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How Resale Markets Are Revolutionizing The Fashion Industry

how can the fashion industry be more sustainable

What’s the next big fashion trend? We predict it’s sustainable fashion. 

Conscious consumerism, or Fashion Mindfulness as thredUP calls it, is becoming mainstream, with celebs and influencers like Paris Hilton taking up the cause. Thrifting, repairing, and donating garments are at the core of the practice, and we hope it has longevity.

According to thredUP’s 2021 Fashion Resale Market and Trend Report, 70% of shoppers feel addressing climate change is now vital. That might just be the push we need as consumers to move toward more sustainable practices in fashion and solve its sustainability problem once and for all.

The Current State of Fashion and its Impact on the Environment

You already know the fashion industry is filthy — globally, it emits 1.7 billion tons of carbon yearly (more than air and sea travel combined) and is expected to rise 50% by 2030.

And that’s just the emissions. The fashion industry is vast and globally disbursed, with some companies adopting sustainable business practices and others maximizing their profit at the expense of workers and the environment. 

Fast fashion’s worst offenders harm us all through their use of resource-intensive processes like raising cotton with pesticides, polluting fresh water with manufacturing effluent, and dumping scrap and remnant fabric in landfills where microplastics and harmful dyes are released into the environment. Gross, right? So, how can the fashion industry be more sustainable? Let’s take a look together.

The need for a sustainable solution to the fashion industry’s waste problem

In the west, our clothing consumption and waste continue to rise as Americans tossed more than 21 billion pounds of clothing and other textiles into landfills. Clothing is produced faster, worn fewer times, and discarded more often now than ever before. 

Consider, on average; a garment is worn only seven times before being thrown away. The demand for fashionable, cheap clothing harms the planet, and proven sustainability practices like carbon neutral shipping aren’t enough to curtail the problem. 

The resale market can change everything, and 5 ways it already has

The American Apparel Association reported that more than 500 pounds of carbon emissions are prevented each year for each person buying second-hand clothing. If you’re looking for eco-friendly places to shop, resale markets should be at the top of your list! 

Instead of feeding the demand for new garments each season, brands are connecting with their customers in a new way. Resale shops can be in-house, where brands take back, repair, and resell their gently used items, or in marketplaces like thredUp and The RealReal that collect and resell things on behalf of consumers like you. 

The emergence of online resale platforms has changed fashion in several ways:

  1. Anyone can participate in resale and make money from their used clothing
  2. High-quality garments that retain their value are more attractive to shoppers 
  3. Fashion designers are creating for circularity and resale
  4. Fewer pesticides, water, and fertilizers are needed to grow raw materials for new items
  5. Shoppers can get the brands they love (even high fashion) for much less

how can the fashion industry be more sustainable

Defining resale markets

So what exactly is resale? Simply, it’s the process of selling previously-owned items. It can be online in these marketplaces or at your neighborhood consignment store. 

Resale is sometimes called “recommerce,” and brands will create buyback, trade-in, or upcycling programs for customers to get cash or store credit for their unwanted products. The items are then sold again at a reduced price to a new buyer, extending the product’s life and, as we saw, preventing carbon emissions from the production of new items. 

There’s a benefit for brands, too — resale helps keep current shoppers loyal, as their purchases are now investments. It also gives customers who may not have been able to afford to or don’t want to buy new an avenue to purchase from these brands. 

Is buying second-hand sustainable?

If you’re still wondering if buying used clothes is sustainable, consider this: buying items second-hand reduces its carbon footprint by 82%. That makes purchasing from resale one of the easiest and most impactful ways to reduce the fashion industry’s overall environmental impact. That’s not to discount the gains of reducing the new merchandise being manufactured on the amount of energy used and pollution emitted. 

When determining if the second-hand market you want to buy from is overall sustainable, look for companies that are maximizing carbon offset benefits with verified carbon standard projects to become carbon-neutral certified. 

