How ThredUp became a $184 million technology giant

Who knew that a thrift store may very well be so profitable? ThredUp, which dubs itself the world’s largest consignment retailer, simply went public, elevating $168 million, with shares leaping 43% in its first day of buying and selling.

ThredUp’s enterprise mannequin is dependent upon promoting giant portions of low-priced used clothes and giving sellers a fee. By making pennies on every sale, the corporate racked up $128 million in earnings in 2020, promoting almost 4 million clothes—all whereas a lot of the style business was pummeled by the pandemic. ThredUp’s IPO registration paperwork provides new perception into what has made consignment a nine-figure enterprise: All of it comes right down to ThredUp’s complicated, custom-designed warehouses, which use equipment and algorithms to automate nearly each a part of its logistics.

2021 is shaping as much as be a large 12 months for resale companies. In January, Poshmark, an app that connects patrons with sellers, additionally had a profitable IPO. Wall Avenue seems to acknowledge that these low-margin companies can nonetheless be worthwhile. However over the long run, ThredUp faces challenges: stiff competitors comes from many different gamers popping up in the marketplace, and types equivalent to Patagonia are launching resale marketplaces of their very own merchandise.

[Photo: courtesy ThredUp]

From Z-racks to futuristic warehouses

CEO James Reinhart launched ThredUp in 2009 proper after graduating with a joint diploma in enterprise and public coverage from Harvard. Beforehand he had labored in nonprofits and schooling. He launched ThredUp to make it simpler for folks to purchase and promote used clothes, which he believed would cut back the style business’s massive waste problem.


Twelve years on, the corporate operates distribution facilities in three places—together with one in Atlanta that’s the measurement of three soccer fields. These warehouses can maintain 5.5 million objects. And day by day, the corporate processes greater than 100,000 merchandise and uploads them to the model’s market.

When Reinhart had the thought of ThredUp, platforms equivalent to eBay existed for promoting secondhand items, however the course of was laborious for the vendor, requiring them to {photograph}, value, and mail merchandise out. Reinhart’s thought was to ship folks pay as you go “clear out baggage” that they might pack with previous garments and ship to ThredUp. ThredUp would then care for the promoting course of. If objects bought, sellers would get a payout, which they might obtain in money or purchasing credit score.

[Photo: courtesy ThredUp]

The strategy instantly resonated with shoppers as a result of it allowed them to declutter their closets and make some additional money with little or no effort. Initially, Reinhart himself—together with a few staff—processed the garments, however as extra garments began pouring in, they realized they would want to automate the method.

In 2012, Reinhart employed John Voris and Andy Rendich, who led Netflix’s engineering and operations, to assist construct software program and {hardware} to course of thousands and thousands of clothes a day. Till now, ThredUp has guarded a lot of this course of as a secret, however the firm disclosed many new particulars in its IPO registration paperwork. “We’ve constructed one thing that most individuals thought couldn’t be constructed,” Reinhart says.

[Photo: courtesy ThredUp]

When baggage of garments arrive on the warehouse, the corporate makes use of visible recognition technology to determine and examine every garment, to determine what it’s and whether or not it’s in sellable situation. (Clients can select to have rejected garments donated, recycled, or despatched again to them.) Then algorithms predict the demand and pricing for every merchandise, together with the optimum payout to a vendor. “It’s truly very difficult as a result of the demand for various manufacturers, and completely different merchandise inside the model, varies,” says Reinhart. “The costs fluctuate day by day.”

Reinhart factors out that ThredUp has entry to thousands and thousands of knowledge factors, because it has tracked each single merchandise that prospects have despatched in. The pricing division additionally research the costs of fashionable objects at widespread manufacturers to raised make sense of how a lot to cost for objects on the positioning. The objective is to promote merchandise as rapidly as attainable, so that they don’t take up helpful house within the warehouse. Objects that don’t promote inside a few months are both donated or recycled.

Reinhart additionally constructed {custom} equipment to bodily course of the entire garments. Every distinctive merchandise needs to be identifiable and straightforward to entry when a buyer buys. However in contrast to meals merchandise, garments don’t come embedded with bar codes, so the corporate has needed to develop its personal system for preserving monitor of every merchandise. The corporate has not disclosed precisely the way it does this, however the IPO registration provides a glimpse into the extent of the operation. “Each merchandise processed is exclusive, got here from or belongs to a person vendor and is individually tracked utilizing its personal inventory preserving unit, or SKU,” it reads.


