The latest trend in retail is nothing new — in fact, it’s all about selling what’s old.
Growing concern about the climate crisis and fast fashion’s toll on the Earth has consumers veering off the well-worn road of buying new, especially for their kids, says Christine Trinh, co-founder of Beeja May, a Toronto-based e-commerce business that sells and buys pre-worn children’s clothing.
Trinh and Simon Tan, her husband and business partner, were inspired to start Beeja May in 2020, after struggling to buy second-hand clothes for their newborn daughter. “We are trying to elevate the experience of shopping used,” says Trinh. “The easier it is to do, the more inclined people will be to do it.”
And demand is starting to hit an inflection point.
Statistica projects that the global second-hand clothing market, valued at U.S.$33 billion, will nearly double by 2025. E-commerce sites and apps such as Depop, Poshmark and the RealReal are seeing growing demand — the online resale market in the U.S. is expected to top $69.2 billion this year — up from $55.9 billion in 2020. In fact, shoppers are increasingly looking to give second-hand gifts for the holidays — a report from thredUP (one of the largest online resale platforms) notes that nearly one out of every two consumers are considering buying used this holiday season.
(In a clear sign of the strength of the resale market, even legacy retailers like the Hudson’s Bay want in on the action. The Bay recently partnered with Rebelstork, a Toronto-based online marketplace for used, overstock and open box baby gear.)
Another Toronto-based business selling used baby products, Little Traders, focuses on gear and toys (their most popular items include wooden toys and seasonal items like stroller foot-muffs). Co-founders Ashleigh Berger and Jenna Kellner both experienced Trinh and Tan’s frustration with resale options when they became mothers. “We were on maternity leave together, and we ran into this problem of everything being so highly priced and not wanting to buy new,” says Kellner. “So we kept trying to use Kijiji or Facebook Marketplace or any of the walk-in stores, and we just kept running into challenges of either inventory or sellers falling through. We wanted to solve the problem we were facing.”
Rather than compete with traditional thrift stores or peer-to-peer services such as Bunz, Facebook Marketplace and Kijiji, both Little Traders and Beeja May elevate the marketplace experience by provided a highly curated selection of products that’s well photographed — setting their sites apart from the shaky iPhone photo–filled peer-to-peer sites.
Beeja May works as an intermediary between buyers and sellers, cutting the need for customers to travel to pick up their purchases. Instead, Trinh and Tan buy and pick up gently used baby clothes, inspect each item, then ship out orders. It’s all about trust: “We purchase all our inventory so we have full control of the items on our website,” says Trinh. “You know that the item has been inspected and that we hold our products to a certain standard.”
Little Traders sells gently used and damaged box products, some of which they’ve sourced from manufacturers who resell returned or rejected inventory. Berger, Kellner and their team inspect the products to verify their condition. Like Beeja May, this ensures that the products are high quality. They sell highly-sought after products such as brand-name cradles, strollers and other big-ticket items. “Customers are really brand-obsessed when it comes to their children,” says Berger. “Babybjörn, UPPAbaby and Monte items always sell quickly.” And, as a bonus, shopping at Little Traders usually represents a huge discount for the parents, making high-end brands more accessible — preloved items are discounted up to 70 percent off retail prices and damaged box items are usually around 50 to 60 percent off of the retail price. On top of all this, Little Traders buys back what they’ve sold when a family is done with it to continue the product’s life cycle.
The two businesses are both alumni of York University’s Schulich Startups program and often work with each other — a partnership that has been integral to their success, the founders say. “We have the same sellers and same buyers and so we share a lot of the operational elements of the business,” says Berger. “We’ll share pick-ups if sellers want to get rid of both clothes and toys, so it’s a one-stop shop.”
The founders all note the value of being able to chat with fellow entrepreneurs and support each other’s businesses. “A lot of people say that entrepreneurial life is quite lonely, but having that community from Schulich is so great,” says Trinh.
Despite both companies experiencing steady growth (Beeja May, for example, currently buys clothes from families in the GTA but they’re hoping to expand into western Canada in 2022), neither company is vying for a physical space in the city. As an e-commerce, Little Traders is able to sell to anyone regardless of geography, while avoiding the risks of running brick and mortar during this prolonged pandemic. And Trinh has found that the flexibility of owning an online-only business has allowed them to scale up quickly.
The two businesses are seeing a slight increase in sales during the holiday shopping period, highlighting the shift toward buying used gifts. November 2021 was Little Traders’ strongest month to date, especially for damaged box inventory. “There’s still some hesitancy when buying preloved items as gifts, so we stocked up on our damaged box inventory — these are items that may have superficial damage to the box but the item inside is completely new,” says Berger. These items are often rejected from traditional retailers, making that item destined for a landfill even if it’s never been used.
“You inevitably start examining and reflecting on the carbon footprint we’re generating when you become a parent,” says Trinh. “You can’t help but wonder what the world’s going to look like for our children.”
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