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Can Resale Fix Fashion's Sustainability Crisis?

A leading data company that works with brands and retailers across the world — has investigated the current state of the resale industry. If you cast your mind back five years ago, the likes of Supreme, YEEZY, Jordan Brand and Palace were running the resale market, seeing floods of teenagers take to the capital cities to flog their just-copped garms for a profit on the sidestreets, in turn reducing over-consumption as pieces swapped hands for cash almost instantaneously.

However, today’s Gen-Z consumer appears to be more clued up about resale, and sustainability, aside from just obtaining a quick flip — in turn pushing for fashion brands high and low to offer a sustainable initiative. We’ve seen it with Balenciaga’s Re-Sell Program, while names like A.P.C. have been doing this for some years now. Elsewhere, Diesel and Coach offer second-hand goods alongside their ready-to-wear selection online, and of course, platforms like GOAT, TheRealReal, Vinted, and Vestiare Collective are all experiencing a boom. But, is this enough to counteract fast fashion, and the entire fashion industry, from overproducing?

As the BBC investigates, it’s expected that by 2030 we will be throwing away 134 million tonnes of textiles. EDITED’s research found that 47,000 individual styles are being produced every single week across the entire fashion remit, and that’s not including the breakdown of sizing. In short, production levels are up 11% versus 2021 and 120% versus 2020.

With this in mind, where can resale come in? Brands like Telfar and Hermès are retaining their value more than ever before (with the latter offering up to 5,308% profit on the second-hand market). As EDITED notes, “Nike products can rise between 496% and 845% due to coveted SB Dunks and New Balance between 71%-140%, with Aimé Leon Dore x 550 styles commanding lavish price points.”

It’s here that consumers are realizing the value of their products. They wear them, keep them in good condition, and sell them at a later date. It initiates a circular conversation, showing that there is a demand for resale, as 69% of the products available at Vestiaire Collective are under three months old, meaning people are actively sourcing and selling pre-loved pieces.

But as the resale industry continues to grow, so does fast fashion’s output. Per EDITED, “US fast fashion retailers are churning out 120% more individual styles weekly vs. 2020, underscoring the need for retailers to be investing in quality, as well as upcycling and repurposing existing goods instead of adding to the wasteful cycle of disposable fashion.” And, as the resale market continues to boom, it could be argued that brands are noticing how they can become the leader of the secondary market, only if they too keep producing enough products to be eventually resold.

The second-hand economy is currently valued at $218 billion USD. It’s a constant merry-go-round of products swapping hands. But for it to take a hold of the sustainability crisis, it seems we cannot solely rely on resale. Instead, per EDITED’s research, what needs to continue to happen is the concept of rapid sell-outs; brands producing small quantities that generate resale booms. Couple this with Gen-Z’s interest in accessing clothes that are more sustainable both for the environment and the economy, and the fashion industry might be heading somewhere positive.

If we can harness Gen-Z’s mentality, circular fashion might stand a chance. But not before more work is done — “circularity is a fundamental cornerstone of sustainable fashion, yet against continued overproduction levels, resale alone won’t be the silver bullet. For more of a chance to keep products out of landfills, brands across every market sector have a responsibility to cut back on the number of goods manufactured and improve on quality to ensure they can actually be resold and last generations,” notes.

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