Seemingly overnight, a profusion of independent stores that sell secondhand art-and-craft supplies have cropped up across the nation. They report growing success. With names like The Scrap Shop, Retake/Remake, Lost and Found Crafts, and Creative Resale, these reuse-and-create shops give today’s makers what thrift stores have been giving fashionistas for years: accessibility and sustainability. Here’s just one example of what resale looks like in our industry.
Artist Emily S. Tirella got the idea for her store as a student at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, where she spent “ridiculous amounts of money” on art materials, she said. Instead of pitching her half-used supplies at the end of each semester like other students did, she began stockpiling them. What didn’t get used up during her college career became the original merchandise for her shop called Make & Mend.
It began as a pop-up, but in 2018, Emily moved it into a 160-square-foot space in Bow Market, a collection of cafés, small boutiques and art shops in a former warehouse. She moved it online during the pandemic, and then into a storefront this spring.
Today, in addition to her own castoffs, Emily sells donated supplies from artists around the country who are relieved, she says, to empty their stashes. “I would describe the typical donator as someone who had good intentions but never completed the project, they thought they would, or maybe they couldn’t quite get the hang of it,” she told me. “I find that most artists just want their donated supplies to be used by someone.”
Donating alleviates their guilt – of purchasing creative materials and never using them, or of throwing something in a landfill that’s perfectly good. “Free your burden of creativity past and donate them to us!” says makeandmendshop.com.
The store’s website reveals the wide variety of materials Emily has on hand on any given day; everything from “paints and liquids” to “games and activities.” In addition, there are cleverly packaged starter kits, including ones for knitting, weaving, mending and crochet, assembled by Emily and her team. They’re a creative way to use small items, including pins, needles, buttons, crochet hooks and yarn markers that have been donated. Also available are guides that the Make & Mend team has penned: Mend & Repair Your Clothing by Hand, Needlepoint Basics, and Embroidery and Cross Stitch Basics.
The used goods are sold for about half their original price, making them available to a wide variety of people. Some shoppers may not have been able to afford to buy the materials new, others may want to try a creative technique before investing a lot of money in it. Emily says her customers range from kiddos to seniors. “Most of them are college students and fiber artists.”
I asked her if stores that sold brand-new materials – like craft-supply shop Gather Here in nearby Cambridge – considered stores like hers a threat. “I can’t speak for other stores like mine,” she wrote, “but I personally have a great relationship with the small business craft supply shops in our area. I think we both serve very different needs and truthfully, all our secondhand supplies have to come from somewhere originally.
“We’re always sending folks to Gather Here and Artist & Craftsman Supply if we don’t have what they need,” Emily added. “Our philosophy is community over competition. While Make & Mend is an excellent place to start a new craft, Gather Here is an excellent place to explore modern and trendy options for materials.”
Behind the boom of retail resale
As you’re probably aware, it’s a market that’s been growing for quite some time, particularly for clothing. The shift to live more sustainably (especially among young consumers), declining access to products in a choked supply chain, and the ease with which retailers can sell secondhand products online are among the reasons behind the stores’ expanding popularity.
“Scarcity and the global supply chain crunch have driven consumers to substitute preowned, refurbished, and pre-loved merchandise for new,” noted Chris Ventry from global management consulting firm SSA & Company. In a recent interview with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, he also pointed to the market’s newest drivers. “I would have said that sustainability and the environmentally friendly roots of re-commerce were the primary conversion drivers. While sustainability is still a consideration, as the main purchase driver it has been superseded. We’re back to price being the primary motivator.”
So, when “to save money for groceries” is added to the list of reasons behind the growth of resale retail, the results are a market expected to reach $53 billion next year, reports CNBC.
One of the most surprising facts about resale shopping is that it attracts consumers from all economic levels, says the National Association of Retail and Thrift Shops (NARTS). “There is no typical resale shopper, just as there is no typical resale shop,” says narts.org. “No one is immune to the excitement of finding a treasure and saving money.”
The association reports that resale has become destination shopping with the recent industry trend of “clustering.” Resale stores are opening in close proximity to each other in many communities to take advantage of existing traffic. “Antique shops have clustered for years, and factory outlet stores are grouped together, proving that consumers will travel farther to reach a group of like-stores,” says NART. “Resale shoppers love to make an event out of shopping in an area where they can visit a variety of stores with different merchandise lines.
“The resale market is blossoming thanks to value and sustainable-conscious consumers,” it concludes. “With an increasing awareness of the importance of reducing pointless waste, we are progressing from a disposable society to a recycling society – a change that has enormous market potential for the resale industry as a whole.”