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

A “microscopic” French book. A Soviet spy camera capable of filming through walls. A Darth Vader helmet sculpture covered in Swarovski crystals worth €3000. Here are some of the items that have sold on the Catawiki auction site over the past year.

These are unique pieces that people buy for reasons we can only guess. But amid the quirky items, the 2021 auctioneers’ report suggests an emerging trend of bidders keen to consume more sustainably.

“Sustainable” consumption often bears the hallmark of greenwashing – given the dire need to decay. And “luxury sustainability” generally does more to ease the conscience of those who can afford it, rather than actual pressure on resources.

But even though it’s in the upper circle, this growing interest in antiques points to a growing appreciation for circular economies and a pushback against fast-paced culture – especially among younger age groups.

“We are witnessing a real societal trend,” says Ravi Vora, CEO of Catawiki. “While years ago the auction industry was seen as elitist and niche, interest in online auctions of unique and special items is now reaching unprecedented levels.”

More than one million people placed bids on the site in 2021, of which more than 50% were new bidders. It seems digging up unloved treasures could have been a silver lining of being stuck at home during lockdowns.

Gen Z enthusiasts surged in 2021

The strongest growth has been seen among Gen Z enthusiasts. According to the Catawiki report, the 18-25 year old ranks have grown by 21% over the past year.

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

Although the auctioneers don’t have a breakdown of purchases by demographic group, this seems a bit of a stretch considering that €1,000 was the average amount spent on the platform last year.

If solving Earth’s myriad problems is your number one priority, there are probably better ways to spend a grand. But if rich zoomers are inclined to spend so much money, surely it is better to spend it on existing objects?

Sustainable Auction Trends

Catawiki offers a wide range of valuable categories – from fashion to sports cards, from jewelry to model trains. The company’s 250 in-house experts noted a move towards sustainable items at all levels.

Eco-responsible wines

These include a “growing thirst for greener wine varieties” as winemakers turn to organic, natural and biodynamic processes, which avoid pesticides and are kinder to the earth.

“Reinvented” objects

Reinventing objects for new contexts and breathing new life into the old is a key trend for 2022, according to auction experts. Recycled fabrics and “creatively repurposed vintage items” fall into this category.

Over time, items like bistro tables and old signs find new places in modern homes or offices, giving a vintage aesthetic.

Interior design revisited

Our enthusiasm for recycling includes more and more items that could have been thrown away. Under the “decorative salvage” trend, buyers are turning to gym benches and factory lighting components to brighten up their homes.

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 growing interest in electrifying classic brands, according to Catawiki.

“Restomod” – merging “restorate and modern” – was coined to describe this interest in electrification of old carsand this extends to other eco-conscious hybrids as well.