Swati eagerly looks forward to her evenings. After a long day of work at Stanford University in California, she is ready to unwind in style.
"I enjoy the evening parties, make sure dinner is ready and then take two to three hours to attend a party. I share my closet and go through others’ closets. It is a great opportunity to see and have people visit your closet,” she says.
Closet-sharing parties draw footfall and eyeballs into Swati Batra’s closet which she has set up online for followers to peek into, find trends, socialise, like, and buy. Chic hosts and fashionable followers are coming together to create social marketplace experiences online, which are similar to in-person shopping trips with friends. In the process, they find items they would love to own, says program manager Swati. “I love pampering myself by buying stuff from Poshmark. I'd say now a lot of my purchases come from there. I find such great things. I found a Fendi bag. There are a lot of Indians there too.”
Swati has been buying and selling high-end apparel, bags, and jewellery online, for years. Easier on the pocket along with a reduced environmental impact, more Americans are choosing to own pre-used fashion items, rotating their closets in the process. Online apps and sites, such as Poshmark, Depop, ThredUP, Etsy, etc, are riding the wave of conscientious fashion by offering platforms to buy and sell pre-owned luxury goods. Consumers are realising the ecological impact of the fast-fashion industry.
Clothing Production Trends
Clothing production has more than doubled in the last two decades, with the average consumer buying 60 percent more pieces of garment compared to 15 years ago. Yet, each clothing item is now kept half as long.
Seasonal fashion drops have been replaced by near-instant gratification of fast fashion.
Second to oil, the garment and textile industry is the largest polluter in the world, responsible for 20 percent of global waste water. 64 percent of the 32 billion garments produced each year are trashed, the equivalent to a truck full of clothes ending up at a landfill site every second.
By 2030, we are expected as a whole to be discarding more than 134 million tons of textiles a year. Up to 95 percent of the textiles that are land-filled each year could be recycled. The second-hand market is projected to nearly double the size of fast fashion by 2029.
Shift in Retail Shopping to Online Shopping
Retail has rapidly shifted online, especially during the pandemic. But instead of choosing basic e-commerce sites to buy and sell pre-worn items, Americans are preferring sites which offer an intuitive human connection with the convenience and scale of online purchasing. Combined with a focus on sustainability, this has created a shift towards social and second-hand.
The advantage of interacting with trendsetters on social shopping sites is a huge draw. A Michigan-based advertising and marketing executive, Jillian Nathan feels that ‘fashion is in her bloodline’. She has styled for TV shows and video shoots. Having worked at a high-end fashion apparel store in NYC, Jillian has a knack of engaging with customers, and knowing what works on whom. She brings that expertise to her online social marketplace, where she has a huge base of followers. “Fashion allows me to show my personality and allows people to come to me. I do styling when I get requests,” she says.
“I had people flying in from other states to come and shop with me in New York. I knew my clients, their upcoming events, sizes and the likes. I listened to small things that they would say, write them down, send texts or call when they had an event, and followed up after events – small things like that make a difference. I carry that ‘clienteling’ in me to my online marketplace. This is lacking in retail these days, from a store front perspective.”
Of the platforms Jillian Nathan has tried to sell her used items on, she prefers Poshmark. The ‘fashionista’ started out with selling clothes from her wardrobe that she wanted to pass on, and in the process formed a community of friends and clients, sharing fashion tips, recommending items, hosting online and in-person events. An avid shopper, she says, “I got a pre-worn, vintage Thierry Mugler blazer to wear for my most recent head shot, an Alice McCall dress that I will be saving for my summer birthday, a vintage Dior bag – Y2K fashion that was popular when I was in high school, Emilio Pucci moon boots, all at a fraction of retail store price.”
Poshmark – A Polular Online Platform in North America
Languishing in the back of cupboards, outfits that have never been worn or those that don’t fit any more, are making massive business sense for online, social, second-hand, shopping sites. One of the most popular among these with more than 70 million users in North America is Poshmark, which had one of the largest IPOs of 2021 – its market share reaching USD 7 billion shortly after.
For its Indian-American Founder and CEO Manish Chandra, the idea for the social marketplace popped up during a home remodelling project, “It was so difficult to find and buy the material we needed, so I wanted to create a collaborative shopping experience, which became my first company Kaboodle. My real passion was technology and fashion. I had a concept for Poshmark in 2009, but tech was not ready. Instagram was just coming up for iPhone 4. I was really thinking of an interactive selling and buying place. We worked out of my garage in Fremont.”
Talking about yet another Silicon Valley garage startup success story, originating in identifying inefficiencies in fashion, Chandra says, “There was an opportunity to scale fashion using technology. Looking at our own closet which had my clothes and my wife’s clothes – so many unopened bags from fashion purchases – that got me thinking. There are trillions of dollars trapped in closets in US alone. It is environmentally more sustainable to rebuild and re-adorn them.”
One of Manish’s first sartorial memories is related to his mother modifications – “A beautiful yellow shirt. Mom used to modify some of our clothes. This one was a hand-made kurta style shirt with a zip in front. She made it for me – my clothing side memory from my teenage years.”
An IIT Kanpur graduate with a Masters in Database, Manish Chandra moved from the semiconductor space to fashion, founding Poshmark which was initially a company for women’s premium couture resale, now immersed in American pop culture and sustainability. It has taken off as women, and men, ‘posh’ their chic, used clothes and accessories to new owners, and discover pre-worn, ritzy fashion to buy – becoming entrepreneurs themselves, explains Founder & CEO Manish Chandra.
“We are really democratising fashion, returning the power to users, taking a perspective of reusable, mixing low end and high end, changing how fashion is consumed and perceived – making it broadly accessible. It brings social and community back into fashion, it builds intimate connections. We host an annual Poshmark fashion show, with second hand and new, with models of all sizes and colours – that is disruption. Models and buyers and sellers who come from all walks of life, representing who we are as people.”
A pair of Alexander McQueen sneakers is CEO Manish Chandra’s favourite purchase from Poshmark. Shoppers can peek into celebrity closets on Poshmark, including prominent singers, actors, Youtubers, and sports stars. Recently, Grammy-winner DJ Khaled updated his closet with personal garments from his music videos and red carpet appearances.
Users can buy fashion from Serena William’s closet. She is also their board member. In the last few months, San Francisco-based Poshmark has added home goods and pet products, and expanded to Australia.
Manish Chandra finds it also relevant for developing countries, including India. “It is relevant everywhere. India is a large English speaking country. We want to connect countries to make a global, sustainable fashion industry – a woman in Kenya selling to a woman in NY. Those connecting and economic opportunities exist in the world.”
Most e-commerce giants rely on search-based shopping, but humans don’t necessarily shop like that in the real world, instead browsing a store or asking their friends about cute clothes they’re wearing. With that in focus, in a saturated e-commerce space, a desi entrepreneur has created an interactive discovery space, disrupting the fashion industry along the way.
(Savita Patel is a senior journalist and producer, who produced ‘Worldview India’, a weekly international affairs show, and produced ‘Across Seven Seas’, a diaspora show, both with World Report, aired on DD. She has also covered stories for Voice of America TV from California. She’s currently based in the San Francisco Bay Area. This is an opinion piece, and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)