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Environmentalism fueling conversation around circular fashion

By Kristopher Fraser



Resale-collectie bij Zeeman. Credit: Zeeman

Sustainability. It’s a word that the fashion industry has been tossing around for quite some time, so much so it’s a point where greenwashing is now a hot topic, and the term sustainability has lost some of its credibility. Greenwashing aside, the conversation around sustainability isn’t going anywhere, but now circularity has entered the chat.

The conversation around circularity is on the rise due to supply chain issues. Brands are facing multiple challenges ranging from sourcing to shipping, so they are coming up with inventive ways to keep producing “new” products. On top of that, brands are increasingly aware of the environmental impact the fashion industry has.

This has caused a renaissance in the second-hand market. Consumers are increasingly aware of their environmental footprint, and with inflation now at a historic high of 9.1 percent, the secondhand market is a gold mine for people who still want fashion. The growth of resale sites like The Real Real, Poshmark, and Grailed, prove the inevitable power of the secondhand market.

Let’s take a moment to point out that secondhand is not new. The concept of thrifting is a decades-old one, and thrift stores are the godmother of sustainability. Consignment stores, which offer designer labels, are the higher end of the thrifting market. This can be thought of as the difference between a mass market and a luxury department store.

A 2022 ThredUp survey reported the global secondhand goods market will grow by 24 percent in 2022. The U.S. secondhand market will grow more than double by 2026 to reach 82 billion dollars. Secondhand is becoming a global phenomenon, growing three times faster than the global apparel market overall.

Online resale is the fastest-growing sector, with growth expected nearly 4X by 2026. This is only fitting, given that online resale makes it much easier to sort and shop, versus the thrill of the hunting aspect of shopping second-hand brick-and-mortar stores.

The shift to circularity is also a way for consumers to supplement their income. The U.S. secondhand market is seeing an increase in sellers, which was a trend that accelerated during the pandemic as people were purging their closets. Now that people have found a new way to make money, they aren’t letting that income go.

Gone are the days when thrifting and shopping secondhand had a negative connotation. Now it’s considered a sustainable badge of honor to say you did your part to help the environment by participating in the circular fashion movement.

The interesting part is brands are trying to capitalize on the circular fashion movement by controlling their own resale channels. In 2019, Neiman Marcus acquired a minority stake in pre-owned e-tailer Fashionphile. The investment has paid off for Neiman Marcus, which has opened 10 Fashionphile stores within their stores and has seen a multi-million dollar return on investment.

Some consumers are now proud to say they haven’t bought any “new clothes”, and this is a growing movement. Online, they can be found on Twitter and Instagram via the hashtag #NoNewClothes.

As environmental issues and the pending doom that we have a limited amount of time to save the planet linger over our heads, the circular fashion movement is only poised to grow. In the long term, companies will have to figure out how to improve logistics, operations, and strategy as the sector grows because it is no longer the niche market it once was. Still, environmental consciousness will continue to fuel secondhand’s growth, indubitably.

Circular Fashion