Individuality, sustainability behind rise of used clothes

The Yomiuri Shimbun
The Wego Vintage Shimokitazawa store in Setagaya Ward, Tokyo, is full of used T-shirts and other secondhand clothes.

Secondhand clothes are in hot demand despite the apparel industry overall being hit hard by the pandemic. For shoppers, the clothing is affordable and they can add individuality to outfits by incorporating one-of-a-kind items. The trend also hits on the idea of sustainability.

In early June at the Wego Vintage used clothing store in the Shimokitazawa area of Tokyo, a 19-year-old university student from Saitama Prefecture bought a knit vest and patterned shirt.

“Unlike fast fashion, I can stand out from other people by wearing one-and-only secondhand items,” he said. “I like these outfits because they’re cheap but profound, and they look fashionable, too.”

Wego Vintage is one of the largest in terms of floor space in Shimokitazawa, which is known as a town for secondhand clothing. The store stocks about 10,000 used clothing items, including those imported from western countries. The prices are mainly in the ¥2,000-¥5,000 range.

There have been more customers, especially young people, during the pandemic, according to store manager Chika Iida. The most popular items these days are patterned shirts, T-shirts in bold colors like orange and dark green, and NBA and NFL jerseys.

Many customers like to wear loose-fitting, oversized used clothes. Couples also often coordinate their outfits or share the clothes, Iida said.

“Some celebrities who young people like also wear secondhand clothes, so they serve as role models for how to dress,” she said. “The concept of mass-produced fashion has taken root, but more and more young people are seeking better ways to express their individuality through wearing used clothing.”

The fashion reuse market, which deals with used clothing and fashion accessories, is expanding year after year, according to a survey by the Yano Research Institute Ltd. in Tokyo. The market was ¥720 billion in 2019, or about 60% larger than that in 2016. It is expected to reach ¥990 billion in 2022.

In Shimokitazawa, a string of new stores selling secondhand clothing have been opening since last year. There are now nearly 100 such stores in the area and nearby.

Dedicated app

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Wego Vintage Shimokitazawa store manager Chika Iida says NBA jerseys sell well.

Vintage.City is a popular app specializing in secondhand clothing. The app provides information on secondhand clothing stores all over Japan and offers online shopping.

When the app was launched in December last year, most users were in their 30s and 40s. However, in March and April, many in their teens and 20s started using the app, too.

“The app is popular because it allows people who can’t go to actual stores due to the pandemic to visit secondhand clothing stores online,” said a person in charge of the app.

The app polled 1,000 people ages 16 to 59 about which celebrities they think wear secondhand clothes well. In each age group, 28-year-old actor Masaki Suda was highly ranked.

Fashion journalist Rie Miyata said one of the reasons for the popularity of secondhand clothing stems from the concept of sustainability becoming widely embraced in society.

“In recent years, people are becoming more and more conscious of using quality items for a longer time, rather than viewing them as disposable,” Miyata said.

“Secondhand clothes are synonymous with sustainable fashion, and young people who care deeply about sympathy are supporting this concept.”