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Beating fast-fashion through resale

An interesting and important shift is taking place. Shopping gently-used is getting more and more popular. You may not even be aware of it, but by shopping or consigning at our store, you’re actually a part of this movement. 

The accelerating growth of resale

According to research from retail analytics firm GlobalData, based on a recent survey of 2000 American women* (sorry no Canadian stats available); the fashion resale market is exploding. In fact it's growing 21 times faster than the retail market over the past three years! While this may well be overstated - the report was commissioned by Thred Up (who…I guess, not unlike us, has a vested interest in promoting the benefits of resale shopping). It does, none-the-less, point to a trend that is both real and worth paying attention to.

 

For the first time in decades we’re beginning to see a shift from over consumerism of clothing, to more sustainable buying practices. Positive trends include a reduction in the amount of clothing women have in their closets: from 164 in 2017 to 136 in 2019.*

 

It is thought that the Marie Kondo show Tidying Up has been something of a wake-up call for consumers - resulting in a need to reduce quantity in favour of quality, and making better choices.

 

But closet purging can have a negative impact, albeit in the short term. As landfills get more rapidly saturated, the world is also running out of third world markets in which to dump our used clothing items. Donation centres like Salvation Army have in the last few years, seen a huge upturn in clothing donations, to the point where many can no longer accept items.

 

On the upside, media coverage of this crisis is likely to increase, promoting a need for further societal change. Also increased difficulty in disposing of our clothes, may make people think twice before buying items that aren't made to last.

Winners and losers

Research in the clothing industry tells us that people increasingly want the best for less, but are also becoming more aware of a need for sustainability when it comes to fashion choices. They also demand a wider selection than ever before.

 

Having a wide choice of brands available, at lower prices has led to the success of online sellers like Amazon, and retailers like Winners, Costco and Walmart. But the accelerated demise of department stores and regular priced retailers is the visible cost of that shift. Small retailers simply don't have the economies of scale and scope that bigger discounters have. 

 

For example Walmart currently make $40 million USD ($52.9m CDN) every day in profit.
 

Incidently garment workers in Bangladesh who make many of the clothes they sell, make $3.2 USD a day or less ($96 per month). These `low costs` and large order quantities, afford bigger retailers tremendous buying power, which squeezes out smaller players. Less competition equals even bigger profits...and so this accelerating cycle continues!

The dark side of affordable shopping
 

Without wishing to bore you (hey…what do you mean too late?) we feel all shoppers should have an insight into how retail works today (or doesn’t...). 


So we've established that bigger retail chains have increasingly more buying power e.g. they can order huge quantities from suppliers at greatly reduced costs; so their retail margins are much bigger. Online retailers have low costs (minimal staffing, low rent, discounted shipping rates etc.) and a potentially global market, so they can keep prices very low and still survive.

 

Small physical retailers can only purchase small volumes so have low buying power. They pay maximum cost, have increasing staffing cost and other overheads so have minuscule margins. 


Because of their size (search engines currently favour big traffic websites) that same box store or similar online behemoths, often win search engine terms online for products they don’t have and aren’t looking to actually sell… e.g. Google an Ergo Insert and you could find one at a "low cost" big box store for over $630! They don`t expect you to buy it at this price, but they have a chance to win the search… and divert you to other products they do sell. 


It’s a move designed to win sales from smaller independent retailers. Not content with leveraging their mass to drive out local retail, big box retailers are also doing this in cyberspace, making it even harder for the small guy to compete. Bitter? Well…yes, quite frankly!


This snowballing trend has a dark side, as it is visibly impacting our highstreets, making it difficult for traditional independent retailers to survive; it’s also driving out competition online too, effectively limiting consumer choices. To ride out this storm, stores must cater to a small (but thankfully growing) niche of more eco-conscious shoppers who are prepared to support local, and pay for items that are produced more ethically. 

Where local retail has the upper hand

As a small independent retailer we recognize a need to value and nurture the relationships with our customers more than ever, and try to encourage memorable instore experiences that keep you coming back. 


Compared to shopping online our lack of armchair shopping convenience, is partially offset by the ability to try on clothes to ensure they actually fit, touch fabrics, see the true colours and examine quality of finish. In a physical store it's also possible to return items easily if they don’t work...or put items on hold if you need more time to decide.

 

As human beings we can provide our (largely impartial and occasionally knowledgeable) 2 cents worth if you need any help. We won’t try to up-sell you a dozen times before you finally pay, there’s no 3 – 7 business day delay before receiving your goods, and you don't need to meet a minimum purchase amount, to get ‘free shipping’!  


Unlike shopping online, we may however judge you if you're shopping in your slippers and undies!

 

Customers can get some satisfaction knowing that by shopping at our store you’re supporting a local family business (that’s us) who will then spend money locally, employ local people, and help contribute to our immediate economy. A minimum of forty percent of every sale also goes directly to consigning parents to help them shop (hopefully local) or restock their kids closets with items from our store. 


Online shopping and big box store shopping diverts money away from local towns and the people who live here. Of course we’ve done it (so sadly can’t play the 'holier than thou' card). Let's face it, sometimes lack of choice locally (and not wishing to sell a kidney to buy something) has forced our hand…but we are trying not to.


It’s self-perpetuating. The more that local stores are supported, the better the options they'll be able to provide. Of course the inverse is also true! Moral of the story…use 'em or lose 'em.

