Why Branded Recommerce is the Future of the Fashion Industry
Updated: Apr 8
The lifecycle of a garment starts with a seed. Plant-based fibers are grown in the field before being spun into yarn and sent off to factories where they will be woven, knit, dyed, and turned into fabric. Fabric gets sewn into garments, which make their way through shipping containers, warehouses, and the racks of retail stores before finally ending up in your closet. Then what?
Much of the environmental impact of a garment actually occurs after you buy it. That means that we each have the power to wash, wear, repair, and discard our clothing in eco-friendly ways that lighten our footprint on this planet.
When a garment reaches the end of its life in your closet, you can pass it on to a friend, donate it, or throw it away. Many choose to donate unwanted clothing in the hopes that it will go to support people in our communities, but the truth is that those items don’t always end up in the hands of the needy.
In addition to our individual power to buy sustainable clothing and take care of it with green lifestyle habits, consumers and brands also have the collective power to make an impact - by choosing secondhand first.
What happens to our clothing when we’re done with it?
According to the Pulse of the Fashion Industry report in 2018, the average garment is worn only ten times before it gets discarded. Worldwide, that number has decreased 35% compared to 15 years ago, and it’s estimated that more than half of the fast fashion produced today is disposed of in less than 12 months.
With fast fashion driving the production of over 100 billion garments per year, it’s no wonder people are cycling through trends quicker than ever. But in our Marie Kondo-fueled closet cleanouts, what we intend as charity may be contributing to the global environmental crisis.
According to the EPA, Americans donate or recycle around 12 pounds of textiles each year, and thrift shops process approximately 3.8 billion pounds of these goods annually. But only 10 - 20% of that actually ends up getting sold.
“There’s only a 20 percent chance that a piece of clothing you’ve donated is being worn by someone in your community, as charities receive far too many donations to sell them all,” said Jackie King of the Secondhand Materials and Recycled Textiles Association (SMART). So where does the rest of it go?
The Council for Textile Recycling reports that 5% of donated textiles end up as waste, 20% get recycled into fiber, 30% into cloth rags, and 45% is bundled and shipped out to secondhand markets around the globe. One of these secondhand markets, called Kantamanto in Accra, Ghana, receives around 15 million used garments each week.
Perhaps Adam Minter was right when he said that the best way to prevent all of the environmental and social impacts of the fashion industry is to not buy new stuff. But what if all of that could change?
Branded recommerce is the future of the fashion industry
In 2017, Americans disposed of 12.8 million tons of clothing. In 2018, the fashion industry produced 2.1 billion tons of CO2 - representing over 8% of total global greenhouse gas emissions. If fashion continues on its current path, it will account for more than 26% of the total global annual carbon budget by 2050.
It’s clear that the time for change is now. With such a huge footprint, the fashion industry has immense power to stop destructive and extractive practices and instead start making a positive impact with sustainability and circular solutions. The EPA estimates that if all of the textiles that are thrown away today could be reused or recycled, that would be the equivalent of taking 7.3 million cars off the road. That alone is a huge impact.
The good news is that resale is on the rise. More people than ever feel comfortable shopping secondhand, and many Gen Z shoppers even say that used clothing is their first choice because it’s better for the environment. A report conducted by Farfetch found that 65% of secondhand clothing purchases in the US and UK actually prevented the shopper from purchasing something new, and ThredUp estimates that “buying secondhand clothing reduces a personal CO2 footprint by 527 pounds.”
Recently, a number of brands have started to see the value in circularity. Levi’s, Eileen Fisher, Stella McCartney, and even Walmart have implemented resale programs to recapture used inventory and help shoppers get secondhand items directly from the source. And ThredUp’s 2020 Resale Report indicates that the demand for secondhand will just keep growing.
As NY Times fashion director Vanessa Friedman put it, “given the growth of resale, you have to wonder why every brand doesn’t do [it].” Brand-operated resale has the potential to not only reduce the carbon footprint of the fashion industry, but it can also create more compassionate and holistic economies between brands, shoppers, and community members.
Producing new pieces through sustainable supply chains is one way to change the fashion industry, but it’s not enough without circularity. Branded resale is an excellent way for brands to encourage recirculation of clothing while building brand loyalty and offering an accessible price point for new customers. Together, brands and shoppers have the power to transform the fashion industry, build meaningful relationships, and protect our planet.