As the mainstream resale of clothing continues, there is a growing – and fierce – online debate about the ethics of individual retailers taking advantage of the new second-hand market.
If this sounds counterintuitive to you, you are not alone.
Is resale no better than fast fashion? Is it not better to expand the use of a garment than to make a new one? Should not companies invest in recycling and resale and take advantage of the growing market that is expected to reach $ 77 billion over the next five years? Still, yes.
But this heated online debate should not be ignored either. It illustrates the complexity of resale in relation to access, race and power.
What is all the fuss about?
ICYMI, Gen Z thinks thrift is cool. This generation of consumers has driven the growth of resale platforms like Depop, acquired by Etsy earlier this year for $ 1.62 billion. “Thrift hauls”, a vlogger’s chronicle of a shopping trip in a thrift store, is a popular form of content on YouTube and TikTok that sometimes generates millions of views per page. Video. Most of these social media and now consumed users are white women from the upper class or middle class.
By seizing the opportunity to resell the market, individuals become entrepreneurs, buy cheap garments in bulk from Goodwill and other charity shops, mark the price and sell them for a significant profit on Depop, Mercari or Poshmark.
The current momentum of resale deserves to be scrutinized through the gentrification line.
In turn, this increases the price of second-hand goods, and low-income retailers are priced out of their local thrift stores.
Some call it unethical. Others call it free market capitalism.
Why it matters
Peer-to-peer resale platforms rely on individual salespeople and make a profit on each transaction. While these sites may have imagined users to be individuals seeking to sustainably sell their own beloved clothing, a growing class of entrepreneurs are driving their growth.
It’s a familiar tale that is no different from the image of a humble driver making a few bucks on weekends with Uber, an archetype increasingly displaced by a full-time Uber driver picking up passengers in a rented car. car. Uber and other riding-sharing apps have also been called out for racism on their platforms, and the carbon footprint of the services has been questioned – not to mention the fierce battle over the boundary between employee and contractor in the concert economy.
The potential social and environmental benefits of these new business models can quickly become complex, so companies relying on independent dealers or participants must consider the real environmental and social consequences as well as the unintended consequences of the platforms.
More on the story
The tension between access and influence in clothing is nothing new. The history of fashion appropriation by privileged consumers – both in form and in forums – has been thoroughly chronicled, and the current momentum of resale deserves to be examined through the gentrification line.
But also well documented is the fact that most donations to goodwill end up in landfills or flood markets in the global south, which also does not do much good — or helps deal with the environmental impact of the apparel industry in general.
It is important to recognize the social and economic context of resale and consider the availability of new business models. But let us not forget that system change requires systems thinking. Placing a patch on a symptom will not address the root cause of waste and pollution in the clothing industry. And resale must be part of the solution.