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The Real Cost of Fashion: What to do with 92 Million Tonnes of Clothing Nobody Wants

By Samantha Dersarkissian

The Real Cost of Fashion: What to do with 92 Million Tonnes of Clothing Nobody Wants


Key Takeaways

  • There is a real cost of fashion and there is no farm where items go on to live a happy life.

  • Brands will inevitably be asked to address production growth as part of their sustainability strategy as legislation intervenes in pervasive fashion waste.

Ahh…so it begins. The barrage of Black Friday and Cyber Monday emails and now SMS appears to be the hallmark of the Holiday season. In the 2000s national chains such as Walmart, Target, and Best Buy found a way to take advantage of this timing as a marketing moment to kick off holiday shopping–setting record sales numbers year after year by focusing deals in small time windows or “events.”

But times are changing.  Glossy reports “Brands are saying goodbye to Black Friday,” due to a shift in customer values. Yes, Black Friday has continued to wane from its heyday but let’s not kid ourselves, the trend has more to do with shifts in the retail landscape than customer values.  Black Friday is a marketing event that no longer holds the value it once did for retailers. What has changed is the growth in e-commerce and constant access to deals, making this once-limited event, less effective as a marketing event.

Make no mistake, we are shopping MORE every year, regardless of changing values.

92 million tonnes of textile waste are produced globally every year, according to Punch. But very few people think about where all these textiles go.

The answer: West Africa. The majority of the US and European excess textiles and unwanted clothing is “donated” to African countries and the volume of these imports is mounting to unimaginable levels as stated in Vogue. Today, less than 12% of all fashion waste is recycled with the majority being burned and buried overseas where it is sold, out of sight out of mind. This reality is getting worse with fashion waste increasing by 50% at the end of this decade.

 While there are no silver bullets to eliminate the real cost of overproduction, as Impakter points out this week “people purchasing brand new items for every occasion are perpetuating this system – secondhand shopping slows this cycle.”  An item sold for the second time most often replaces the sale of a newly made item, hence lessening production as nobody wants to make items that don’t sell. Triple Pundit supported this trend in their coverage of Secondhand Sunday as the latest in retail holidays.  In a recent Deloitte study, 48% of retail executives plan to offer resale directly to their customers. While I’m not sure if Secondhand Sunday will become the next Black Friday for retail, every brand should be looking to sell their brand items as many times as possible.

So, given this, should Vestiaire ban fast fashion?  This is the question Vogue raised in their article, “Should resale sites ban fast fashion? It’s complicated”.  On one hand, the more items we can get additional use out of the better, and on the other hand, fast fashion resale may continue to perpetuate the model.  My take… good on Vestiaire for creating a 3-year sustainability strategy, good publicity, and good economics which I respect. However, their ultimate decision won’t matter at all in the world of growing fast fashion–this part is just smart marketing.

 Where I really appreciate Vestiaire’s stance is in legislation. As the sustainability crisis escalates, at some point legislation will pass some “tax” on end-of-use.  Brands with resale programs will be best equipped to take advantage of this new landscape; the ones yet to address this important area will fall further behind.

 Until Next Week,

Andy Ruben | Founder & Exec Chair of Trove

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