Barriers to change

Sadly too few people seem to get why cheap, disposable clothing is a bad thing. And that’s kind of understandable. When you’re trying to feed and clothe a family on a limited budget, it’s human nature to seek out options that appear to make the dollars stretch as far as possible. The adverts have always reinforced that newer is better - so it must be true, right?
 
“I can get this NEW at a big box store, and sure once the tag is removed, it may only last 2 days and 1 wash before it shrinks and the zipper breaks but, hey… it's cheap and it's NEW.” 

 

Of course this is often a false economy and if they’d only bought the 10 times washed…but still looking like new, better quality item from our store for $5 less, they might even be able to pass it on to their next children too!
 

The true cost

But the true cost of fashion is at the expense of some of our world’s poorest people. This massive over consumption and desire for more and more, at lower and lower prices, is having a crushing effect on our planet - and for what?  A moment of satisfaction that you can wear something that’s new… if only for that first wearing! 

The real victims of fast fashion are the garment workers themselves. As the illustration below shows (credit to MacLeans.ca) workers receive only a tiny proportion ($0.12) for every $14 shirt they make. While it's easy to assume the retailer is cashing in here, the 60% they get in revenues is not profit. Not all shirts they sell will be at full retail price, and all retailers have considerable overheads to pay; so even at this rate, retailers may lose out.

 

If they could charge even a little more, to allow a better wage for garment workers, then that might be the solution...but customers would need to be OK with that small price increase. Sounds like an easy sell to us!


 

Why consignment makes eco-sense


If you have access to Netflix we strongly recommend you watch The True Cost. This show gives insight into some of the problems caused by over consumption of new clothing, and touches on the footprint that creates – mass stockpiling, the dirty cotton and leather industries, widespread pollution, and the human cost of brutal labour practices. See trailer...

Informative though the above show is, it doesn’t even get into the issue of blue water usage, which is also a massive environment cost. For that we recommend the documentary RiverBlue (see trailer)

To get a perspective on how fast fashion is impacting us in Canada you may wish to check out this free video from CBC's Marketplace series - How fast fashion adds to the world's clothing waste problem (there is a small ad that can be skipped after a few seconds).

With consignment, items will be matched to someone who has chosen them, and sees their value, so will therefore be more likely re-use them (think about the bags of other peoples' unwanted cast-offs that can simply become your storage or recycling problem). See our article Why Consigning Makes Eco Sense for a deeper insight.


Note, the small proportion of clothing items we accept in but don’t sell is, for the most part, donated to a local church group who ships these directly to an orphanage in the West Bank of Israel for direct use by impoverished children there (this is non-partisan i.e. it benefits both Palestinian and Israeli children, irrespective of religious background). Until recently we also donated to a local group who shipped items to children in need in the Philippines, however they have now stopped accepting clothing due to an over-supply.


Clothing items are no longer passed on by us to local charities like Salvation Army due to an excess of supply, nor to other local recycling facilities (unless too far gone for donation). 

While the fast-fashion explosion is still a big (and ugly) factor in the fashion scene, on the upside its growth is waning, and it’s predicted that second-hand clothes shopping will grow to nearly 1.5x the size of fast fashion by the year 2028.*


Of course, the future is yet to be seen.  No pressure - but it’s up to us as consumers, to determine how this plays out!


In a past life I ran the marketing function for a national retail chain. My remit was to increase profits while promoting long-term sustained growth. The point is I’ve been to `the dark side,' so I understand how easy it is to be caught up in the wealth creation cycle.  

 

Sorry if it shatters the illusion. But it’s generally not the companies that are bad…nor the people that work for them…these are not (all) run by overlords with Dr Evil fixations on making gazillions of dollar. It’s the system that’s flawed, but so too are people's values and choices.


We are well and truly in this together. You may be surprised to know but our choice to leave the corporate world behind to run a consignment store for kids, was not fuelled by money, but a desire to run a business that is ecologically sustainable and beneficial to the local community in which we live. We do however want our store to take off - to become more mainstream, so that more and more people will ...well... just get it. 


We don’t hug trees, avoid patchouli oil and joss sticks; and actually enjoy taking showers with soap (OK, admittedly that’s just Korina). We don’t even pretend we fit into that mould. But we love this 'far out' community, and our planet, so would like to make a difference!


Customer choices are perhaps the most powerful tool we have to promote change in a capitalist system that promotes growth, at the inevitable cost of exploiting the weak. And no, we’re not bringing out the red flag and citing Marx (Karl not Groucho, Harpo et al.), but balance is needed to factor in non-financial costs businesses have on our world and its people. 


We feel more emphasis is required by companies to consider the bigger picture, vs the bottom line. Ethics and corporate social responsibility need to come into play. Consumers have the power to reward or penalize companies as evidenced by the choices they make. 


We need more consignment and more shoppers of gently-used items to keep our store going. As parents we have the power to educate our children on the perils of consumerism, and the benefits of shopping consignment.

 

Children (and their parents) should be proud to be recycling and re-using clothing. Fortunately the stigma of shopping second hand is increasingly becoming an outdated contruct, but there is still a long way before everyone understands that it's much cooler to be buying used, and helping our world vs. adding to it's problems!

 

You’re the only hope…

*GlobalData Survey: Data derived from a US consumer survey of 2,000 women. The survey asked them a number of questions about their attitudes towards apparel, secondhand products, and resale products. The sample was designed to be representative of age and income and was also geographically representative. Surveying was undertaken by GlobalData between December 11, 2018 and January 6, 2019.

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