In the last three months, fast fashion brands Pretty Little Thing (PLT), Shein, and Zara have launched resale platforms in an attempt to tap into the circular economy. While resale as part of a circular business model can be a sustainable alternative to buying new, experts are not convinced fast fashion is up to the task.
One of the key tensions is how companies communicate resale to consumers and messaging is mixed. Zara says Zara Pre-Owned, a peer-to-peer platform that launches on 3 November in the UK, is a way for consumers to make “more sustainable decisions” and for the company to move towards a “more sustainable model”. It says it won’t be using the platform to promote new products to customers, and that repairs and donation options will also be available. PLT, meanwhile, says it hopes to educate its customers to make “better choices” and make resale “more attractive” via its Marketplace app, which has been downloaded more than 200,000 times since launching in August, but says it “has not and will not be making any sustainable claims”. Shein said it doesn’t expect to make a profit from Shein Exchange, which launched earlier this month, and “wants to provide a destination for Shein customers to become active participants in circularity and find new closets for their pre-loved products”.
“When you lead people to believe that a product can be recycled or have a second life — as is the case of these resale platforms — people end up consuming the primary good even more because it is seen as a purchase with no consequences,” says Maxine Bédat, author and the director of the nonprofit New Standard Institute.
Part of Shein’s motivation in launching resale is to attempt to take control of secondhand transactions. A company statement issued at the time of launch in October said: “leadership acknowledges that resale threatens to cannibalize the sale of new items.” Secondhand sites do have the potential to cannibalize new product purchases, which is why resale is considered a sustainable shopping choice: secondhand fashion marketplace Depop says nine out of 10 purchases made on its app prevent the purchase of a brand-new item elsewhere.