UK ethical consumer spending hits £141 billion as second-hand clothing market booms

19 December 2023

4 min read

  • Charity shop sales climb by 147%
  • Second-hand clothing app sales nearly double
  • Ethical and environmental concerns remain important in informing consumer spending
  • Data revealed by the Ethical Consumer and The Co-operative Bank’s 2023 Ethical Markets Report, which tracks total UK ethical expenditure

The second-hand clothes market is enjoying a boom, according to Ethical Consumer and The Co-operative Bank’s 2023 Ethical Markets report.

The report reveals that second-hand clothing sales have soared by nearly 50% as consumers shun fast-fashion in favour of ethical alternatives. Pre-loved purchases have climbed to £1.2 billion with online marketplaces such as Depop and Vinted experiencing a surge in second-hand listings.* Meanwhile, separately, charity shop visits have become more frequent than ever before, leading to a phenomenal 147% rise in sales.

The factors driving this growth are twofold. On the one hand, pre-loved clothing provides a cheaper way to shop through the rising cost of living, which is putting extra pressure on household incomes and forcing consumers to re-prioritise their spending.

On the other, many consumers are becoming increasingly climate-conscious and are looking for an environmentally sustainable alternative to fast fashion, which is showing signs of waning.** Indeed, 32% of people were buying second-hand clothing this year for environmental reasons, up from 28% last year.***

For nearly 25 years, the Ethical Markets Report has tracked total UK ethical expenditure based on data collected by Ethical Consumer in the year prior to publication, providing an insight into the UK’s ethical shopping habits.

Despite a challenging economic backdrop, total ethical market value has remained impressively resilient at £141 billion, having grown by £124 billion since 1999. What’s more, certain sectors in particular are weathering the economic storm well, even thriving.

Spending on electric cars rose by an astonishing 80% as consumers increasingly look to clean energy as a source of power for their vehicles. Meanwhile, money in ethical banking and investment grew by 1.5%, outstripping mainstream investment growth.

However, it’s the second-hand market that has seen the most impressive growth. Oxfam, which has more than 500 charity shops across the UK, has seen an 8% increase in people purchasing second hand gifts this year.****

Lorna Fallon, Trading Director at Oxfam GB said: "At Oxfam, we have seen an increase in footfall across our High Street shops over the last few years, and this extends to increased transactions on our on line platform.

“Attitudes towards buying second hand are really shifting and these changes in shopping trends have a positive social and environmental impact. The funds generated from additional sales are invaluable as they enable us to continue carrying out life-saving work across the world."

Nick Slape, CEO at The Co-operative Bank said: “The boom in charity shop and pre-loved clothing sales shows us that ethical and environmental concerns continue to be key in informing decisions around spending, as well as demonstrating how people can shop ethically whilst keeping prices low.

“At The Co-operative Bank, we’re committed to playing our part in protecting the environment and we’re proud to support individual, business and charity customers up and down the country in doing so too.”

To read this year’s Ethical Markets report in full, visit this website.


Notes to the editor

For more information please contact:

The Co-operative Bank press office

0151 271 1985 Call charges


*Surge in listings: Online marketplaces report surge in sales of secondhand goods | Business | The Guardian

**Fast fashion on the wane: Cheap, cool and kind to nature: how secondhand became UK fashion’s main attraction | Fashion | The Guardian

***Ethical Consumer’s YouGov survey conducted in October 2023.

**** Source: Oxfam UK

About the report

The UK Ethical markets Report was researched and produced by Ethical Consumer Research Association and, this year, was sponsored by The Co-operative Bank.

About The Co-operative Bank

The Co-operative Bank p.l.c. provides a full range of banking products and services to retail and SME (Small and Medium Sized Enterprises) customers and is committed to values and ethics in line with the principles of the co-operative movement. In 1992, The Co-operative Bank took the pioneering step to become the first UK bank to launch a customer-led Ethical Policy, which gives the Bank’s customers a say on the ethical issues that are important to them, and how the Bank could help. These answers form the basis of our Ethical Policy, shaping the Bank’s ethical commitments, the way in which it will use customer’s money and the issues it will campaign for. Since 1992, the Ethical Policy remains unique in the UK and has been updated six times in consultation with the Bank’s customers, to reflect their changing priorities.

About Ethical Consumer

Ethical Consumer is an independent, not-for-profit, multi-stakeholder co-operative with open membership, founded in 1989 and based in Manchester. The organisation provides tools and resources for consumers that can help them to make ethical choices simple, informed and effective.


The Co-operative Bank Press Office

Landline: 0151 271 1985

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