An Avalanche of Platforms for Recycling, Reselling & Renting Fashion

We live in a make-buy-trash fashion culture: Eighty-three percent of our clothes/shoes get chucked in the garbage. And in 2018, there were reports about fashion’s nasty secret: Brands incinerate/shred unsold stock to protect their halo of exclusivity. For instance, Burberry acknowledged it destroyed $36 million worth of unsold clothes/accessories in 2017!

Thankfully, there is now an incredible surge in new platforms that upcycle all those dead dresses. And a reuse and re-wear revolution is really disrupting the “buy new” fashion world, whether it’s recycling old fabric into new clothes or brands stepping up buyback programs (and rewarding you for that closet clean-out to the big uptick in luxury, used online clothing sites to vintage staging a comeback or the fact that you can now rent your wardrobe. It’s a much more virtuous circular economy, giving many potential lives to each item of clothing.

Refashioning Old Fabric into New Clothes 

So many brands are upcycling cast-off material into new creations. Eileen Fisher’s powerful recycling program called Renew has taken back over a million garments to repurpose, and the old-made-new garments are sold in its stores or pop-up shops where that $300 jacket gets reincarnated at less than $100. Reformation is a cult brand that remakes old materials and vintage clothing into feminine creations. Dead stock becomes live stock with brands such as Cambodia’s tonlé, which uses surplus fabric from mass clothing makers and turns it into zero-waste collections, or Queen of Raw, which connects designers and textile firms with dead stock fabrics from factories/brands.

Subscription-based brands let people return worn clothes for new ones: For Days lets you send back worn t-shirts for new ones, with the collected tops getting recycled into new tees. Because high-end hotels need to constantly give guests fresh sheets (and the endless laundering means they wear out fast), in 2018, wellness hotel brand Westin began a new program recycling the tens of thousands of pounds of sheets/towels from its global hotels into pajamas for children in homeless shelters—even developing a proprietary way to break down the old fibers to make new fabric.

Good Behavior Rewards 

So many brands will now reward you for bringing back your unwanted clothes for recycling. Guess just partnered with I:Collect (which gathers/recycles used fashion), so if you bring in five clothing items you get 15 percent off—and H&M has a similar deal. J.Crew partnered with Blue Jeans Go Green, which recycles old denim to build housing for communities in need: Bring back a gently used pair to J.Crew and get a $20 discount on new ones. Sweden-based Nudie Jeans gives a discount if you return your old jeans, and they provide free repairs for life. UK department store John Lewis’s buyback plan: Gather at least £50 worth of clothing, a courier fetches your items, and you get sent a gift card matching their value. Online, sustainable used clothing emporium thredUP has just launched the thredUP x Reformation UPcycle kit: They send you the kit, you fill it with unwanted clothing from any brand and send it back. For clothing that passes their resale test, you get money or a Reformation credit (and they’ll responsibly recycle those clothes that don’t make the cut).

The New Crop of Online Resale Shops—Luxe for Less 

An ever-growing number of online resale shops (where you can both sell and buy) has led to an avid new generation of people hunting down luxury fashion at dramatically cheaper prices, and a perception shake-up around the concepts of value and luxury. The resold clothes/accessories market is forecast to more than double by 2022 (from $20 billion to $41 billion), and pre-owned fashion will make up around one-third of the average woman’s closet by 2027. This is no longer just the province of deal-seekers and millennials: Thirteen percent of this sector is driven by millionaires.

There are so many great sites where you can buy high-end for less: eBay, of course, and RealReal, Poshmark, Vestiaire Collective, Vinted and thredUP. These platforms are innovating: For instance, thredUP has a new collection concept, Remade, where they take mountains of data to identify exactly what resells to create an affordable collection designed to be resold. Each item comes with a buyback promise, ensuring it will be resold on thredUP, with sellers earning 40 percent of the original value. UK-based The Resolution Store is an online, ever-refreshed site where the piles of amazing (wasted) clothes that get gifted to fashion influencers get resold. Even traditional thrift stores, such as Goodwill, are upping their game, as they recently opened “Curated by Goodwill NYNJ, with a new aesthetic and color-coded racks of clothes.

