Trend piece By Louise Trainor

Image from Classic Car Boot Sale, 2018

Fast fashion brands continue to succeed on price differentiation and the speedy production of trend-led collections. Less adept at environmentalism however, they are scrambling to respond to challenges put forth by climate-aware Gen Z. To an eco-anxious generation, sustainable innovations are often regarded as marketing tactics and ‘greenwashing’; H&M’s Conscious Collection and investment in sustainable start-ups cannot offset its estimated $4.3 billion in unsold stock. Resale and takeback schemes could help create a sustainable and circular economic model benefitting both shoppers and brands.

The resale clothing market has seen the proliferation of platforms such as Depop and Vestiaire Collective. In the US, The RealReal debuted on the stock market in May 2019 with $1 billion valuation as proof-of-concept. Traditional clothing retailers are exploring opportunities to recoup revenue by selling pre-owned inventory through their own sales channels, instead of losing out to secondary market platforms. New technologies could facilitate this opportunity, through tracking e-commerce and prompting customers to resell their items after a certain period of time. Reflaunt uses blockchain-backed digital identification to “allow brands to track and trace from retail to resale” while Rohvi is a technology that has evolved from existing re-commerce models in the consumer electronics’ and automotive industries.

“allowing brands to track and trace from retail to resale”

Another benefit of controlling resale is authentication. Currently, streetwear purchasers rely on Facebook group communities to help authenticate second-hand goods, while buyers on eBay have to shoulder the risk of potentially purchasing fakes. Brands such as Levi’s and Patagonia have successfully elevated their trustworthiness by reselling worn and repaired own-brand goods while simultaneously boosting sales of new products. Of course there are a number of ways to increase the sustainability of your wardrobe, London start up HURR Collective offers a service whereby you monetise your existing wardrobe by renting out pieces for a fraction of the original retail price.

In reality, it is time-consuming to search through one-of-a-kind pieces and without a clear style direction, shoppers can feel lost in a sea of vintage. Putting second-hand clothing in the hands of trusted brands helps to reassure customers, and could increase availability of second-hand inventory, especially of larger sizes. Returning original purchases to the brand also shifts responsibility, requiring the brand to deal with the realities of the volumes produced.

While these talk back scheme innovations may help to stem the tide of post-consumer fashion waste, fast fashion brands are not yet ready to embed radically sustainable and slow production policies. It remains in the hands of consumers to keep questioning processes, demanding transparency and examining their own buying behaviour. With the vocal power of ‘woke’ Gen Z, fast fashion brands that continue to ignore calls for better practices may soon find themselves out of favour.

Ella Grace Denton