This article was originally published in The Interline’s first Sustainability Report. To read other opinion pieces, exclusive editorials, and detailed profiles and interviews with key vendors, download the full Sustainability Report 2023 completely free of charge and ungated.

Key Takeaways:

  • Resale platforms offer a way to reduce the volume of new fashion being made and keep existing products in circulation longer, but a successful secondary market is only part of a broader picture, which must include a chance in consumer mindset.
  • More than 80% of high-end fashion bought through resale channels is purchased in place of a new product, but this alone will not reverse the growth rate of fast fashion.
  • Vestiaire Collective, among other organisations, are combining circularity with legislative lobbying to encourage a fundamental change in how fashion is produced, sold, and consumed.

In a world dominated by fast fashion, where bulk production and mass consumption seem unstoppable, resale platforms are seen as a way out of the downward spiral – a channel for keeping existing products in circulation longer, and a way of reducing the volume of new fashion being made. But what impact does resale really have? Are all resale platforms measuring it equally? And how is consumer behaviour actually changing?  

Given the severity and the urgency of climate change, and the role of high-volume fashion in contributing to it, I believe it’s now time to ask ourselves: are resale apps and websites just shifting the problems of scale to a different platform, or are they making a measurable difference?

At Vestiaire Collective, this is something we’ve spent a lot of time thinking about. We’ve been championing a revolution in the fashion industry since 2009. And while the resale platform is a big part of our work, we’re also seeking to change mindsets around instant gratification and promote a slower, more sustainable approach to buying clothing and accessories.

To put it another way, we see resale platforms as a vehicle to realise a much more fundamental change in how the world thinks about fashion, because we believe that’s where the most profound and the most prolonged positive impact will come from.

The rise of fast fashion: a global crisis

Over the past few decades, the fashion industry has witnessed a dramatic transformation. It’s easy to think that the fashion market we have today is the one we’ve always had, but the reality is that the sheer number of garments, footwear, and accessories produced has sky-rocketed in quite a short span of time.

Fast-fashion giants like H&M, Zara, and Primark took the market by storm, flooding it with cheap, short-lived, and synthetic clothes. Quality was sacrificed for low prices, and consumers were lured by endless options brought from the catwalk to the high street in record time, and 

swayed by flashy advertising campaigns that encouraged them to overlook the fact that, if they were paying a low price for a garment, other people – or the planet – were picking up the tab. 

The consequences were devastating: worldwide clothing production doubled between 2000 and 2015, resulting in an ever-increasing pile of discarded garments as the fast fashion experiment shifted the entire industry’s attitude towards newness, price, and volume at all costs – leading to historic markdowns and disposals of both sold and unsold clothing.

And as e-commerce boomed, online brands like ASOS, Boohoo, and most recently SHEIN, joined the race, offering even cheaper alternatives to fast fashion that upped the ante on speed and volume even further, and that contributed to lowering benchmarks for quality and durability even further. These were new business models built on top of an already-damaging one, and as a result their negative impacts were felt even deeper.

At the same time, influencers on social media platforms like YouTube, Instagram, and Tiktok also played a significant role in promoting fast fashion culture and fanning the flames of consumerism. Hashtags like #OOTD (outfit of the day) and #WIWT (what I wore today) perpetuated the hunt for newness, and easy integration between social media and providers of payment gateways, logistics, and fulfilment encouraged instant-purchase and same-day-delivery trends, deepening the societal obsession with disposable outfits.

The toll on our planet

The consequences of prioritising quantity over quality are now obvious: the fast fashion segment, and the business model changes it has encouraged industry-wide, is wreaking havoc on our environment, with abandoned textiles filling up landfills and incinerators at an alarming rate. People now buy 60% more clothes and wear them for only half as long, contributing to the mounting crisis. 

A collective at the forefront of change

Recognising the urgency of the situation, Vestiaire Collective has taken a stand against ultra-fast fashion and banned it from our platform.  Our reasoning is that there was little hope of resale actually changing the way these brands operate; providing an outlet for reselling fast fashion would not lead to less fast fashion being created. In fact, the reverse would likely end up being true.

Instead, we champion circular economy principles, and we aim to encourage shoppers to reuse pre-loved fashion that prioritises quality, durability, and timelessness. 

We are committed to creating a market for quality, well-made clothes and supporting brands that prioritise environmental and social responsibility. We’re already seeing the results this approach can have on not just extending the useful lifespan of great products, but actually influencing behavioural change in the fashion buying public: our 2023 Impact Report concluded that 70% of our customers impacted by the fast fashion ban made a switch to other, higher quality, brands. And a global survey of 3,500 Vestiaire Collective users revealed that 82% of items bought on Vestiaire Collective directly prevented a first-hand purchase. 

In the latest Vestiaire Collective x BCG report, we’ve also revealed that sustainability has become the second and fastest growing driver of pre-loved fashion, being the primary catalyst for 40% of our users. 

Lobbying for accountability

As I mentioned earlier, though, facilitating resale is just part of the picture. We can measure our own impact, and we know that the platform is making a difference to the way people think about fashion, but we do not believe that the industry can stop there. 

To meet the mandate for radical action on fashion’s environmental and human footprint, the change has to be deeper-rooted. We see resale as a pathway to activism.

So we are now lobbying the EU to hold fast fashion companies accountable for their supply chains, waste management practices, and the exportation of waste textiles to low-income countries – paving the way to a more circular system by design, rather than circularity being a way to manage the excess output of an industry built around unnecessary overproduction.

Building a sustainable future: a crucial difference

When we plan for the near-term future of circularity and sustainability, creating platforms for used goods and educating consumers is just the beginning. We need to think more creatively and use social media to build captive audiences that can help disrupt the fashion sector sooner rather than later. As Bloomberg recently highlighted, fast fashion is a beast that needs taming, and we cannot afford to wait. We must challenge old models, reshape attitudes, and embrace responsible fashion practices – irrespective of whether we’re talking about building better new products or finding new lives for existing ones.

Join the fashion revolution

Vestiaire Collective is determined to make a difference, but we can’t do it alone. We call upon all fashion enthusiasts – and in particular the industry insiders reading this report – to recognise the value of fewer, better-made items and to embrace sustainable fashion choices. You only need to look elsewhere in these pages to see fellow brands challenging the definition of growth, and rearchitecting the way they approach new ideas and new materials.

Together, we can spark a fashion revolution that will protect our planet and secure a better future for generations to come. As the latest IPCC report warns us, time is of the essence. Let’s act now and create a world where fashion is not only trendy but also environmentally and socially responsible.