Another way to make sure your secondhand purchase is eco-friendly is to look at the composition of the garment — if it’s made of natural fibers (linen, cotton, wool, cashmere), it’ll be more sustainable over time. To get the most environmental benefits of buying second-hand clothing, items made from microplastic-leaching synthetic fibers are best to avoid new and used!  

The growth of resale in the fashion industry

In their 10th annual resale industry report, thredUP predicted the secondhand fashion market will grow 127% by 2026 — that’s 3 times faster than the rest of the fashion industry. They see this shift taking hold in the US especially, with the market reaching $82 billion in the next 3 years. Finally, resale grew by 32% in 2021 alone.

Pretty compelling stuff! But what’s driving this demand for pre-loved clothing? You might not be surprised to discover its primarily younger generations looking for secondhand goods. In 2021, 42% of Millennial and Generation Z survey respondents said they were likely to shop secondhand for items because it’s both less expensive and more environmentally friendly.

Is buying second-hand clothes worth it?

The short answer is yes, buying second-hand is worth it. It’s an obvious way how the fashion industry can be more sustainable, allowing shoppers to find good quality garments without the excessive production of the past. 

When we shop with resale in mind, we’re more likely to select pieces that are made from durable natural fibers, well constructed with sturdy buttons and fasteners. We’ll also be willing to invest in more expensive, higher quality pieces as we know we’ll make some of that money back on the resale market 😉 

The benefits of buying and selling pre-owned clothing

There are benefits for both shoppers and sellers of recycled clothing stores. Brands and sellers can make some money from selling used garments. Buyers get the benefits of buying second-hand clothes, such as better quality items for less than retail prices. 

Sellers can use an app for sustainable clothing to connect their prospective customers with their sustainability stories. Learn how we help thousands of brands generate meaningful environmental impact with integrated carbon offsetting tools

What are the advantages of getting second-hand goods?

We hope the advantages of buying second-hand clothing are becoming apparent — let’s take a deeper look. Some of the perks are:

  1. Saving money. Buying pre-loved items costs less, so more of your hard-earned cash stays in your bank account. 
  2. Lowering your environmental impact. We’ve seen the devastating environmental impact of fast fashion and commercial crop-raising for clothing. 
  3. Expressing your style. Since pre-owned garments are usually a few seasons old, you won’t see everyone wearing the same one (unlike some trendy fast fashion pieces).  

The Environmental Impact of Resale

No matter if you’re shopping at a local thrift store or an online luxury market, the resale sustainability benefits are measurable. Resale has become a significant part of brands’ sustainability strategies, helping to reach environmental, social, and governance (ESG) goals such as choosing between becoming net zero vs. carbon neutral

Why is buying second-hand clothes good for the environment?

  1. It protects our water. According to the U.N. Partnership on Sustainable Fashion, the fashion industry creates 20% of water pollution.
  2. Fast fashion relies on plastic materials, like polyester, nylon, polyamide, and acrylic, which release microplastic into the water every time they’re washed.
  3. It helps divert those 21 billion pounds of clothing from landfills by giving them a new life in a new closet.
  4. It uses fewer resources. Less water and energy are consumed, fewer new materials are created, fewer pesticides are sprayed, and fewer carbon emissions are released.

The environmental impact of resale vs. fast fashion

A 2016 report found reusing and recycling local textiles saved Nordic countries the equivalent of 425 million pounds of CO2 annually, and another 19 billion gallons of water. Now compare that to fast fashion’s impact on the environment, producing 2.1 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas and consuming 93 billion cubic meters of water annually. The greener choice is clear!

The role of resale in promoting a circular economy in fashion

Not only is fast fashion’s environmental impact significant, but it also harms the economy. Ellen MacArthur’s foundation Make Fashion Circular initiative found $460 billion is lost annually from underusing clothing, like tossing them out rather than reselling or donating them. Adopting a circular model can help the economy by keeping usable products in circulation longer. 

how can the fashion industry be more sustainable

The Economic Benefits of Resale

Resale is growing — and fast. Online resale is expected to grow nearly 4 times by 2026 and comprise half of all secondhand purchases. The average online resale shopper spends almost $340 U.S. dollars on secondhand clothing, a value that will grow as more consumers join the 70% of shoppers that feel it’s easier to shop secondhand now. 

