Is fashion resale the new sustainability?

Author: Astrid Vanhove

If we think about sustainability in the fashion industry, the collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh in 2013[1] has certainly marked an interesting departure of an ongoing discussion concerning the consequences of the industry on our people, planet, and profits. Over the years, consumers demanded transparency from garment companies regarding their supply chain and its effects on the planet and people. But even if garments are produced with improved conditions regarding sourcing and production, the million-dollar question remains… What will happen to those garments, if we keep on approaching clothes from a fast-fashion point of view with trends that are changing at the speed of light? The discussion, therefore, has gravitated towards how we can extend the lifecycle of our garments and participate in a (more) circular economy.

The boom of the resale market during the pandemic

Extending the lifecycle of garments can be approached in many ways ranging from upcycling, recycling, reimagining, repairing, to reselling. Due to the current pandemic, the focus has been on the latter. Before the COVID-19 outbreak, the resale market was on track to double in size, but the effects have been vaster than expected. In 2019 the secondhand market estimated $28B and is expected to grow with a staggering 39% annual growth rate to a total of $64B in 2024. Even before the pandemic, resale grew 25x faster than the broader retail sector with 49% versus 2%[2].

Consumers have turned towards the secondhand market mainly because of two motives. The first being financial, with increasing unemployment and free time due to lockdown. The closure of non-essential stores also plays a huge role in this. The second being ecological, as more people are aware of the vast impact that fast fashion has on the planet. This evolution has not only empowered many individuals to become an entrepreneur of their own closet in peer-to-peer resale, but it has caused many (online) players dealing in both mass and luxury goods, to arise in managed marketplaces.

The uprise of online resale initiatives

These online platforms are based on a diverse range of business models, from a peer-to-peer model with no marketplace intervention, to a managed marketplace with control on coming and going items. Examples of the former would be Facebook’s marketplace, Poshmark, Vinted, Vestiaire Collective, to only name a few. These online platforms gain popularity, user base, and recognition, with Vinted being an excellent example as one of the most popular European platforms in fashion. It was valued at $1B in November 2019, making it one of the biggest startups in fashion’s circular economy[3]. In terms of managed marketplaces, it appears we have arrived in the roaring twenties 2.0, with an uprise in players such as Rebag, The Real Real and ThredUp, and this mainly in the luxury market. Even famous fashion houses such as Burberry, Stella McCartney, and more recently, Gucci, are sailing on the secondhand wave by signing with The Real Real, the frontrunner in authenticated luxury consignments[4].

Numerous possibilities for offline lifecycle extension

In terms of offline measures to extend the lifecycle of garments, companies have such a wide range of possibilities to resale or upcycle hand-me-downs. An outstanding case is Patagonia, an advocate for creating high-quality and long-lasting garments. At the end of the garments’ lifecycle, old Patagonia-items can be handed in for store credit, after which these are repaired and resold in its ReCrafted collection. Another way to approach the circular economy is exemplified by our current client Levi’s & Co. They have recently launched the Repair, Reimage and Recycle program, with the aim of lengthening the longevity of their garments. Old jeans items in relative conditions are brought back to life by artists to create a truly unique clothing piece. Items that are beyond repair are reinvented into fun accessories such as jeans bags or caps. Apart from the apparent ecological advantages, this project has proven that sustainable initiatives can also be well-organized, durable, and financially profitable.

The above-mentioned examples are only a few of many in which fashion companies can participate in extending the lifecycle of garments. The rapid growth rate and increased popularity have made it apparent to all industry players that one must adapt and find ways to integrate measures such as upcycling and reselling in the current business model. This not only because of the potential financial benefits or the fear of losing sales if they don’t, but more importantly, because it provides answers to a clear message from society and its consumers that if they do not adapt, they will not survive.

Are you looking for ways to make your business more sustainable, but you do not know where to start? Feel free to reach out. We are more than happy to discuss how BrightWolves could help in the process.

[1] Safi, M. & Rushe, D. (2018). Rana Plaza, five years on: safety of workers hangs in balance in Bangladesh [online]. New York: The Guardian. Retrieved from [2] 2020 resale report. Thredup. Retrieved from [3] Lunden, I. (2019). Vinted, the second-hand clothes marketplace, raises $141M at a $1B+ valuatio. Techcrunch. Retrieved from [4]Bain, M. (2020). Luxury labels like Gucci are taking notice of the booming secondhand market. Quartz. Retrieved from,its%20site%20for%20Gucci%20products