That’s why second-hand fashion isn’t always the solution for sustainable fashion consumption | Vogue Germany


The search for the right lover for the garment being worn is global today. Big digital suppliers like Vestiaire Collective, Vinted, The Real Real or Rebelle unite millions of members from all over the world and send their products to almost every corner of the world. There’s already a buyer somewhere, but it’s not environmentally friendly. Even the Parisian is well aware of this problem: “The purchase of a used garment reduces the consumption of new resources by 90 percent. But our transport costs, especially those with air transport, reduce this result. This is why we offer direct shipping between support sellers and buyers and local peer-to-peer businesses.” In countries where there are more buyers than sellers, Parisian second-hand dealers deliberately search for goods in order to satisfy local demand.

Is second-hand the sustainable alternative to fast fashion or is it part of a symbiosis?

Whether this effort will pay off remains to be seen. Because even if second-hand clothing is considered one of the best solutions in the fight against mass consumption of clothing and the related environmental pollution, consumers are driven by other interests. The low price continues to be in first place. On the sales side, things are no better: 70 percent of vintage marketplace users sell there to increase their purchasing power for new purchases, according to a study by the Boston Consulting Group. The sale of used goods thus calms our ecological conscience, but does not necessarily reduce fashion consumption. On the contrary: it can also increase it. The French journalist Nicolas Santolaria even speaks of a “symbiosis of fast fashion and the second-hand market”, and that this partnership of convenience between the Chinese ultra-fashion supplier Shein and Vinted works particularly well. Shein’s low prices stimulate mass consumption, wrong purchases increase and clothes are worn ever shorter. Instead of the clothing bin around the corner, things end up at thriving marketplaces like Vinted, which don’t sort what’s on offer. You can find them there for five euros or less. The fact that this resale is not cost-effective does not matter to the seller. The main thing is that it’s nice to have been a part of the trendy used business

Even second-hand fashion must be bought with care

So is the Preloved Fashion business a lot less environmentally friendly than you thought? Vestiaire Collective therefore only recently banned the fast fashion trade from its website. So they are role models. Internal studies have also shown that new purchases can be reduced by up to 70 percent, especially with high-quality used goods. The situation is similar with Rebelle, Re-See or The Real Real. Here, strict bankruptcy criteria or high fees prevent the trade in cheap goods. A real alternative is still the stationary second-hand trade, especially in shops that work with goods on consignment, i.e. do not buy the goods themselves. They are usually completely locally organized and therefore really environmentally friendly. The situation is less transparent for second-hand shops which buy their products from wholesalers. Here it may happen that the already worn blouse or coat has come a long way: from a container of clothes in Europe to Africa or India, where things are sorted at the wages of dump trucks and then grouped according to colour, brand or other criteria send a wholesaler back to Europe.

In order to rule out exactly this, Lena Schröder, founder of the clothing store founded in 2012, takes the trouble to sort it out herself and passes on everything that does not fit into her concept to the German Clothing Foundation. “Our goal is to find the best possible use for every piece that comes our way. Whether in our shops, in helping projects or as upcycling label material. Local standards are important to us. That’s why we don’t ship the items, but open branches where you can buy used cars, but also rent them”. The imaginative start-up spirit in this genre of fashion business is far from gone. On the contrary: the second-hand industry is in turmoil. But it is already evident that local trade and high-quality goods are the decisive elements in shaping this segment into a truly ecological solution in the fight against climate change.

This article first appeared in our April 2023 issue. Find the current issue on newsstands or have it conveniently delivered to your home, for example via Amazonia.

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