The Resale Economy: An Exciting Solution To a Modern Day Problem

As we entered 2020, full of hope, list of this year’s goals in hand, we never expected our day-to-day lives to be flipped on their head. With Covid-19 still being very much a thing (wear those masks people!) the processes in which our “normal” lives and industries operate are being rocked and shifted into new ways of being. As innovative minds mould our current, and eventually post-pandemic, world with virtual shopping experiences and new approaches to marketing, I am pleasantly surprised by the rise of the resale economy.

But, what is a resale economy?

It is part of a broader concept of an economy which is circular. The main aims of a circular economy are to produce no waste, and to re-use materials forever. The way that resale fits into this circular fashion model, is that it aims to minimise the amount of textile and apparel waste being underutilized and then disposed of. Reselling allows fashion to be reused many times over before it’s recycled or reinvented. It is also a significant contributor to the reversal of a looming environmental crisis.

A Circular Economy graphic by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation

In the current linear economy (virgin feedstock -> production -> use -> landfill/incineration), the impacts on the environment are devastating, with textile production being responsible for more greenhouse emissions than international air and maritime travel combined. If we continue on with this detrimental and out-dated linear fashion model, the production of fashion and textiles will account for up to a quarter of the global carbon budget by 2050.

Environmental distress is not the only price to pay for the dysfunctional linear economy model. A soul-crushing $500 billion is lost each year due to the disposal of apparel, from either unsold stock or the underusing of garments (on average an item of clothing is worn only 7 times before being dumped).

This is why the rise of the resale economy excites me; it highlights a shift in consumer habits, particularly with young Millennials and Gen Z-ers. Younger consumers are becoming increasingly aware of their environmental footprint and wish to tread lightly on a planet which is suffering under the weight of overproduction and overconsumption. Also, we just don’t want to own so much stuff! With a plummeting economy, it’s not like we can afford to either…

The current financial situation has many individuals finding some salvation in the resale economy. Covid-19 has sent many into a panic money-saving mode in these uncertain times, and most of us aren’t willing to splurge on new things for the time being. Yet, people still need things. With many having lost their jobs and unemployment rates still rising, resale gives a means of selling unwanted and unused items, as well as the opportunity to shop for things more cheaply.

The resale economy is a modern solution to a modern problem.

I have always held a very simplistic view point: “we need to buy less stuff; we have too much.” However, as a fashion-lover myself, I realise this is not a realistic solution. I still believe finding timeless outfits you feel good in time and again is important, but it is not how the world works anymore. Consumer habits have evolved with the fast-fashion model and there is no fighting it. As Jack Ostrowski, CEO of sustainability solutions company Yellow Octopus, states: “consumers want to look fresh every single week- that’s just how it is now. Instead of saying ‘let’s behave how we did in the past’, we’re saying, ‘let’s find a solution for the future’. [The circular economy] is a modern approach to solving the problem.”

What is thrilling is that the increase of resale practices allows consumers to still sport new and original looks, but with much less of an environmental footprint. However, it is not just the environment and the eco-conscious individuals who reap the rewards of a resale economy; it’s a win-win for everyone. Reselling lends itself to the investment mindset, where consumers are more willing to purchase higher-quality and higher-price range items with the knowledge that they will be able to sell them at 50-70% of the original price. This gives people the opportunity to indulge in luxury, and ensures the clothing or accessory gets used, knowing that you can make a percentage of the price back once you no longer need it. It allows customers to experiment with new brands, and if it doesn’t work out? It goes back into the resale cycle.

As resale retailers aim to overshadow fast-fashion in the next decade, it is not only the low-cost, more disposable brands that are getting on board. Luxury fashion brands are becoming increasingly involved in the resale economy, with retailers such as Thread Up, The RealReal, Poshmark and Vestiaire Collective selling pre-loved authenticated designer goods at a fraction of the original price. According to a article by Brian Blongastainer, Leigh Todd and Katherine Kelly “the resale market is forecast to outgrow luxury sales by four times from 2018 to 2021 and double by 2023 as more luxury companies embrace this trend and better understand consumers’ changing habits.”

One of those luxury companies is sustainable fashion advocate, Stella McCartney. The brand collaborated with The RealReal, offering $100 vouchers to incentivise consumers into selling their Stella McCartney pieces to the resale retailer once they are done wearing them. This is a great way for brands to re-tell their stories, and it extends the garment lifecycle while allowing customers to discover Stella’s brand at a cheaper price point.

The involvement of key fashion players will help to seamlessly integrate the resale economy into the norm, making it a natural part of the garment lifecycle. Too often have brands decided to bury samples which never made it into the collection, or to burn leftover stock (luxury retailer Burberry incinerated upward of £28 million of unsold clothes, perfumes and accessories in 2017) instead of selling it at reduced prices. Once adopted, this model will provide companies a solution to the waste problem, and at a profit. It will also be an opportunity to expand their customer base, even if it’s at marginally reduced prices.

“Second-hand” no longer means unorganised, unglamorous, dingy charity shops (even though I do love those!). A new era of pre-loved or pre-owned fashion retailers is taking over. With neat websites, stylised photoshoots and social media pages, it provides a viable and long-term solution to an increasingly devastating problem of textile waste, and gives most the opportunity to regularly update their wardrobes with unique pieces that don’t cost the earth.

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