Hands up, who’s looking forward to their launch of more brand-owned fashion resale platforms? With everyone from fast fashion brand PrettyLittleThing through to luxury fashion house Gucci announcing upcoming resales platforms, the fashion business space is buzzing with anticipation. But will they be any good?
Circularity Is The Gold Standard Of Sustainability
The rise of second-hand fashion makes me so happy. I remember the early days of thrift shopping, going from charity shop to charity shop as a teenager in my hometown, while my sister hovered in the corner telling me someone had died in the clothes I was looking at. Now, she buys and sells on Depop, like it’s the most normal thing in the world.
And the second-hand fashion industry has come on leaps and bounds – I love second-hand sites. I love supporting charities like Oxfam* who are leading the way in second-hand charity retail. I love shopping for vintage on trusted vintage fashion sites. I’ve even held my own clothes swap at one point! These innovations promoting second-hand are boosting the circular economy. Circular fashion is the gold standard of sustainable fashion, in my mind.
So why am I hesitant around brand-owned fashion resale platforms? Let me explain…
5 Predicted Problems With Brand-Owned Fashion Resale
1. First-Hand Sales Will Always Be A Priority Over Resales
Let’s talk money for a moment. For most fashion brands, their profit margin is far higher on their first-hand pieces than resales. Why? Well, because they benefit from economies of scale when making their garments. They have pre-existing supply chains. And resales requires serious investment in software, storage, and man-power to vet and approve individual items. It’s clear that first-hand sales will always trump resales, which is an issue. For true circularity, second-hand should take priority over first-hand.
On this logic, it should come as no surprise that behind closed doors, brand-owned fashion resale is focusing on vintage and hard-to-find items, rather than this season’s pieces. Despite many fashion returns going straight to landfill, brands would rather continue to profit from first-hand items, than canonise their first-hand sales by reselling the same pieces that customers didn’t like or fit into. It quite literally costs them money, so to the bin these items go (or storage, if we’re lucky).
2. Brand-Owned Fashion Resale Will Still Encourage First-Hand Purchases
Just like we’ve seen with take-back schemes, brand-owned resales won’t be as simple as selling through a third-party resales platform like eBay, Depop, Vestiaire Collective, or Vinted. Imagine yourself as a seller. You box up your item and send it to the brand. They receive it, value it, and promise to sell it on your behalf. However, instead of being paid in money, it’s likely you will be rewarded with ‘points’ or a similar system. With these points, you can get a discount on new items direct from the brand (and perhaps resales items too, if they’re generous). It’s performative circularity.
Reselling through a brand will never be as competitive or democratic as independent resales platforms, either. You will have to play by their rules, accept their valuations, and most likely get bogged down by buggy software that simply can’t compete with other platforms. It will tie you to the brand, and make you buy more of their stuff, rather than provide you with liquid cash to spend wherever you like.
3. Big Investment = Big Sales
The buzz around brand-owned fashion resale sites and apps partially comes from the amount of investment in the area right now. On the surface, this seems like good news, but in the back of my head there are alarm bells ringing. Outside investment means a push for returns on investment, and quick. It also means that the success of resale platforms will be measured in sales. We have to move away from this model, and start measuring organisations’ success based on their positive impact on people and planet alongside product. For resales, true success should be measured in reduced production, reduced first-hand sales, reduced environmental impact, and reduced waste. But these platforms will ignore this.
Put simply, brand-owned resales will be pushing to sell and make money at all costs.
4. Fashion Repair Will Be Overlooked
Resale is a sustainable solution to customers simply throwing away clothes. But what about the in-between stage? The stage from when we purchase an item, to when we no longer want to wear it? Wear, care, and repair is a really important stage that fashion resale seems to be glossing over. For true circularity, this needs to be implemented alongside resales platforms, to ensure clothes are worn more, and kept in the best possible condition too.
5. Resales Schemes Will Be Greenwashed As Recycling
Finally, my worst fear: that fashion resales will be greenwashed to sound like recycling, when in actuality, it’s still waste. We’re already seeing this with big brands like River Island partnering with a charity to dump the clothes they’ve taken back from customers. Let’s be clear: this isn’t clothes recycling. This is a combination of charity resale and waste. Even if some of the clothing given to their charity partner is sold, a lot of it won’t be. It will instead work its way down a degenerative path, ending up as scrap fabric, textile fibres, or simply dumped in countries still accepting our textile waste. Resales could also become a cover for this, instead of what we really need: extended producer responsibility.
I’m all for resales platforms taking off, but I’m aware that there are some serious vulnerabilities that could be exploited. What do you think?