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Is Fashion’s resale market good for the environment?

Companies cashing in on fashion’s fast-growing resale market are positioning themselves as a solution to the industry’s sustainability problems. But the reality is, the CHANEL fan who sells a used handbag so they can afford to buy a new one might not be reducing fashion’s footprint as much as it first appears. People are now trading these things, and it’s not preventing them from buying new stuff.

There is a tension at the heart of the narrative pitched by resale platforms. On the one hand, finding new owners for used clothes keeps them out of a landfill. It reduces their environmental footprint — an item that is worn nine extra months has a 20 to 30 percent lower carbon footprint, according to WRAP, an environmental group.

Critics argue that, by offering a ready market for unwanted items, re-commerce risks fuelling the current culture of binge shopping.

But there’s another side to resale’s environmental ledger. Critics argue that, by offering a ready market for unwanted items, re-commerce risks fuelling the current culture of binge shopping.
According to The RealReal, the majority of its consignors use their commission to shop the primary market. A recent survey by rival luxury re-commerce site Vestiaire Collective and Boston Consulting Group found around 30 percent of respondents’ primary reason for selling was to purchase new goods.

“The buyers are the ones who care about sustainability,” said Olivier Abtan, a managing director and partner at BCG, who leads the consultancy’s global luxury arm. “The sellers are different: they are typically fashionistas who buy first-hand products and get back money from resale and buy new products.”

Consumers live in a world of Instagram, where they just want to buy a new outfit

Resale went mainstream. Is the planet better off? Thousands of garments are stored on a three-tiered conveyor system at a sorting facility for ThredUp, an online thrift store.
Resale went mainstream. Is the planet better off?

“People are now trading these things, and it’s not preventing them from buying new stuff,” said Michael Sadowski, a research fellow at the World Resources Institute. “If you shop resale and that doesn’t change at all your purchases of new apparel, then there’s no impact.” Consumers live in a world of Instagram, where they just want to buy a new outfit.”

The challenge is that while growing the market for secondhand clothes could be a powerful tool in reducing the waste and environmental impact of fashion, it is only one aspect of much broader changes required to reduce consumption, improve recycling technologies and ensure clothes are manufactured in an equitable and environmentally responsible manner, to begin with.

It cannot function as a solution on its own unless everything else is also in place.

“Reselling, it still encourages this guilt-free ‘I can buy something new because, provided I could put it onto a resale platform, that’s OK.’ That’s not OK,” said Orsola de Castro, co-founder and creative director at nonprofit Fashion Revolution. “It cannot function as a solution on its own unless everything else before it is also in place. We need to resell clothing, but they need to be made in dignity and in a quantity that isn’t 150 billion garments a year.”

The article was adapted from businessoffashion.com .