'The Story of Stuff' and How Startups are Heeding Its Message Consumerism may have hit a highpoint in the last several decades, but these days the real opportunity resides in our closets. Here's a look at the rise of resale startups.

By Michael Phillips Moskowitz

entrepreneur daily
Shutterstock

In the U.S., we live in an age of superabundance. Not of 'stuff,' but of stuffing.

There is more of everything: more denim, more dishware, more designer-dog collars… But in this ever-expanding constellation of options, the notion of 'choice' deteriorates from a basic article of liberty into an acute burden.

Let me explain: Even in the 1970s, when there were far fewer things to buy, George Carlin remarked that "a house is just a place to keep your stuff while you go out and get more stuff." Fast forward to 2013: Houses are full. In fact, they're teeming.

The U.S. self-storage industry has swelled to more than 2.3 billion square feet -- standing room for every man, woman and child in the U.S. By landmass, U.S. storage is one of the world's 50 largest countries. For more alarming or disarming information on how much stuff we buy and discard, see the Story of Stuff video.

There is a silver lining in this suffocating congestion, however. Individual purchase decisions are more and more meaningful.

Related: What Retail Startups Can Learn From 'The Daily Show'

What we now choose to buy really matters. What we eat, wear, drive, gift or sit in at home telegraphs a message about who we are or someday intend to be. And certain startups are capitalizing on this. Their aim is not just to guide purchase behavior, but to leverage commerce as a vehicle to achieve a more sustainable model for living.

Adam Werbach, previously the Chief Sustainability Officer of Saatchi & Saatchi and president of the Sierra Club, founded one such venture in 2012 called Yerdle -- an online platform that promotes sharing rather than traditional commercial transactions. It's not about recycling, or upcycling, but something that borders on gifting goods -- a bicycle for a needy 10-year-old, for instance -- for basic good.

Why? Because the world's greatest marketplace isn't Amazon.com: It's the American home. And our houses are bloated, overstocked repositories of everything under the sun, with tons unused stuff.

Related: Birchbox and Changing the Way We Shop (Video)

Other startups take a more circuitous approach to sustainability -- proving that pre-owned objects aren't just 'green,' they're powerful drivers of growth. Consider, The Real Real, an online, luxury consignment shop. They haven't reinvented the Birkin bag or replaced Louboutin high-heels. Instead, they've proven highly effective at selling pre-owned, lightly used (or altogether untouched) merchandise, plucked out of America's more stylish closets. Think demand for these treasures is rising? No. It's rocketing month after month.

Thirty years ago, faith-based organizations operated charity shops for the needy. These days, they're run by seasoned merchants, and patronized by those with plenty. Why do the wealthy shop down market? Because the appeal of vintage and pre-owned merchandise, luxury or otherwise, is not a fleeting trend but a fixture of the way we shop today.

Of course, price-sensitivity is part of the equation for some. So is look and feel. But more powerful variables are story, origin, materials and craftsmanship. These aren't just theoretical criteria -- they're purchase triggers. Authenticity matters. Originally counts. And off-the-rack merchandise satisfies few if any of these desires.

Related: How JackThreads Plans to Own the Male Demographic (Video)

But here's what's interesting about companies like Yerdle, The Real Real and BUREAU OF TRADE (my company): the unseen, un-talked about benefit of pre-owned items? The quiet little secret -- kept, to maintain fashion credo over softer, more 'ecological' considerations: Pre-owned John Lobb lace-ups, or Louboutins with a red sole, all have a 'soul.'

And the footprint they leave in the sand is surprisingly carbon-free. That means the thrift store, and The Real Reals of the world and even eBay are all part of a movement, which is one worth joining.

What other ways can startups facilitate good ecological practices just by being in business? Give us your thoughts in the comments below.

Michael Phillips Moskowitz

Founder the Bureau of Trade

Michael Phillips Moskowitz is the founder the Bureau of Trade, a luxury shopping portal that blends retail opportunities with style and cultural criticism. He formerly served as a Middle East foreign policy research analyst at think tanks in the United States and overseas. Over the last several years, he co-founded the award-winning menswear label, Gytha Mander, and TODO Monthly magazine; and spent several years at IDEO, a design and innovation firm in Palo Alto.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

Editor's Pick

Related Topics

Growing a Business

A Skin Cancer Scare Led Lois Robbins on an Entrepreneurial Journey. Here Are Her 3 Best Success Tips.

The actor and producer became an entrepreneur when she created a product she needed after skin cancer.

Business News

Warren Buffett's Annual Letter Reveals the Secrets and Lessons Behind $930 Billion Berkshire Hathaway

Buffett wrote about the company's unchanging investment rule and how his sister became "very rich."

Buying / Investing in Business

Here's Where Venture Capitalists Are Putting Their Money in 2024 — and What Startups Must Do to Attract Funding

Here are the top five industries and projects that are currently leading the market and the steps you need to take to attract investors effectively.

Franchise

McDonald's Dives Into Anime Craze — And Flips Its Golden Arches— with WcDonald's Event

McDonald's celebrates anime culture with "WcDonalds," a unique, limited-time event featuring custom manga packaging and themed menu items.

Business Solutions

Create Spreadsheets, Email Clients, and More With Microsoft Office 2019, Now Only $29.97

Enhance your business's daily operations with a $30 license to Microsoft Office 2019.

Employee Experience & Recruiting

3 Tips to Hire Your Next A-Player

Learning how to hire A-players is a skill set that you can acquire. When you know how to attract and hire A-Players, it changes the trajectory of your business.