Young hipsters in China fuel growth in secondhand economy

The resale economy in China is growing at a rapid pace fuelled by changing consumer attitudes to sustainability and nostalgia. PHOTO: REUTERS

LANZHOU, CHINA (XINHUA) - Clad in a vintage wool suit vest and brown plaid pants, Mr Yang Le is sorting out apparel and accessories in his soon-to-open secondhand boutique store.

The 34-year-old's new shop is nestled on a busy shopping street in Lanzhou City, northwest China's Gansu province, and mostly sells secondhand clothing such as Japanese flight jackets, European-style umbrella skirts and vintage T-shirts made in the 1980s.

Successively opening two boutique stores within four years, Mr Yang has great faith in China's secondary market.

The resale economy in China is growing at a rapid pace fuelled by changing consumer attitudes to sustainability and nostalgia.

A report published by Shenzhen-based market research company AskCI Consulting indicates that revenue of China's secondary market reached 740 billion yuan in 2018, and the figure was estimated at one trillion yuan (S$206 billion) in 2020.

"The young generation cherishes the value of time in a vintage object," said Mr Yang.

Obsessed with Western and Japanese secondhand culture, Mr Yang quit his office job and opened his first vintage store in 2017. He invested more than one million yuan in selecting old objects from around the world.

"It's generally believed that objects that are more than 20 years old can be seen as vintage," said Mr Yang. "They should bear the value of time and be of high quality."

Positioned as the antidote to fast fashion, the resale economy has been rising among young hipsters in Western countries for decades, but in China, it is still quite new and the industry is still small.

The first store, as Mr Yang has predicted, did not see high sales in the beginning.

"A pair of hip-hugging jeans from the early 1970s may cost twice as much as a new pair of Levi's," said Mr Yang. "Few can accept both the concept and the price."

As the new school semester approaches, a secondhand book store in Lanzhou Jiaotong University was stirring again.

Piles of secondhand books flooded the less than 10 sq m store, with customers having to shoulder their way out.

Purchasing used books has become the top choice for many students in China as it is cost-effective and environmental-friendly.

"It's a win-win business and avoids unnecessary waste," said 21-year-old Suo Peng.

The booming secondary market has also spawned new professions such as secondhand luxury appraisers and revived old businesses such as pawnshops.

Professor Yang Suchang, from the School of Economics at Lanzhou University, said the secondary market has entered a virtuous circle in China, and more professional practitioners and institutions will emerge in the future.

Mr Yang is still indulged in secondhand objects and spends much time travelling around searching for antiques.

"They are highlights of the past and treasures of the future," he said.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.