The rise of second hand sales driven by the environment

by Phil Lowe
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In the modern world, every industry is facing environmental challenges. In the past, industry practices were very damaging to the environment and many industries still are. One industry that has been hit hardest is fashion. 

In the 1990s fast fashion started to take hold of the market place. This saw companies like Zara enter the market and many others alter their strategy. Gone were the days of four seasons where styles would change a maximum of four times a year and were usually based on changes in climate. The new approach was 52 seasons in a year with the clothes in a shop changing every week.

Fashion stores realized that they could make clothing at a low price and sell it in stores quickly. By constantly changing what was on offer they could get service from the same customers again and again. Instead of buying a pair of jeans that would last a consumer many years they were now being thrown out after a number of weeks. The clothes being sold in stores were of lower quality and the consumers took far less care of them. Fast fashion was heralded as a success by both sellers and buyers. Buyers loved it because it meant they could change their wardrobe constantly at a low cost and sellers loved it because they were making incredible amounts of money. Today most of the shops on high streets around the world use some form of fast fashion strategy. 

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There are many losers because of fast fashion as well. The environment pays the biggest cost though as the constant production of new clothing and the waste that is involved is incredibly high. The price at which these clothes are sold is so low that it leaves little margin for sustainability practices as well. The other losers are those in developing countries. Whatever clothes are not sold in the developed world are shipped to poorer countries and dumped in markets at a low price. This means that many local fashion stores that were providing a living to poor people are being aggressively priced out of the market. 

In recent years, shoppers have started to realize the impact that these fast fashion outlets are having on the environment and the wider ecosystem. A growing percentage of shoppers are starting to reject fast fashion and move to purchase second-hand goods. While in the past many people shopped in second-hand stores to find a bargain, increasingly people are turning there to help save the environment. 

Many new second-hand businesses have formed that specialize in high-end second-hand fashion. Many of the top stores that we associate with high prices are also embracing the change. Selfridges of London is one store that now offers a second-hand section to customers.  

Hardly Ever Worn It or HEWI is one of the big successes in this space in recent years as they offer a place to purchase high-end luxury goods that are barely second hand. These items appeal to those who enjoy luxury goods but also consider the wider ramifications of their purchases. 

The retail luxury goods market grew by 3% in the last year while second-hand sales grew by 12%.  It appears that while the environment is the driving force it has also removed any issues people had with purchasing second-hand clothes.  In the past, people may have been embarrassed to wear clothes that were second hand but now it is a thing of pride that they are helping the environment and bagging a bargain at the same time. 

It is only a small step change for the fashion world but it is showing that customers do care where their clothes come from and what impact they have on the world. We will likely see more changes to come and whether the large fashion outlets today are driving that change or being pushed to the side, depends on how well they are paying attention.

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