The resale of fast fashion: a redeeming quality or to be rejected?

In recent months, fast fashion brands Pretty Little Thing (PLT), Shein and Zara have entered the resale market. PLT launched PLT Marketplace in late August, Shein introduced Shein Exchange in mid-October, and Zara followed suit with Zara Pre-Owned in early November. The move to the resale game begs a big question: Are fast fashion items suitable and durable enough to withstand repeated use by multiple individuals? Will they remain fit for purpose, or should resale be reserved for higher-end items that may be made from more durable materials?

Fast fashion is considered fast fashion because of the breakneck speed with which “popular” styles are transformed into items for consumers to buy and wear while the style is still fashionable. Maria Chenoweth, CEO of charity shop and textile waste charity Traid, describes fast fashion as “disposable clothing, designed to be worn once or twice.” If the intention when garments are first produced is for them to survive only a handful of wear and tear, we surely cannot expect these items to suddenly see a second life cycle with another consumer after being resold. Unless these brands are actively improving the quality of their garments, they are definitely not fit for purpose when resold. Chenoweth echoes this idea, stating that “[i]If these brands really believed in their resale, they would improve the quality of their clothes. Otherwise, it’s just greenwashing.” Of the three fast fashion brands mentioned above, only Zara has made efforts to prolong the life of its garments by offering a repair service to shoppers. Going by Chenoweth’s fast fashion description, however, one might argue to what extent can you successfully “repair” an item designed to survive only a couple of wear and tear?

While the durability of fast fashion items compared to high-end and luxury items may suggest that resale space should be reserved for the latter group, Chenoweth admits that fast fashion brands can normalize the resale market faster than what other players have managed to do. This in turn can reduce the stigma around secondhand fashion to make it a more common practice. However, reselling fast fashion would contribute to a “new mindset” that more easily accepts the practice of reselling clothing and accessories. Some commentators have suggested that to incentivize the resale of branded products, industry standards need to be created to foster collaboration. Having both luxury and fast fashion brands within the resale market fosters unison within the fashion industry, showing a concerted and consistent effort to create viable solutions for fashion’s second life and circular economy . This supports the belief that the fashion industry should promote collaboration, suggesting that fast fashion deserves a place at the resale table as much as luxury brands.

“There are so many disposable clothes now, designed to be worn once or twice,” says Chenoweth. “If these brands truly believed in resale, they would improve the quality of their garments. Otherwise, it’s just greenwashing.”

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