Why are young people flocking to online auctions for their sustainable purchases?

Auctioneer Oliver Barker leads an auction of The Macklowe Collection, alongside Andy Warhol's "Sixteen Jackies" (C) at Sotheby's on November 15, 2021 in New York.
Auctioneer Oliver Barker leads an auction of The Macklowe Collection, alongside Andy Warhol's "Sixteen Jackies" (C) at Sotheby's on November 15, 2021 in New York. Copyright AFP
Copyright AFP
By Lottie Limb
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Breathing new life into old objects is a key trend for Gen Z buyers in 2022, according to Catawiki’s report.


A “microscopic” French book. A Soviet spy camera capable of shooting through walls. A Darth Vadar helmet sculpture covered in Swarovski crystals worth €3000. These are some of the items that have been sold on Catawiki auction site in the last year.

They are one-of-a-kind pieces that people purchase for reasons we can only guess at. But amid the eccentric items, the auctioneers’ 2021 report suggests an emerging trend of bidders keen to consume more sustainably.

‘Sustainable’ consumption often bears the stain of greenwashing - given the compelling need for degrowth. And ‘luxury sustainability’ generally does more to ease the conscience of those who can afford it, rather than the actual strain on resources.

Peter Jeuken/Catawiki
A tiny booklet from 1832 sold last year for €175.Peter Jeuken/Catawiki

But even if it’s in an upper circle, this rising interest in old objects indicates an increasing appreciation for circular economies and a kickback against fast culture - especially among younger age groups.

"We're witnessing a true societal trend,” says Catawiki CEO Ravi Vora. “While years ago the auction industry was perceived as elitist and niche, interest in online auctions for unique and special objects is now touching unprecedented levels.”

More than one million people placed bids on the site in 2021, over 50 per cent of them first-time bidders. It seems that unearthing unloved treasures might have been one silver lining of being stuck at home during lockdowns.

Gen Z hobbyists surged in 2021

The biggest growth was found in Gen Z hobbyists. According to Catawiki’s report, the ranks of 18 to 25 year olds swelled by 21 per cent over the last year.

The tech-savvy, post-1997 cohort know how to play the market, and Catawiki links their interest to a passion for protecting the planet.

Though the auctioneers don’t have a breakdown of purchases by demographic, it feels like a bit of a stretch when you consider that €1,000 was the average amount spent on the platform last year.

If tackling Earth’s myriad problems is your number one priority, there’s probably better ways to spend a grand. But if wealthy zoomers are inclined to spend that much money, surely it’s better put towards existing objects?

A Louis Vuitton travel trunk found a new owner last year.Catawiki

Sustainable auction trends

Catawiki has a wide range of valuable categories - from fashion to sports cards, jewellery to model trains. The company’s 250 in-house experts have noted a swing to sustainable items across the board.

Eco-friendly wines

These include a “growing thirst for greener wine varieties”, as winemakers shift to organic, natural and biodynamic processes, which eschew pesticides and are kinder on the land.

‘Reimagined’ objects

Old objects, like this On Air sign, have found a new lease on life as quirky lights.Catawiki

Reinventing objects for fresh contexts and breathing new life into the old is a key trend for 2022, according to the auction experts. Recycled fabrics and ‘creatively repurposed vintage items’ come under this umbrella.

Over time, objects like bistro tables and old signs are finding new spots in modern homes or offices, giving a vintage aesthetic.

Repurposed interior design

Our enthusiasm for upcycling is including more and more items that might once have been disposed of. 

Under the trend of ‘decorative salvage’, buyers are turning to gym benches and factory lighting components to brighten up their homes.

An old Amsterdam tram bench was eagerly snapped up online.Catawiki

Electrified classic cars

It’s no secret that millennials with means are drawn to vintage cars. Combining this with their environmental concerns is leading to a rising interest in electrifying classic brands, says Catawiki.

‘Restomod’ - merging ‘restore and modern’ - has been coined to describe this interest in vintage car electrification, and it extends to other eco-conscious hybrids too.

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