Updated: Oct 25
What is Fashion Resale?
One of the most important social discussions of the 21st century is how we, as a collective, can do our part for the planet. The environmental crisis is at the core of everything we do from how we live our everyday lives to how big corporations function as a business. Unfortunately, we don’t have enough time in this blog to get into all the avenues of the climate crisis but what we can do is share what we know about sustainability in the fashion industry. More specifically, what we know about the resale market.
‘Fashion resale’ refers to the buying or selling of pre-loved and secondhand clothing, accessories and footwear. As more people grow aware of the fashion industry’s wasteful and unethical practices, shopping resale has become increasingly popular as consumers try to become more socially conscious of their consumption habits. About 73% of all apparel is sent to accumulate in landfills or to be incinerated every year and 95% of this can be rescued or recycled. This is a shocking percentage considering that over 100 billion garments are produced each year; an amount that is twice what it was 15 years ago. Therefore, to combat this disposable culture in the fashion industry, both consumers and brands have been pressured to quickly change their consumption habits in order to reach our global climate goals by 2050.
So far, it’s been estimated that purchasing resale clothing can reduce CO2 emissions by about 25%. By adopting new models of production and consumption, such as sharing, reusing, repairing, refurbishing and recycling apparel, we can then expect to gradually slow down the fashion industry’s damage to the environment. For the fashion resale industry, this also promises a substantial amount of market growth. ThredUp projects the market to reach ￡283 billion by 2027 - a mere 5 years from now.
The Resale Market Debate
Looking at the resale market in 2023, there are clearly a lot of benefits regarding its impact on the fashion industry that are not only environmental but socioeconomic as well. In recent years, we have seen this ‘resale renaissance’ where preloved attire is gaining a new reputation due to the emergence of peer-to-peer platforms such as Depop, Vinted and ThredUp. What was once seen as a desperate last resort for shopping is now viewed as an abundant opportunity full of unique, vintage and high-quality items. The idea of reselling, reusing and refurbishing clothing are not new concepts in the fashion industry, however, coupled with the accessibility of modern technology, resale’s new image can be credited to the array of debates and reevaluations made in hindsight of the COVID-19 pandemic. At a time when everything was put on pause and our routines were uprooted, we were encouraged to reconsider what was ‘necessary’ in our lives. People started to notice that they didn’t need a lot of things they already had and that includes buying new items every week to keep up with ‘trends’. This idea of ‘conscious consumption’ flourished in a post-pandemic world where individuals became aware that they didn’t ‘need’ fast fashion as much as they did.
In the present day, this mentality shift has permanently transformed how businesses and fashion brands approach retail sustainability as more consumers question where their clothing is from, how it is made and where it all goes after. In the race to implement sustainable initiatives to maintain the loyalty and trust of their consumers, there are a few common improvements you may have noticed. The first is the inclusion of clothing donation bins within retail stores in hopes that customers will bring back any scraps or fabrics they have to be repurposed into new items. Although a great concept on paper, it’s been observed that donation bins are virtually useless when it comes to fashion circularity. In many ways, it can be viewed as industry-level ‘greenwashing’ - a decision made for marketing or advertising purposes that deceptively persuades the public that an organisation’s policies and practices are environmentally friendly. Despite the intent behind these donation bins, the impact of it is weak in comparison to the amount of textiles that end up in landfills from retail production alone. It is also more complicated and expensive for brands to use these donations to create new items as well. Since most modern attire is made of blended fibres, they don’t break down as easily and therefore, anything produced from recycled fabrics will only diminish their quality; rendering the final product useless as an item of clothing.
Another ‘sustainable’ practice that a number of fashion brands have adopted is the creation of their own white-label marketplaces. Knowing how popular the resale market has become in recent years, a lot of brands have created their own platforms for the resale of their products in an attempt to promote circularity within their community. Again, despite the intention behind its creation, brand-specific resale sites are usually not promoted by brands as they would rather direct their consumers to their wholesale items instead. Furthermore, because of how time-consuming it is to manage and create a white-label marketplace, most users tend to have unpleasant experiences browsing these sites. Since it’s easier to go back and use the brand’s wholesale e-commerce site instead, these resale sites are abandoned quite easily and eventually, end up being forgotten about.
Although these initiatives reflect the increasing awareness that brands have about becoming more sustainable, they also draw attention to the bigger issue of overproduction and overconsumption within the industry. The boom of resale is revolutionising the fashion industry but it is simply the tip of the iceberg of a much wider problem within this market. No matter how much we reuse, recycle, share and refurbish our clothing, the uncomfortable truth is that we will not be able to adopt a fully circular economy unless fast-fashion retailers change the way they function. This disposable culture is deep-rooted within the fashion industry and sustainability needs to start at the top in order for us to make a difference. As journalist Alice Murphy has argued, fast-fashion business strategies contradict a ‘repair and replace’ concept therefore, a brand that produces over 500 new styles a week won’t be able to ‘reverse’ its environmental damages by simply reselling its own items.
All in all, this shouldn’t discredit the progress we’ve already made so far. The resale industry is intended to grow exponentially over the next few years and with that, comes external pressure for large retailers to change the way they function. We’ve already seen so much rapid change in the last decade or so and we will continue to see this change in the future.
Mohr, I., Fuxman, L. and Mahmoud, A. (2022). Fashion Resale Behaviours and Technology Disruption: An In-depth Review. 10.4018/978-1-6684-4168-8.ch015.