New Reasons to Buy Old Things: Why Shopping for Vintage Furniture and Clothing Is Easier Than Ever

In a world of fast fashion and furniture, many people are extending the life of well-made items

New Reasons to Buy Old Things: Why Shopping for Vintage Furniture and Clothing Is Easier Than Ever
Vintage and antique furniture has stood the test of time. Now, rapidly growing online companies are making it easier than ever for shoppers to score great finds. (Julien Tondu/Unsplash)

Antiques and vintage items have long been centerpieces of style, but the experience of shopping for them, as well as second-hand contemporary pieces, has changed dramatically in recent years.

Antiquing used to be about attending fairs, rummaging through shops, and going to auctions. While the thrill of the hunt was great for some, it was a tedious way to find truly outstanding pieces to fit one’s style.

Now, rapidly growing online companies such as Chairish and 1stDibs present a carefully curated selection of furniture and home décor. Searching by theme, time period, place of origin, style, or various other criteria quickly zeros in on the right pieces. These offerings not only include antiques (made over 100 years ago) and vintage items (made between 30 and 100 years ago), but also high-end contemporary items.

These websites have seen major growth in the past couple of years. Chairish’s sales increased 60 percent in 2020 as people sat at home under lockdown measures and reconsidered their home décor. 1stDibs had a 31 percent increase in sales in 2021. Kaiyo, a similar website, has experienced 150 percent to 200 percent growth every month year-over-year for the past two years.

“We are heavily selective about what items we accept into our marketplace. Curation has been integral to our success,” Noel Fahden, Chairish’s vice president of merchandising, said. “Chairish’s success has been driven by two seismic shifts rocking the home furnishings industry: shoppers’ move to e-commerce, and recommerce.”

The Rise of e-Commerce and Recommerce

E-commerce in the United States jumped about 32 percent in the fourth quarter of 2020, year-over-year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Much of this is attributed to the closure of brick-and-mortar stores and consumer aversion to them during the pandemic.

Recommerce—or the circular economy—is about buying and selling previously owned items. It has the potential to keep much of the United States’ 12 million tons of furniture waste and 17 million tons of textile waste from entering landfills each year.

“Not only is vintage furniture beloved for its chic, one-of-a-kind style, but there’s also growing appreciation for its immediate availability and sustainability,” Fahden said. “Right now, due to supply chain chaos, newly made furniture can take up to six months or more to arrive at your doorstep. Chairish vintage items are ready to ship.” Recommerce items—by definition—are in stock.

Similarly, in its 2021 report, Kaiyo boasted of its ability to get goods to shoppers in an average of two to five days, versus 14 to 16 weeks from furniture manufacturers.

Shipping direct from seller to buyer is generally less fuel-intensive than buying new, states Chairish in its 2021 Resale Report. New merchandise is often transported from the manufacturer to a port, shipped overseas, taken to a warehouse, then to a retail store, then to a consumer.

“The pandemic has helped spur additional interest in the circular economy as one approach toward sustainability, due to the pivot online for working and buying, supply chain issues, and public, consumer, and stakeholder pressures,” Nancy Landrum, professor of sustainability management at Loyola University, said.

Landrum cites new laws and government initiatives that also have boosted the circular economy. For example, starting this year, France has banned designer clothes and luxury goods companies from destroying unsold products.

“Younger consumers—Gen X, Gen Z, millennials—have historically been viewed as most concerned about sustainability,” she said. “But recent research has shown a shift, with 'boomers' becoming more concerned. Boomers are in a stronger financial position to vote with their dollars.”

1stDibs asked designers which trends will be popular in 2022, and said that “almost all designers selected sustainable materials (nearly universal at 97 percent).”

A Community and a Place for Entrepreneurs

On the fashion side, websites such as Poshmark have similarly thrived as people seek to eliminate the waste of fast fashion.

Poshmark has tapped into the satisfaction derived from social media engagement, and buyers interact with sellers and browse through their “closets.” This is another form of curation; it’s like following a fashion blogger and literally buying clothes out of their closet. Chairish similarly has tastemaker picks as one form of curation.

“Consumers love our unique social experience,” Amber McCasland, Poshmark’s vice president of global brand and communications, said. “The Poshmark community is a place where sellers help other sellers, and buyers enjoy a more human e-commerce experience with a personal touch.” Poshmark hosts in-person networking events and encourages sellers to help each other by sharing know-how.

Resale websites rely on wooing sellers to bring their desirable items. These sites foster many small-scale entrepreneurs.

Poshmark has grown steadily in the United States and Canada for 10 years and is now expanding into India. McCasland referred to the Unlocking the Future of Commerce in India report, which states: “Social commerce has the ability to empower more than 40 million small entrepreneurs across India. Today, 85 percent of sellers using social commerce are small, offline-oriented retailers who have found that social channels open new avenues for growth.”

“People love supporting other small sellers and businesses on our social marketplace,” McCasland said.

Quality Craftsmanship

The reliability of products listed on Poshmark, Chairish, and 1stDibs can be much higher than on resale sites like Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, and eBay. Facebook Marketplace is flooded with items available locally, which are presented with amateur photographs, often sell at ultra-low prices, and are of variable quality. On the other hand, the aforementioned websites provide professional presentation, guarantees on big-ticket items, appraisals, and other services.

For example, Poshmark authenticates every item priced above $500 and has protections in place to ensure that sellers accurately describe the conditions of their goods.

The brands that do best on furniture resale sites have stood the test of time, for both style and quality. Some of the popular brands on Chairish are Roche Bobois, Baker Furniture, George Smith, and Scalamandré.

Kaiyo reports that many brands increased in value in 2021, including Drexel Heritage, Design Within Reach, Herman Miller, and Ethan Allen. Knoll chairs were worth 34 percent more in 2021 than in 2020.

Custom-made pieces are also coveted. The item that got the most attention on Kaiyo last year was a custom-made Scandinavian-style six-drawer dresser.

Summing up the trends seen over the course of Poshmark's history, McCasland said: “Over the past 10 years, we’ve witnessed the large-scale adoption of e-commerce, the growing significance of peer-to-peer resale, and an emphasis on sustainability.”

Although the circular economy got a boost in the past two years due to temporary factors such as lockdown measures, Chairish’s Resale Report found that 70 percent of shoppers plan to continue purchasing preowned products online in the years to come.