Why Resale Culture Might Not be the Sustainable Solution It Seems
© Depop Content by Nicole, Alicia, Cecily and Imogen
Resale culture and thrifting can’t oppose fast fashion if engagement is predicated on “hype” rather than conscientiousness.
As society becomes more environmentally conscious, suggestions of how both consumers and companies can play their part are increasingly important. In the fashion industry, “sustainability” is the word of the day and, rightly, the movement encouraging it has strong momentum. A trending solution promoted by conscious consumers is thrifting - buying and selling pre-owned clothing. But trends, by nature, function as a snapshot of a moment and last barely longer than a TikTok video. Can something transient translate into a long term solution? What happens when the movement loses its momentum and followers of the sustainable hype move onto the next craze?
The fashion industry is well-cited as one of the largest polluters and contributors to environmental damage; the IPCC proposes that it is responsible for 10% of global carbon dioxide emissions and the use of up to 1.5 trillions gallons of water annually. Moreover, the lack of recycling and underuse of clothing contributed to the loss of over $500billion in value in 2017. Thrift shopping seems like a perfect solution. It reduces the need for fast fashion companies to overproduce and also extends the garment lifecycle.
But, with the recent co-option of thrift shopping by innumerable GenZ and GenX consumers, second-hand shopping may not be the sustainable solution it appears to be. As TikTok FYPs of young fashion enthusiasts become clogged with thrift shop hauls and try-on videos, the act of buying pre-owned clothing turned “trendy”. Given social media’s intrinsic, and purposefully, short-lived nature, inviting practice with longevity at its core into a virtual world so fast-paced is both contradictory and dangerous.
Social-media-oriented thrifting rarely emphasises sustainability or the positive impact of purchases, instead focuses on the “steal” of a vintage piece or how many items can be purchased for a small cost. Once these videos no longer achieve the same engagement and content creators stop posting about it, will thrift shoppers simply return to mass-market brands to follow the next trend? Unless ethical values remain at the forefront, the act of second-hand shopping cannot be tagged with a sustainable label.
And reselling platforms such as Depop only exacerbate the trend-vs-sustainability juxtaposition, weaving the promotion of temporary trend following into their so-called “conscious” apps. Welcoming users to a platform that claims to “make fashion more inclusive, diverse and less wasteful” yet allowing sellers to offer items that aren’t even pre-worn, let alone pre-loved, at mark-up prices does not equate to a sustainable fashion system. A search for popular brands such as Zara or H&M presents pages of new season products at elevated prices, marketed as “rare” just because they are sold out online.
Depop even promotes this by rewarding the most successful sellers with explore-page promotion. In the cases where these rewarded shops favour brand new items over genuine second-hand goods (which is often), it simply promotes the fast fashion cycle. The more these shops sell and are recognised, the more fast fashion items they buy. By allowing this dangerous purchasing pattern, Depop lulls naive consumers into believing they are making sustainable choices, even when buying new, “trendy” garments. How is purchasing fast fashion from resale apps more sustainable than going straight to the source?
Not only do apps such as Depop perpetuate fast fashion’s greenwashing, but they’re also at risk of fostering gentrification. Too often is the second cornerstone of resale culture missed - charity and thrift shops were created to aid low-income consumers’ access to clothing at affordable prices. Allowing, and even favouring, the purchase of garments to satisfy self-serving consumerism and the making of profit is driving such users away from the space created for them. Surely a practice that lets desire outweigh necessity cannot be congratulated?
The good news is, these problems are not unsolvable; introducing buyer limits in both on and offline spaces, establishing source checks to avoid unreasonable price inflations, and shifting the Depop spotlight from highest sellers to those who advocate for sustainable values would realign thrifting with its core values.
The bad news? They’re not being solved, and thrifting continues to pollute a sustainable fashion landscape. Sustainability cannot be temporary, nor can it rely on participation dictated by fundamentally antagonistic movements such as transient trend-following. It is not enough to simply wait for trend-thrifting to pass, so only truly conscious consumers remain.
Until intervention and education take place, leading to real change in consumer attitudes, the (im)morality of thrift shopping must still be questioned. Until then, critiques of second-hand shopping push it uncomfortably close to fast fashion, devaluing its position as a viable antidote to the damage inflicted by the fashion system.