How resale benefits consumers financially

As many nations are dealing with economic downturns, 58% of consumers report secondhand helped them offset inflation in some way, and 25% said they’ll shop secondhand more often if prices in apparel, footwear, and accessories keep rising. Resale is helping customers like you hold on to their cash while still getting good quality, eco-friendly clothing.

The impact of resale on small businesses and independent sellers

Recommerce 100 found brands adopting resale increased by 275% in 2021, and 88% of retail executives who have a resale shop report it’s driving revenue.

Of course, resale is only one step toward sustainability in business and should be paired with other initiatives to truly make an impact. Since implementing a resale site is low effort (it can be done in just a few weeks), it’s an excellent way for brands to produce less and keep the items they’ve already created in circulation longer. 

The potential for resale to create new jobs in the fashion industry

With new markets come new jobs for eco-conscious workers in the fashion industry. Technology in the textile industry is advancing, with companies like Bolt Threads and LanzaTech finding new and sustainable ways to create fabrics (cloth from captured carbon emissions? The future is now). The more durability and longevity introduced into textiles means clothing will last longer and make multiple owners happy over the years. 

Luxury resale has created jobs for professional authenticators who determine whether an item is brand name or a knockoff, and its value. More and more fashion houses are hiring sustainability and circular design managers who ensure resale or recycling is planned for in the design process. 

The Social Benefits of Resale

Not only do the environment and economy benefit from resale, but so do we. The fashion industry is notoriously exploitative, with rampant use of sweatshops and prison labor, paying workers just pennies an hour, and forcing them to work long days in unsafe conditions — often without so much as a bathroom break. The cheap price of the clothing can’t hide the human cost of fast fashion. 

How resale benefits garment workers

Research into circular economies is positive circularity can open a pathway for underdeveloped nations to grow and develop sustainably, and without the resource-intensive practices that characterized industrialization. 

Resale will benefit garment workers as the massive demand for new, cheap, and low-quality clothes will be replaced with a sustainable, equitable market for well-made, natural fiber garments resulting in less demanding and dehumanizing workplaces, less exposure to toxic chemicals, and less pollution in their communities. 

The culture shift toward sustainable fashion

For the fashion industry to be more sustainable, the demand needed to come from consumers. Now that more shoppers are educated about the impact of their purchases, they’re buying from sustainable DTC brands, carbon-neutral clothing brands, or brands offering resale. 

The Future of Resale

While the online resale economy is exploding, there is still work to do to ensure it becomes a common practice. Let’s find out what we can do to ensure a sustainable future for resale.

Buy second-hand first

As more resale markets become available, more brands and consumers are selling their pre-loved apparel. That means there’s more inventory and much more size and style selection. It won’t be long until more than 41% of people will shop secondhand first, and resale will be a mainstream alternative to shopping new. 

The role of technology in resale 

As consumers, we’re more likely to shop secondhand or resale if it is accessible and convenient. Sure, occasional trips to the consignment store are fun, but the move to buying secondhand first should fit into our daily lives. That’s why tech solutions by brands we love using online resale markets, sustainable shopping integrations, and carbon neutral shipping are so helpful. Technology enables us to adopt sustainable versions of our current behaviors — it’s a win-win!

Resale and you: shopping for sustainable fashion

So, how can the fashion industry be more sustainable? With eco-conscious consumers like you embracing resale as the best way to shop for fashion, you’ll help minimize the environmental and social harm from fast fashion and the fashion industry at large. You’ll find your favorite brands (and maybe some new ones) for much less than first-hand retail, AND you’ll prevent perfectly good clothing from going in the dump. Sustainable fashion looks good on you!

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