Editor’s Letter by Lisa: Pre-Owned Is Also a Tricky Business
On Make it last, we focus on highlighting progress; ideas that potentially contribute to making the fashion industry a less wasteful one. We do believe in appreciating the small steps forward; that every idea and every person can contribute to a more hopeful scenario in one way or the other.
That’s not to say everything is looking up. While my partner Emma is largely an optimist (it impresses me daily), I sometimes struggle to see that what’s done is enough.
I won’t dwell on my dystopia, but I will share two reads that caught my attention today. They both highlight some of the challenges pre-owned fashion is facing, and as I think prolonging the life of clothes is one of the most important aspects of achieving a less harmful fashion industry; one more tangible than that of future technical solutions saving us from the mess we’ve made; I think it makes sense for us to consider what everything “re” really implies. Reusing, recycling, reducing.
Business of Fashion reports that the booming trade of donated clothes from the West (the US, in this case) might have a negative impact on local apparel industries in low-income countries. The East African Community has proposed to ban second hand imports – but is this really the most constructive way forward? The business of reuse is a hugely complex issue.
Another complicated matter is that of recycling clothes en masse. Today, most high street fashion chains encourage customers to return discarded clothes to the stores for recycling, announcing them as helpers in the quest of “closing the loop” of fashion. The most recent exposé proving that the handling of old clothes is tricky was shown on Danish TV2 the other day. H&M and Bestseller were accused of burning clothes that were claimed to be recycled. Representatives from the brands say only defected clothes or clothes that contain harmful chemicals are burnt. Either way: landfill sites still expand rapidly, and plastics still clog the ocean. We need to constantly address the area of recycling and how it is made possible.
Speaking about the booming second hand market: during my daily Vestiaire Collective and The Real Real browse, I often come to think about something I have yet to read about: the sustainability challenges the luxury pre-owned market faces when offering worldwide services and shipping– especially since they also employ double shipping (goods sold by private individuals are first shipped to the retailer’s headquarters and then, after having been authenticated, on to the buyer).
Although this market is still very small in comparison to the overall luxury market, it’s on the rise and interesting when looking at more sustainable ways of consuming fashion. 75 percent of items purchased at Vestiaire Collective, for example, are shipped to countries outside of its original selling point.
Vestiaire Collective is setting up a logistics hub in Asia to facilitate their expansion in that region. They see huge potential for the pre-owned luxury segment there, as it’s still to explode. “The biggest barrier to opening operations in China is figuring out the fastest and most efficient shipping and delivery routes based on where items are being sold from…” writes Glossy.
I love second hand clothing and visit these sites daily (Net A Porter who?). Only the shipping aspect clogs the total excitement of borderless pre-owned fashion. I don’t know of any solution to this except only buying locally (which I guess is pretty much like suggesting “just stop buying things” today. It won’t happen.) I wish there was one though. Writing this makes me think of Schpock, an app focusing on selling and buying things locally. It’s so weirdly promoted, but the “shop in your neighborhood” focus of course makes total sense.
So, how sustainable is my global pre-owned wardrobe? It’s definitely a question of relativism (and yes, ultimately a question of being “less bad” instead of “good”). But if there’s one thing I’ve learned from working with Make it last for the past three years, it’s that sustainable fashion is always a relative matter – and the challenge is to deal with it instead of giving up on it.
Images: Most of my precious clothes come from pre-owned sites such as eBay (the sweater) and The Real Real (the dress).
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