[Photo: courtesy ThredUp]

Lastly, the corporate makes use of technology to enhance the purchasing expertise for purchasers on the web site. Since it may be overwhelming to weed by way of the thousands and thousands of things, ThredUp provides every shopper a personalised expertise based mostly on a quiz they’ll take, in addition to their earlier purchasing conduct on the positioning. Cleverly, the corporate first directs them to objects which might be situated within the warehouse closest to them, to make sure merchandise get to them as rapidly as attainable—whereas additionally chopping down on the carbon footprint of the merchandise. If prospects don’t discover one thing they like from a close by warehouse, the search expands to warehouses farther away.

“Resale is nothing new,” says Kristen Classi-Zummo, director of attire evaluation at NPD. “However platforms like ThredUp modified the resale recreation by making it extra accessible to each patrons and sellers. And it’s immediately associated to the upward trajectory of the resale business.”

[Photo: courtesy ThredUp]

Saving the Planet

Whereas ThredUp’s infrastructure has allowed it to course of huge portions of used garments and switch a revenue doing so, the profitability of the enterprise mannequin wasn’t instantly apparent. Constructing the entire {custom} {hardware} and software program took a lot of money and time early on, when it nonetheless wasn’t clear precisely how a lot demand there was for used clothes.

Reinhart hopes that ThredUp can assist minimize down on the big waste the style business produces. Since 2000, the period of time shoppers put on clothes earlier than throwing them away has fallen by 40%, and as soon as clothes are discarded, 73% can be burned or landfilled. By making it simple for sellers to half with garments they not put on, Reinhart believes ThredUp permits them to remain in the marketplace longer. And by making it simple for shoppers to purchase used clothes, they could purchase fewer new garments.

Based on Classi-Zummo’s analysis, shoppers additionally consider that purchasing secondhand is extra sustainable. ThredUp “has helped to alter the acquisition motivators round shopping for secondhand,” she says. “Previously, shoppers turned to resale for that uncommon classic discover or a diamond within the tough. However our knowledge exhibits that customers now make these purchases as a result of they consider it’s extra sustainable than shopping for new.”

[Photo: courtesy ThredUp]

Many sustainability specialists, together with researchers on the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, consider that resale is essential to chopping down on trend’s devastating environmental footprint and shifting towards a extra round system, the place clothes keep out there longer earlier than being recycled. Nevertheless, we nonetheless don’t absolutely perceive how resale impacts the planet. Reinhart agrees that extra analysis must be carried out, and ThredUp is actively working to collect knowledge for its annual Resale Report.

Sarah Kent, Enterprise of Vogue‘s sustainability lead, asks whether or not secondhand websites would possibly encourage much more consumption: “By providing a prepared marketplace for undesirable objects, re-commerce dangers fueling the present tradition of binge purchasing.” Classi-Zummo believes that the resale business may additionally be altering what folks purchase. “We’ve seen shoppers more and more prioritizing high quality and sturdiness once they purchase a product,” she says. “A part of it’s because they need to have the ability to resell it once they’re carried out with it.”

So what’s subsequent for ThredUp? Reinhart says the corporate will use the inflow of money from the IPO to maintain constructing warehouses. Ultimately, it would work towards increasing internationally. The corporate can be making its technology accessible to different trend retailers to allow them to provide resale providers to their very own prospects. It’s already providing a white-label model of its service to Walmart, Reformation, Madewell, and Hole, and it hopes so as to add extra manufacturers to this listing.

In the end, Classi-Zummo believes that the resale sector remains to be in its infancy, and the business is poised to proceed rising as extra applied sciences emerge. As an illustration, the blockchain may very well be a game-changer for the business, since it could actually assist determine and authenticate objects on the secondhand market.

From Reinhart’s perspective, there’s nonetheless loads of room to develop. ThredUp at present has 1.24 million energetic patrons and 428,000 energetic sellers, which is a tiny fraction of the U.S. inhabitants. “The IPO sends a clear message that resale, and shoppers’ want for extra sustainable choices, is right here to remain,” says Reinhart.