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Fashion industry

Re-imagining fast fashion requires we address our disposable hyper consumerist culture

Photography by Tracey Creed
Words by Tracey Creed

Published April 27 2021

The psychology of how we consume is the protagonist for change we need to address. We all wear clothing and engage with the fashion system to varying capacities. And yes, companies, brands, they react to fads and markets and so where and how often we choose to spend our money has an undeniable effect on how the whole industry operates. That said, it is not our responsibility as consumers — with these figures, it can’t be. I doubt the capacity of change to occur at this level. It’s a shared responsibility and the corporations and politicians hold the biggest part of that; they have the opportunity to do something and have not. For us, the individual, buying less is the best thing we can do.

This article is part of a series, written to coincide with Fashion Revolution Week, the commemoration of the Rana Plaza collapse, and Earth Day (April 20th-22nd), which was earlier this month on April 22nd. Read the first in the series; Fashion Revolution Week 2021: COVID-19, climate and a trillion-dollar industry.

Being able to afford $300 reworked jeans is not what defines sustainability

Modern Western culture has tried to introduce solutions to sustainability. Though the problem with this in relation to environmental sustainability is, of course, that the cultures who have created environmental un-sustainability are now selling us sustainability, and ultimately encouraging more consumption, often at a higher price. The misconception that ‘buying sustainable’ comes with the same amount of satisfaction and quality — and a more expensive product, needs to be eradicated. Sustainability is about how you live, it is a cultural movement based on the way you consume.

For many who come from working-poor and minority communities, some elements of sustainability, or what we consider today was out of necessity. I’m the oldest so my sister received hand me downs, my parents thrifted a lot, we went to the Salvation Army Store, bought and sold via the Trade and Exchange [a paper that was the earliest version of TradeMe in New Zealand]. We repaired our clothing, our bedsheets — repurposing, thrifting and repairing what we already owned mitigated or removed the need to spend money, to consume.

Making fashion circular and the growth of consignment resale

In 2019, resale grew 25 times faster than retail and what is now a $28 billion secondhand market is expected to be valued at $64 billion by 2024. And while selling used items online isn’t a new concept (eBay launched in 1995), The Real Real, Vestiaire Collective, HEWI (Hardly Ever Worn It) and other luxury resale platforms redefined access and ultimately created a collector culture. This movement to recirculate arrived at the intersection of increasing awareness for several issues within the industry. One of the most obvious is the incomprehensible pace in which clothing is being produced; there is too much product, an increasing focus on sustainability, growing distaste for fast fashion — and the financial incentive to buy and sell garments rather than leaving them unused in a wardrobe. For many, the pandemic provided an opportunity to reconsider value; what pieces have real worth and what material possessions will we cling to season after season?

Julie Wainwright, founder and CEO of The RealReal stated in an interview with Vogue that sustainability is the main reason forty-eight per cent of millennials or Gen Z–ers consign. BCG reported that global sales of second-hand luxury goods were growing at a rate of an average twelve per cent year-on-year growth, compared to a three per cent average for the core luxury market. And perhaps this signals a systemic shift, where younger people are becoming more educated, they want to celebrate the creativity and craftsmanship of fashion and are becoming bored of the ‘take, make, waste’ mentality.

Not everyone is interested or has the money to invest in resale luxury fashion, but for those increasingly participating in circularity, purchasing quality pieces that can have several lives at some point, it should mean brands can reduce the production of new items. Stella McCartney, who was already thinking deeply about sustainability and overconsumption long before it was part of the mainstream conversation, entered into a partnership with The RealReal in 2017, encouraging her customers to recycle and resell on National Consignment Day. Burberry followed in 2019.

When Kering announced earlier this year a five per cent minority stake in French luxury resale platform Vestiaire Collective it was one of the most significant crossover moments between luxury brands and resale. Last October, Gucci embraced resale collaboration with The RealReal and have not ruled out reselling, stating that they are the best equipped, since they can repair, renew, and ensure authenticity. Farfetch also entered the resale having recently launched Farfetch Second Life in the U.S.

Tracy DiNunzio, CEO and co-founder of resale platform Tradesy stated in this interview that their goal was to “eradicate fast fashion,” and you can see her logic. If you can buy a well-made designer dress for $80-$100 on Tradesy, priced at $500 at a retailer, that puts them [and other resale platforms] in direct competition with fast fashion.

Depop and the gentrification of resale

While there is an exciting opportunity for resale of used clothing in addressing issues of waste and advancing circular fashion, we must also address whether how much of that narrative promotes a divergence from the ‘take-make-dispose' mentality. We need to celebrate the opportunities available to do things differently and continue to break away from the idea of secondhand being undesirable but waste and circularity are only part of the picture.

Resale marketplaces such as Depop, and equally Instagram provided a platform for the youth to take a stance on fast fashion, popularising second hand. It also created opportunities for select resellers to capitalise on charity store donations. These resellers are not selling their old clothes that no longer fit or looking to resell to fund their next purchase, their listings are sourced from thrift stores stocked with donations. Not all, though often you’ll find resellers referring to 'vintage' when in reality it's recent fast fashion sold as something else — and they’re not competing with fast fashion.

It is not viable for the fashion industry to continue to operate the way it does today, it is equally not viable for the resale market and those who operate within it to use the same playbook. It is the same capitalist mentality that got us where we are and it hurts those who need access to this clothing the most.

How to engage in the resale economy

Secondhand is not about the acquisition, it also celebrates the thrill of the hunt and this idea that you’re more connected to that item. It’s that differentiator of materialism versus consumerism. And vintage or secondhand is how you’ll find those one-of-a-kind pieces that no one else will have. It also encourages you to take a more informed and considered approach to personal consumption. I love the circular economy, knowing that whatever I buy, someone else can buy it when it doesn’t work for me anymore — this idea that ‘new’ need not be literal.

Also read: Your guide to the best online second hand and consignment sites.

Here are some questions we can ask ourselves: How long am I going to wear or use this item for? And when I am done with it, will someone else need it? Will its resale value grow or decrease? And with this question, I encourage you to think of resale and reuse versus donation or recycling. The circular economy speaks more to how we purchase, not what we purchase and eventually, we come back to the point of overproduction, overconsumption, and waste. If we consume in the resale market with all the enthusiasm that exists for fast fashion, we’re missing the point.

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