The resale market is now worth an estimated $100-120 billion, three times more than in 2019, according to the latest resale report from Vestiaire Collective and Boston Consulting Group (BCG). The sector is expected to grow a further 127 per cent by 2026, per the 2022 Thredup Resale Report. As mainstream consumers have become more comfortable with secondhand fashion, and the stigma around resale has started to shift into aspiration, many brands and retailers have launched integrated resale platforms, from Isabel Marant and Balenciaga to Selfridges and Net-a-Porter. The idea is to build loyalty among sustainability-minded consumers, offer lower-priced options for new customer acquisition, and continue profiting from products long after they leave the shopfloor.
Resale has been held up as an easy win for sustainability, but recent findings challenge the assumption that all resale is good. The latest report from The RealReal showed consumers using it as a replacement for fast fashion: buying and selling secondhand at high speeds, and switching the source without reducing the amount of items they churn through. Fast fashion brands entering the market has raised further concerns among sustainability experts, who say brands shouldn’t use resale to make sustainability claims unless they are also working towards a degrowth model, which requires reducing output and new consumption.
“If they’re launching a resale platform without reducing their overall output, that’s a red flag,” says model and sustainable fashion influencer Brett Staniland, who regularly takes to social media to challenge brand claims.
It might be better, but don’t say it’s sustainable
Maria Chenoweth, CEO of charity shop chain and textile waste charity Traid, has been working in charity retail for upwards of 30 years, and says the quality of clothing entering the secondhand market has deteriorated significantly in that time, largely due to the advent of fast fashion. She says “ultra fast fashion” has exaggerated the problem. “There is so much disposable clothing now, which is designed to be worn once or twice,” Chenoweth says. “If these brands really believed in resale, they would improve the quality of their clothing. Otherwise, it’s just greenwashing.”
In response to greenwashing criticisms, Zara did not comment directly but said it aims to extend the life of garments through repair and donations as well as resale. PLT said in a statement that it’s a misconception that customers shop the site every week, stating that on average, customers purchase 4.6 items a year. “The entire fashion industry, not just fast fashion, has an impact on the environment. Fast fashion is an easy target and inaccurate figures are often thrown around with ease,” PLT said. Shein said the Exchange platform promotes the environmental benefits of purchasing pre-owned clothing over
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