The Korean global secondhand market is valued at USD 16 billion and grows by 20-30% each year. Perceptions of used clothing were once negative, but the stigma is slowly disappearing as young Koreans take interest in the trend for both budgetary and environmental reasons.
Initial secondhand stores were often charity shops, but today they occupy trendy shopping districts and cater to young consumers. In addition to offering greater variety of style and affordability, many sellers offer styles unavailable in the domestic market by importing used clothing from the United States. Jung Eun Sol, owner of Million Archive, notes that these imported clothes also accommodate larger or different body types than what is typically available in Korea. Fans of luxury items are also able to find goods at much lower prices at these venues.
Many shoppers choose secondhand for environmental reasons. Much like reducing meat consumption, buying used clothing is viewed as a more sustainable alternative to the fast fashion industry. According to a sustainability report issued by ThredUp, an online trading platform, shopping secondhand displaces carbon emissions. Aiming to reduce clothing waste in landfills, some companies offer courier services to make it more convenient to responsibly dispose of unwanted clothing. Increased promotion of ESG practices have taken off since the pandemic as consumers are paying more attention to how disposable waste affects the environment. This rise in secondhand shopping may demonstrate how Korean consumers are increasingly looking to align their values with their spending.
This briefing comes from Korea View, a weekly newsletter published by the Korea Economic Institute. Korea View aims to cover developments that reveal trends on the Korean Peninsula but receive little attention in the United States. If you would like to sign up, please find the online form here.
Korea View was edited by Yong Kwon with the help of Kayla Harris, David Lee, Sarah Marshall, and Mai Anna Pressley. Picture from the flickr account of AsianShape-Affordable Asian Fashion