Sustainable fashion: Can re-commerce replace fast fashion?

Welcome to a monthly column within our broader sustainability section which focuses on what fashion is doing to address the issues in its industry brought to you by Retail Insider with Clipper and Give Back Box

This month we focus on another one of the three big R’s operating in fashion sustainability currently ­­­­­– re-commerce –  which can mean anything from buying and selling on eBay or Depop, being incentivised to consign items to a luxury resale site as with Stella McCartney products or launching a return programme like Farfetch with its Second Life business. Whichever way you look at it however, it alleviates the road to landfill which is where most clothing ends up.

The resale segment exists in a kind of pyramid formation with sites like eBay being the broadest seller with the lowest returns rising up to more mid-tier sites like TheRealReal before we reach the pinnacle of luxury vintage via platforms like Decades and 1stdibs. But in all levels the sector is growing fast.

Depop: Curated peer to peer selling

Recent research from auction behemoth eBay around online shopping habits revealed that £187 million had been spent by UK shoppers on 22 million items of second-hand clothing in the previous year to September constituting a 15% rise. Similarly searches on eBay with the word ‘used’ shot up by more than 400%. And this rise in demand for pre-owned clothing has not gone unnoticed by other eBay users of course, with 10,000 new users registered to sell their second-hand clothing in the last year also.

On eBay the most popularly traded item was shirts, closely followed by dresses and then coats although the product with the highest trading increase compared to five years ago was the jumpsuit, which rose by 41%. But perhaps the surprising element in the research is that it is consumers aged between 40 and 49 who are the driving force in this increase, buying over six times the amount that the under 30s did.

However, this may only be reflective of the fact that the Millennials are possibly more likely to be shopping and selling on more Instagram-friendly sites. Buying on eBay, where the norm is to display clothing for sale laid out in someone’s house, is akin to rummaging in a charity shop compared with the more edited, personalised, influencer style of selling via platforms like Depop. Here items, although not always expensive, are usually modelled by the seller who can build up large personal followings for their own eclectic style as consumers buy into their lifestyle as well as their old wardrobe items.

Up at the high point of the fashion resale pyramid are the platforms where vintage high-end items sell for silly money and are where buyers and sellers of pre-owned luxury brands have, to date, felt most comfortable operating.

Second Life: Tapping into the longevity of handbags

But Stella McCartney is a designer name who has developed a new idea. Her partnership with TheRealReal meant that people who consigned one of her pieces to the platform got a $100 credit to spend in a Stella McCartney shop – cleverly ensuring customer loyalty and ticking the CSR box in one go.

Online retailer Farfetch now has a handbag resale operation Second Life, which is showing companies who really don’t want to become second-hand selling sites, another way to operate. It also utilises a credit instead of cash model for bags it accepts meaning a voucher which must be spent at Farfetch is given out to the seller instead of money thereby ensuring that the transactionary loop is closed.

In the US both Macy’s and JC Penney are traditional bricks and mortar retailers that have tied in with ThredUp to operate in effect second-hand franchises in some of their stores.

It may seem a step too far now to think of Harrods having a second-hand department but with the market set by some estimates to reach $51 billion by 2023, retailers of all kinds and by extensions the brands they service, may soon be forced to consider this revenue stream for financial as well as ethical reasons.

Macy’s: Opening up to the idea of pre-loved in its stores

People often recycle items to charity shops when they are in the latter stages of wearability, in contrast reselling usually requires items to be in better condition – something that chimes with customers who often want to get rid of clothes not because the items are wearing out but because they are bored with wearing them and want a change.

It is ironically the luxury sector, traditionally so against anything that stops people continually buying new items, where resale can work best as those hand-crafted items are designed for longevity and treated with more care by their owners. Fast fashion, by definition, does not produce the kind of items with built-in durability. The ThredUp report on resale predicts that it will be bigger than fast fashion – sustainability experts everywhere will be praying that is true.

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