Vintage Is Hot 

Thrifting for vintage finds, once the province of bohemians and punk rockers, is, according to Women’s Wear Daily, undergoing a major renaissance, with rare and glamorous vintage clothes now being vocally worn by celebs, sold in the toniest shops, and paraded across social media. If the Instagrams prod us to be fashion clones, vintage fashion is emerging as a deeply eco-friendly way to be truly unique. The Japanese, the largest second-hand clothing market on earth, are so mad for premium vintage that they’re depleting the world’s stock. One example of a brand bringing new-look vintage to the people: Peekaboo Vintage, whose owner Emily Bothwell lends her private collection of vintage rarities to celebs and offers a big vintage collection at Topshop and ASOS Marketplace, all while broadcasting her eco-mission: #Ilovepreloved.

The Rented Wardrobe: Luxe Fashion for the Experience Economy

Platforms that let you rent your wardrobe are rising, which deliver the endorphin rush and variety of fast fashion (you get to dress like celebs dress, rotating in new designer clothes every week), without having all those environment-killing fashion mistakes rotting in your closet. Let’s face it. The fashion industry has sold us a bill of goods when they argue that clothes are “investments.” While some are longer-wearing choices than others, they simply aren’t: Fashions and our body shape change all the time; we outgrow our shoes as we age; clothes fall apart; we gain a few pounds; and, after years, we sometimes just don’t want to wear that blouse, even if we can’t quite say why.

The goliath in the rent-your-wardrobe space is Rent the Runway, which began as a site where you could rent that special-occasion gown but has expanded to a monthly unlimited membership service (9 million people pay the $159/mo.), giving constant access to their vast “closet in the cloud”: all the designer clothes/accessories you need for work, fancy events, pregnancies, etc. The process: Members can keep four items at a time (out of their 800,000 units from 500 designers) and rotate them in and out as fast as they want. Every item is delivered in two sizes (smart) and is returned with a prepaid shipping label to the company’s vast warehouse, dry-cleaned, and shipped out to the next wearer.

And the company has partnered with WeWork, installing drop-off boxes at the co-working spaces and allowing WeWork members to rent their wardrobe via tablet, with plans to have clothing rental pop-ups in select WeWork locations. Rent the Runway reports their passionate members use the service 120 times a year (that means new items every three days!), which The New Yorker has noted is “an extraordinary number of wardrobe refreshes for anyone other than an heiress or a royal,” while also analyzing how the digital rental concept is a democratizing shift in fashion. Why wear that grubby, in-heavy-rotation, little black dress when you can wear something different, such as a soft yellow, silk Escada shift, every week?

Other rent-your-clothes pioneers: Girl Meets Dress and China’s YCloset, along with Dutch brand, Mud Jeans, which leases organic denim that can be either kept, swapped or returned. The Black Tux, focused on renting formalwear to American men, is considering a monthly subscription model, as it finds men are renting for more than special occasions, such as job interviews, dates, etc.

Yes, the idea of renting versus owning what you wear requires a whole new mindset. However, it is all part of the new experience economy, and you get to experience (and afford) far more clothes than you could ever buy. And the rent-not-own fashion model liberates us from the time and energy eaten up by shopping while freeing up space in our closets.

Forecasting the Future

  • All the new, high-tech sustainable fabrics are a wonderful thing, but really stopping the nightmare destruction caused by the fashion industry will come from basic behavior change: People will stop buying so many new clothes and shoes. Re-wearing and renting will only get cooler.
  • If you can think of a fashion resale or rental model, it will probably be created: whether apps that let people personally rent out their gathering-dust, but still amazing, dresses/suits or killer solutions for redistributing used baby clothes.
  • The overproduction and overconsumption of fashion, fueled by cheap global markets and materials, and which really kicked up in the 70s and went haywire in the 2000s, we think, is really just a blip in history.

This is an excerpt from the “Well Fashion: Way Beyond Athleisure” trend in the 2019 Global Wellness Trends Report.

This is an excerpt from the TRENDIUM, a bi-weekly communication exploring the wellness trends identified in the Global Wellness Trends Reports.

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