Welcome to this column within our broader sustainability section which focuses on what clothing retail is doing to address the issues in its industry. It’s exciting times for anyone involved in this area as technology and retailers try to keep up with customers’ demand for all things ethical. From palm oil to fur farms, fast fashion to single-use plastic, excess packaging to food waste – this is where the real action is.

This month’s column focuses on eBay and its role as sustainable clearing house and is brought to you by Retail Insider with Clipper and Give Back Box.

Previously on this column we have highlighted the innovative work done by start-up Lost Stock, which found a new home for many thousands of garments – ordered from Asian manufactories but then cancelled by some of the large fashion retailers when lockdown was announced at the beginning of the year – and its positive and sustainable diversion of new clothing away from landfill. But what happened to the huge summer orders that were already here in March?

Sitting in shops that could not open, every day reduced clothes’ saleable time-frame in terms of the season for which they were designed. After all, who wants to buy a summer dress in the autumn? It looked for a while as though it might be another environmental disaster in the making for a sector already not known for its overly protective attitude to the planet because what does a retailer do with dead stock as the new range arrives.

No-one wants to be outed as the next Burberry and admit to dumping or burning its stock but neither does a company want to debase its hard-won brand reputation by selling at a huge discount. Which is why eBay has stepped, or been pulled, into the breach and is now hosting the online fashion shop windows of multiple British retailers.

As any regular user of eBay knows, it has been a long time since the online platform felt like the cosy and slighty hippyish second-hand emporium it started out as – nowadays according to eBay the vast majority of items sold are new rather than second hand, four out of every five in fact.

During April alone 50,000 new businesses signed up to sell on eBay and many of them wanted to sell clothing. But it can be a very fine line for a brand to tread – they can choose to be unbranded and sell at tiny margins on discount sites like Everything5Pounds.com, and gain no brand recognition or customer satisfaction from their goods, or they can retain the labelling, and probably sell less but at a higher unit price on eBay.

As even the huge outlet stores beloved of Asian visitors had to close, retailers and brands listed on eBay Outlet now include Dorothy Perkins, Wallis, Crew Clothing, Dune, MountainWarehouse and SuperDry.

Of course, whether clothing sales will pick up this year at all with no office parties to go to over Christmas and Covid-19 social restrictions still very much in place remains to be seen. But whatever 2021 brings it has at least shown some high-profile retailers that there are better places to put their old stock than in landfill. And that has to be a good thing.

Next the world needs companies to start making-to-demand rather than making and then creating demand, which means that dead stock becomes a dead term. But that’s next year’s dream.

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