Secondhand Strategies for Circularity: In Conversation with Olivia Kelly
Fashion is an incredibly wasteful industry. If you’re a BADLANDS reader, you already know this.
You may also have noticed that the industry has a tendency to cover for itself, in a sense, by piling all of the blame for the wastefulness of fashion onto mass-market brands (AKA fast fashion) and the poor quality that they’re associated with.
You’ve heard the argument, “People shouldn’t buy fast fashion because the quality is so bad! It’s just going to break in a month and then they’ll have to buy something new!”
… So, is this true? Is overconsumption really the fault of shoddy quality from fast-fashion brands?
While it’s absolutely true that the fast-fashion chain is particularly rife with exploitation of humanitarian, environmental, and economic natures, I would argue that what is considered to be acceptable “quality” in the modern fashion industry is poor everywhere (yes, even premo luxury), and that some fast-fashion garments can hold up just as well as some of the higher-end stuff.
To make my point, I’ll bet you have items in your closet from fast-fashion stores that are several years old, with quality comparable to any mid-range brand. I’d also bet that you’ve had expensive clothes rip/tear/disintegrate/explode long before they should have.
That’s because the problem with overconsumption isn’t wholly about the poor quality of mass-market clothing – it’s also about the trends that are driving us to consume. We tend to just use the quality argument as an excuse for the premium segments of the industry to operate status-quo and continue to push trends at us.
The better option, of course, is to slow down our consumption of new fashion altogether.
That’s where circularity and secondhand clothing comes in.
This week, I got to have a fun zoom call with Olivia Kelly, a fashion researcher at London College of Fashion (and friend of BADLANDS, of course) who has spent the past year focused on circularity and the incorporation of secondhand clothing into fashion brands’ product lines, and how specifically Gen Z consumers respond to this.
Some brands are already getting on board with the idea of bringing secondhand clothing into their business.
While observing select premium brands that had been incorporating secondhand clothing into their product offering, what was particularly interesting to Olivia was the language that brands were using to describe these second-hand capsule collections.
How odd, from a marketing standpoint, that these brands incorporating circularity and sustainability into their product chain are not directly mentioning the worlds ‘sustainability’ or 'secondhand' outright! Is the fear of using a buzzword so strong amongst brands that they’re willing to sacrifice the success of their initiatives? Hmmm.
During our conversation, Olivia and I spoke a lot about how sustainable/circular initiatives often seem set-up for failure by fashion brands – they are underfunded and poorly marketed. Fashion brands then look back on these trial initiatives and think, “well, I guess consumers just aren’t interested in circularity!” when in reality, consumers ARE interested in shopping sustainably and shopping secondhand, more often than not they just don’t know where to look.
Olivia spent the Summer interviewing Gen Z shoppers to get their opinions – and it turns out, if brands want Gen Z to understand their sustainable secondhand collections, they need to be explicit and transparent. Using spicy language is fine, but not so much that it hides what the initiative is actually about.
Another major finding of Olivia’s was that consumers know a lot more than brands give them credit for. There’s a level of disillusionment, even with sustainable fashion brands, simply because the clothing is new. Gen Z shoppers understand that despite operating as sustainably as possible, new clothes are still bad. Another reason, Olivia says, why brands need to make the move towards extending the garment lifespan and start incorporating secondhand clothing into their business model, before it’s too late.
In somewhat of a conclusion, Olivia’s been able to develop a few key tips for fashion brands or fashion entrepreneurs looking to speak to consumers about circularity and secondhand clothing and/or launch a sustainable, secondhand collection. Here they are:
Name it something that makes sense:
A secondhand collection needs to be easily identifiable as secondhand. End of.
Brands might be scared of the connotations of the terms “secondhand”, “thrifted”, etc., but the idea that these terms are negative is dated, at best. And certainly doesn’t apply to Gen Z the way it might with older generations. Young fashion consumers want to know that what they’re buying is sustainable.
While young consumers do tend to seek out sustainable fashions, this pool also tends to have a lower awareness of of the impact of the garment lifespan and the end-of-life of clothing. Brands need to use secondhand collections as educational tools - it's not only good for the planet, but teaching consumers is something that's been shown to increase engagement and brand loyalty in the long run.
Tease it, then drop it. Hype it up. Make it exciting. Secondhand clothing, by definition, is limited and scarce. Use that to make consumers excited about it.
Make it cool. Duh:
Brands need to stop neglecting pre-owned clothing!
Shoot secondhand clothing on-model, for god's sake. Editorialize it. Make it look nice. Most importantly, market it the same way (with as much effort and care) that you would a traditional collection.
Consumers should be able to view any secondhand garments as equally desirable as anything new.
Circularity is the future! Wooooo! We hope you’re as excited about working towards it as we are.
You can chat more to Olivia about her research and keep up with Olivia’s continuous pursuit of a circular wardrobe on Instagram at her new page, @circularooo.