Colorado gear merchants find untapped promise — and profit — in secondhand stuff

Shifting demand, overstocked stores and a surging focus on sustainability are setting up 2022 as the best year ever for the growing recommerce industry

Jason Blevins
The Colorado Sun
Jimmy Funkhouser opened his Feral outdoor gear store on Tennyson Street in Denver in March 2016 and started buying and selling used outdoor gear after about a year and a half of business.
Olivia Sun/The Colorado Sun via Report for America

ASPEN — Steve Skadron, the three-term Aspen mayor who now serves as dean for Colorado Mountain College’s campuses in Aspen and Carbondale, has spent several years working on a plan to train Colorado Mountain College students on small-scale manufacturing and sewing, local and regional sourcing of materials, entrepreneurship and the principles of a circular economy that reuses materials and products for as long as possible. His dream is to see local manufacturing outposts across the Western Slope where gear can be repaired or recycled for a second user. 

There’s a snapback happening in outdoor retail right now, with shifting demand, overstocked retailers and a surging focus on sustainability that is setting 2022 up as the best year ever for the nascent recommerce industry. 

Owners more than a year ago were seeing outdoor-loving customers clamoring for — and paying top dollar for — backpacks and camping gear, backcountry skis and bikes as the pandemic pushed record numbers of people into the outdoors

Counting sales from 600,000 retail locations, the NPD Group showed outdoor retail sales from March 2021 to March 2022 reaching $28.3 billion, up 30% from March 2019 through March 2020. During that rapid rise, shop owners increased their orders for stuff. Overseas manufacturers, dealing with pandemic shutdowns, have delayed delivery. And now that the gear is finally arriving at stores, the world is shifting yet again. 

Wary consumers appear to be less inclined to buy high-priced and brand-new stuff right now. But they are turning to the swell of sellers offering barely used, deeply discounted gear gathered during the stimulus-fueled outdoor boom of the pandemic.

Online peddlers in the recommerce realm are reporting banner business. Secondhand and consignment stores are turning away sellers. More brands than ever before are getting into the business of buying back used apparel for resale. 

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