The corner of 50th Street and Penn Avenue in Minneapolis’ Fulton neighborhood looks like many other intersections in this part of town. There’s a coffee shop, a few restaurants, and an eclectic mix of independently owned stores. But take a closer look, and you’ll start to see a common thread among several of the merchants.
The Zeroish Co., Minneapolis’ new zero-waste store, and Kid A, a resale shop for gently used kids’ gear, joined neighborhood mainstays Paperback Exchange and Nu Look Consignment last fall. Together, they form a local hub for secondhand and reusable goods in southwest Minneapolis.
Nationwide, secondhand shopping is surging. Resale websites Poshmark and ThredUp both went public in 2021 as the pandemic fueled online shopping. According to ThredUp’s 2021 report, the secondhand market (including clothes, shoes, books, accessories, furniture, and entertainment) is projected to double in the next five years to $77 billion.
The reasons for this shift, from buying new to used, are many. More people started selling their pre-loved goods to make some extra cash. Buying items secondhand is often less expensive. And a growing number of shoppers, particularly millennials and Gen Zers, are more conscious of waste and intentional about making eco-friendly purchase decisions.
Keeping it local
While most of the products that Zeroish sells are new, many are reusable swaps for disposable goods like cotton coffee filters, silicone sandwich bags, and wool dryer balls. For bulk items, including laundry soap and dish detergent, shoppers bring their own containers (extras are available at the store for those who forget). And they never ask “paper or plastic?” at checkout.
“We need to get out of this disposable culture and stop expecting somebody else to take care of our waste,” says Zeroish owner Kate Marnach. While opting for recyclable packaging is a step in the right direction, “if you can find something that’s reusable and durable that’s going to last you a really long time, that’s the best option,” she notes.
Another trend that’s here to stay is takeout from our favorite restaurants. But this convenience has come with a cost, in the form of some 20 billion pieces of litter from disposable food-service packaging, according to a 2021 report by Upstream, a nonprofit dedicated to fighting plastic pollution. Local start-up Forever Ware is out to change that and has partnered with six Twin Cities businesses so far to offer stainless-steel containers that customers take home and return when they are done to be washed and used again.
The start-up’s newest customer, Roots Roasting in St. Paul, has offered compostable cups and real dishes since opening in 2018. Now, they’re upping their sustainability game with Forever Ware, with a goal of converting 5% to 10% of drink orders to this reusable exchange model.
“It’s a shame to put stuff in the earth and let it amass for hundreds, if not thousands, of years, especially when there are viable alternatives,” says owner Pete Poire-Odegard. It’s also more sanitary than having customers bring their own mugs—and arguably more enjoyable than eating or drinking out of a disposable container.
Secondhand clothing has also seen an uptick, as COVID-19 kept people home with nothing to do but clean out their closets. Missy Auran, owner of women’s consignment shop Elite Repeat in St. Paul, says her inventory has “exploded” during the pandemic, allowing her to stock “the best of the best” merchandise for her loyal customers.
At the same time, Goodwill and many other thrift and consignment stores have had to ask customers to stop bringing in unsellable goods, many of which are cheaply made “fast fashion” that cannot be resold or recycled locally, and end up being thrown away or shipped overseas. Nancy Dilts, the Twin Cities’ only wardrobe consultant who specializes in consignment shopping, advises her clients on the many benefits of reusable and secondhand fashion.
“There is an outrageous amount of clothing being manufactured—more than we can ever possibly wear,” Dilts says. “That’s why I promote secondhand shopping, because by keeping clothes in the use cycle, you’re reducing demand for newly manufactured clothes.”
A reusable future
Secondhand clothes and reusable coffee cups may seem like a small piece of the larger retail landscape. But it all adds up to $5.8 billion in annual sales in Minnesota alone, according to the nonprofit organization Reuse Minnesota. Led by executive director Emily Barker, the organization counts more than 10,000 repair, reuse, and rental businesses statewide, which provide more than 55,000 jobs and keep more than 2.7 million metric tons of carbon emissions out of the atmosphere every year.
Reuse Minnesota and its member businesses and organizations are working to make reuse mainstream, and to make it easy for consumers to choose to act sustainably, even if it doesn’t always mean big profits.
“Reuse doesn’t always directly contribute to the economy, and that’s OK,” Barker says. “Using and repairing what we already have, not buying things we don’t need, and creating space for people to feel like reuse is something they can do are some of the many benefits that reuse brings to our communities long-term.”