How to make money selling your unwanted clothes online

A primer on getting into the second-hand fashion marketplace.

A primer on getting into the second-hand fashion marketplace

If you want to sell your old clothes or shoes, you could use apps such as Facebook Marketplace, Poshmark or Varage Sale.
(Credit: iStock/Getty Images)

Maybe you've recently Marie Kondo'd your house, or you're running out of closet space and need to make room for new purchases. Whatever the case may be, if you have a pile of second-hand clothes in good condition that you're hoping to turn into cash, it's never been easier or more convenient to sell unwanted or used apparel and accessories online.

In fact, according to a report by the online classifieds platform Kijiji, Canadians made an average of $1,134 per person in 2017 selling items in the second-hand marketplace, with clothing, shoes and accessories being the most-exchanged goods.

Beyond eBay — which was launched in 1995 and charges both commission and a listing fee — and Kijiji, many newer websites, apps, and online consignment marketplaces have launched in the past few years to facilitate participation in the global, booming second-hand market. It's fairly simple to list an item for sale, and you might find a buyer in minutes, depending on the brand and condition of the clothes you're selling.

Here's a primer to the different ways you can sell second-hand clothes online in Canada, the pros and cons of using the larger marketplaces, and tips from the experts on how to make successful transactions and improve your sales record. 

On peer-to-peer marketplaces

Peer-to-peer online marketplaces have been around for several decades, and they generally vary between those such as eBay and Etsy that charge sellers a small commission for their platform, services, and marketing, and free ones that rely on advertising revenue — like Craigslist, Kijiji and, more recently, Facebook Marketplace — and function more like online classifieds.

More recently, a new category of mobile marketplaces exclusively dedicated to second-hand, peer-to-peer transactions such as Depop, letgo and Poshmark have also launched in Canada. Fashion-focused Poshmark — a commission-based platform — calls itself "the largest social marketplace for fashion," while the other two commission-free apps will also host listings for other categories such as homewares. The main draw of these mobile apps? They're extremely quick and easy to use, and allow you to post items for sale very quickly with minimal information requirements.

"One of the biggest reasons letgo has become so popular in North America and other parts of the world is that we've used technology like image recognition to make our app extraordinarily simple to use," says Jonathan Lowe, spokesperson at letgo, which featured over 400 million listings globally in 2018. "Listing something for sale is as simple as taking a photo, so it's easy to sell whatever you don't need anymore, whether it's a denim jacket or a pair of shoes."

With any peer-to-peer selling, you're responsible for listing, photographing and pricing each individual garment or "lot" of clothing, which can be time consuming since listings with clear, neat photographs and well-worded product descriptions will generally perform better. "Great photos are the best way to catch buyers' attention," advises Lowe. "If you're selling a jacket, put it on a hanger and take a few photos against a wall or door. For things like shoes or jewelry, you could use a rug or blanket as a background."

Listing your item at the right price, whatever that might be, is also an important part of successful selling. "Make an educated guess, or take a look around the app for similar pieces and see how other sellers are pricing," advises Costello. "Get to know potential buyers, let them make offers, and barter."

Personality and reputation plays a part, too, particularly on the mobile marketplaces — because there are so many listings, clearly curating or branding your page or "store" can significantly improve sales. "It's all about personal branding and standing out. Curating a style that reflects who you are is what will keep buyers coming back for more," says Joan Costello, US Head of Marketing at Depop. "Be inventive with your photos and styling and let your personality shine through."

Finally, with any peer-to-peer selling, you'll have to allocate time for correspondence, negotiating and either shipping items or meeting up with a potential buyer (ideally in a public location). The majority of transactions on the classifieds sites and some apps are made in cash, and you're expected to meet up with the buyer to complete the sale, whereas local pickup is rarely an option on fee-based platforms like eBay or Etsy, where the seller will normally ship each item (at the buyer's expense) once payment has been processed.

Commission-free apps and platforms like Kijiji and letgo are great overall, but keep in mind that sales can be more personal and time-consuming to manage because of the social and personal nature of the transactions — buyers will sometimes ask to try things on in person before deciding, they could flake out on a purchase at the last minute, or attempt to bargain for a better deal. Plus, many sellers still pay to list on sites like eBay and Etsy in order to reach a larger potential market (eBay boasts 180 million active buyers globally in over 190 markets, while Etsy has over 40 million users who purchase over 3,000 items of vintage clothing daily), and because buyers prefer to purchase higher-ticket items on a marketplace that offers protective features such as returns and a customer service process for disputes or other transaction issues.

Ultimately, each peer-to-peer marketplace functions slightly differently. For example, Depop uses Paypal exclusively for transactions, while cash is the preference for letgo exchanges. The most practical course of action is to download a few apps, browse the offerings, and commit to selling on just one or two platforms maximum. That way, you're saving time, grasping the nuances of each marketplace better, and even building a trusted reputation and garnering good reviews as a seller, something that's particularly important for the platforms that focus on neighbourliness and community.

Via social media

Even easier than setting up a small online store or posting an item in an app? Posting your clothes for sale on your personal social media channels. Instagram Stories, Facebook Groups and WeChat are all popular emerging options for selling second-hand items. One photo and a short description are all you need, and sales can happen very quickly because the temporal nature of these postings encourages urgency. And, because the buyers come from your direct friend or follower network, there's an existing degree of trust and intimacy around the transaction.   

"Instagram has become its own sales channel for us," says Britt Rawlinson, owner of VSP Consignment in Toronto, who notes that the popular consignment retailer is often contacted immediately after posting an item on their feed or Instagram Stories. "Our website is a collection of highlight pieces and luxury handbags… these pieces get shot in studio. Instagram allows us the flexibility to post a wide breadth of product that will often sell before being shot, and a wide variety of price points."

The only drawbacks for selling via social media? You'll need to already have many followers, and there's no easy logistical structure in place for things like credit card processing or returns management (currently, in-app check out on Instagram is only available to a select handful of influencers and creators).

Through an online consignment retailer

Similar to a traditional consignment shop, you can now consign your unwanted clothes with online consignment sites, where you generally won't get paid until an item sells. Each site has a slightly different selling process, but you're usually shipping or dropping off clothes that they will then authenticate, photograph, list on their platform, and ship out. Whatever is not sold can be sent back to you or donated to charity. It's much more convenient and frictionless than selling individual items, but you'll have to pay a substantial commission on each sale.

If you're looking to consign a handful of higher-end clothes online, start by checking out Canadian sites such as Designer Swap, Own The Couture, and The Upside to see which makes the most sense for your items (luxury consignment retailers with both brick-and-mortar locations and an e-commerce platform, such as VSP and I Miss You Vintage in Toronto and Turnabout in Vancouver, are another option). Keep in mind that most of these retailers are only interested in luxury and contemporary labels, not mall-brands, fast-fashion items, or non-designer vintage, and everything is expected to be in excellent or like-new condition.   

Currently, Canadians can't sell to popular international sites such as luxury-focused TheRealReal and affordable fave thredUp yet, although you can shop for a wide variety of second-hand clothes on those platforms.

Truc Nguyen is a Toronto-based writer, editor and stylist. Follow her at @trucnguyen.