young people looking for quality clothes at an affordable price.

“Many of our customers are also very conscious about sustainable fashion,” added Kim. “They are used to reusing and sharing, [and because of that], resale shops are on a rise.”

Traditional retailers in Korea are also taking notice of the growing resale market, and Kolon FnC has recently opened a small secondhand market on the first floor of the Nakwon complex in Jongno District, central Seoul.

The company advertised last October that it is taking in Kolon outdoor clothes and shoes that are not being used. The company received about 3,000 items. Selecting only the wearable pieces of clothing of the items they received, Kolon FnC decided to open up the SotSot Market selling these together with items from Kolon’s previous seasons at prices between 30,000 won to 100,000 won.

“I was hesitant to visit secondhand stores because the ones I knew of only sold junk,” said Jeong Ga-eun, a 38-year-old from Seoul. “But I was surprised to visit resale markets that are popping up these days. The quality is so good and the clothes are so trendy that I think it’s actually better than buying new stuff. Plus, it’s taking part in saving the planet.”

BY YOO JI-YEON, YIM SEUNG-HYE [sharon@joongang.co.kr]