Elevate your life, sustainably
Elevate your life, sustainably

Vintage or Not, Furniture Is Finding a New Home In the Sustainable Secondhand Trend

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secondhand furniture
Image courtesy 1st Dibs

Vintage is always in style in one form or another. Furniture has been no exception. And now, vintage and secondhand furniture are poised to see growth like the clothing resale market has been experiencing for years as consumers seek out more sustainable and affordable options.

In its first Trend Report, furniture resale platform Kaiyo reports interest is skyrocketing—the pre-loved furniture segment is expected to hit nearly $17 billion by 2025, a 70 percent increase from 2018 numbers.

“The popularity of apparel resale sites like ThredUp and The RealReal have made consumers more comfortable with shopping preloved pieces. We are pleased to release Kaiyo’s inaugural trend report which highlights the growing demand for pieces that are durable and sustainable,” Kaiyo CEO and Founder Alpay Koralturk said in a statement.

Koralturk says millennials, in particular, are more willing to shop secondhand as they become “increasingly eco-conscious and more discerning with their dollars.”

This shift has seen secondhand sales jump. Earlier this year, resale platform ThredUp predicted sales would tip $77 billion by 2026—doubling its current value.

Other vintage and secondhand platforms like Chairish and 1stDibs are seeing growth, too. Chairish saw a 60 percent increase in sales last year; 1stDibs, which deals in luxury home goods, saw a 23 percent increase.

Secondhand furniture market

Kaiyo’s findings, according to Koralturk, shine a spotlight on the role secondhand furniture can play in “creating a more sustainable world.”

Furniture is inherently problematic for the planet. Forestry makes up about six percent of all emissions; manufacturing is another 12 percent. Furniture is also reliant on two of the biggest other emissions-producing categories: energy production, which accounts for 72 percent of all emissions, and transport, 15 percent.

Image courtesy 1st Dibs

It can also attach itself to the other big emissions-producing industry: livestock. Leather, wool, and down feathers are increasingly common in furniture—particularly in the luxury sector. Livestock production accounts for 14.5 percent of all emissions, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

But even when responsibly sourced and manufactured, only a small percentage of furniture is ever recycled. That’s due in large part to the complex mix of materials used in furniture. Upholstered items (as well as mattresses) pose challenges in cleaning and reprocessing. Americans throw out more than 12 million tons of furniture every year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. What can’t be recycled amounts to about nine million tons of furniture parts—wood, metal, glass, fabrics, and foam—sent to landfills every year.

Just half a century ago, that number going to landfills was only two million tons. The rise can’t be blamed on population increase alone. The biggest culprit—just like fashion—is the rise of fast furniture buoyed by cheap materials and cheap exported labor.

Fast furniture

IKEA, the biggest name in fast furniture, has become a leader in sustainability initiatives from its sourcing and transport to fundamentals in its designs. But even with those efforts, it lacks the one factor that makes vintage or secondhand furniture a viable option in the first place: craftsmanship. Its parallel with throwaway culture makes it harder to tease out from the pile–even if that’s just a perceived notion. According to Kaiyo’s report, the brands with the biggest presence on the platform include sustainability, design, and quality leaders like West Elm, CB2, Herman Miller, Design Within Reach, and Article.

All of this doesn’t mean new furniture is going away anytime soon. But it could mean a quality shift in new as demand for sustainability increases across all market segments.

“Mixing pre-loved pieces with new furniture for all of my projects has become increasingly more important and relevant as I consider sustainability for the earth and accessibility for my clients — making Kaiyo the perfect platform to source from. I also love the fact that my clients can sell their furniture on Kaiyo so we can switch it up,” says Peti Lau, Kaiyo’s trends expert.

Image courtesy IKEA

Home has perhaps never been more sacred than the last two years; the home furnishings industries saw huge spikes in demand over the course of the pandemic as people redecorated while in lockdown.

Chairish reported on the Covid impact, noting that 31 percent of Millennials and Gen-Z increased their purchases of secondhand furniture. At least 66 percent of homes report having one or more pieces of pre-loved furniture.

Kaiyo says that in that time it’s helped to keep more than 2.5 million pounds of furniture out of landfills, seeing a 150 to 200 percent growth month on month each year. It also plants a tree with every order completed on the site.

“People understand that it’s better to have something that’s made well and will stand the test of time vs. something that’s easily discarded,” Koralturk says. “Once they realize the benefits of buying secondhand—both for the planet and their wallets—they want that more and more in all of their purchasing decisions.”

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