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young woman looks at clothing at resale shop

Leaning In On Sustainability: How to Go With the Flow as Resale Hits the Mainstream

Written by
Zlata Faerman

Today’s consumers care increasingly about social issues, and research shows that they tend to expect similar values from their brands of choice. And while sustainability has long been a trending priority for today’s consumer, it’s safe to say that 2020 pushed it into overdrive. 

Responsibility, Meet Resale

The pandemic caused many shoppers to pull back on spending habits in light of unpredictable job economies, while mask mandates and stay-at-home orders shined a spotlight on personal responsibility. It was a perfect storm of factors to ignite a resale movement that already had some kindling. 

As empowered, eco-conscious buyers with social responsibility at the top of their priority lists, today’s shoppers consider the environmental costs of their buying decisions. Additionally, the pandemic saw a tightening of purse strings, with consumers transitioning to more frugal lifestyles during uncertain times. 

Resale provides a perfect marketplace solution; It’s a wallet-conscious, sustainable choice that extends the usable life of products while lowering demand for new production. 

Blazing the Upcycling Trail

Self-proclaimed online thrift store thredUP has led the charge in the resale market, since its launch in 2009, creating a highly successful brand and marketplace, and becoming a thought leader in the general retail market. 

In the foreword of their 2021 Resale Report, James Reinhart, thredUP co-founder and CEO, noted that consumer attitudes toward sustainability are a driving force in reshaping the marketplace as we know it, and point to “a radical transformation in retail.”

Their ninth annual study, which examines the dynamics of the resale industry, showed that the pandemic has driven more demand for secondhand shopping: 1 in 3 consumers care more about wearing sustainable apparel than they did pre-pandemic, and another 51% say they are more opposed to environmental waste. 

In 2020, luxury retail rental outlet Rent the Runway recognized the trending consumer focus on sustainability and jumped on the opportunity. In an interview with Vogue, cofounder Jennifer Hyman says the pandemic shined a bright light on consumer values the company had known since its inception — that experience is more important than ownership, and that sustainability always matters. While it is still offering luxury rentals, an innovative twist on the secondary market on its own, the company also launched its own resale marketplace this spring.

Traditional Retailers Plan Their Long Game

While Rent the Runway and thredUP were born into the resale market, more traditional brands are figuring out how to become part of it. In the last few years, there has been a notable focus on circular fashion, with big brands everywhere rolling out new campaigns around resale and sustainability initiatives.  

In 2021, denim giant Levi’s got in on the movement, launching its Buy Better, Wear Longer campaign to raise awareness about the environmental impacts of apparel production and consumption. The campaign, which launched this April, partnered with fresh Gen Z faces like Jaden Smith and YouTube personality Emma Chamberlain — a move that wisely delivers the messaging today’s buyers care about from voices that feel authentic and familiar. 

Patagonia is another great example (and it’s not just jumping on the bandwagon; they’ve invested in sustainability for decades). The outerwear company ran a particularly inventive and compelling campaign in 2011 called Don’t Buy This Jacket, which encouraged customers to make eco-conscious purchases, and to only buy what they need. Ten years after the campaign, sustainability is still a core brand tenet for the retailer and very much part of its brand identity. This badge of honor, so to speak, has allowed the brand to enjoy renewed popularity with a younger set of buyers who care even more deeply about these same issues than their parents did. 

While electronics may seem an unlikely partner to resale fashion, LG recently got into the game in a slightly different way. The multi-conglomerate known for electronics and appliances partnered with thredUP to roll out its Second Life campaign, an effort designed to help people reduce their fashion footprint by giving their used clothes a second life. 

LG sends participating consumers a donation box for gently used apparel and accessories that ships free to thredUP, who then gives the items a second life in their marketplace. For each box donated, LG and thredUP donate $5 to a charity of the donor’s choice. LG also created a wash center to clean and sanitize clothing donations headed to charitable organizations..

LG is not in the resale space, nor does it have a vested interest in circular fashion, but it recognized the opportunity to be part of a sustainable solution, which ultimately brightens its reputation as a responsible brand. 

Creatively Leveraging the Resale Model for Growth

As retailers uncover opportunities in the burgeoning resale market, many are incorporating it into their omnichannel strategy — 42% of retail executives say resale will be an important part of their business within the next five years. 

If brands expect to maintain consumer loyalty during the next five years, they need to make commitments that echo their consumers’ sentiment on issues like sustainability. While resale offers a prime opportunity, not all brands are necessarily well positioned to dive head-first into the resale space. 

One company, Treet, sees the shifting industry dynamics as an opportunity to create a new platform for both retailers and consumers to take advantage of resale. The startup, which secured $2.8 million in seed funding this past May, is folding the idea of resale into the retail business model, allowing brands to launch their own fully-branded resale marketplace via Treet. On the Treet platform, brands set up a branded store where customers can buy and sell branded items to each other. The idea behind the platform is that customers are already buying and selling to each other — Treet gives them a destination to do so. Sellers on the platform can use SKUs to list items for sale, offering both ease of use for sellers and brand authenticity for buyers. 

For brands, Treet offers an opportunity to capture a piece of the resale marketplace, and in some cases, even make new customers, acquiring buyers who might not have purchased the brand before. Treet also funnels loyalty back to the brand, giving sellers the option to take their proceeds in the form of brand credit or cash. 

Whether or not their plans include resale, per se, lots of big brands are getting on board by making their own promises around sustainability. By 2022, Target wants all cotton for Target brands to be 100% sustainably sourced, while Nordstrom has added sustainable beauty products to its sustainable style shopping category on its website and app. 

Resale Movement as Motivation

There are other ways brands can make bold moves around sustainability without directly entering the resale market. Modifying production methods to be less wasteful, initiating recycling strategies and choosing sustainable resources and partners are just a few examples that speak the language of today’s consumer. 

Whether it’s through an innovative new platform like Treet, an inventive consumer purchasing model like Rent the Runway’s, a vocalized commitment to the issues that matter most to the consumer like Patagonia’s, or just a formalized recognition that there are opportunities to join the conversation as LG has done, brands around the world are finding themselves in the midst of a movement.  

To talk more about your brand’s sustainability strategy and the dynamics of the resale and retail industries, get in touch any time.

Featured image by Burst on Pexels.

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Written by
Zlata Faerman

Zlata is a full-time publicist, part-time writer, and round-the-clock ambassador to wit and humor. As a publicist for over 15 years, she helps launch products with creative ideas and garner press coverage that drives reputation and sales. She also contributes to a variety of lifestyle publications in the areas of food, parenting, health, beauty, marketing, travel, and home. When she’s not crafting kitchen concoctions for her food blog @lifeandthymez, Zlata can be found spending time with her family, having #zlatathoughts, and fantasizing about being a Real Housewife of New Jersey.


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