OPINION: Is fashion resale the future of retail?

by John-Paul Savant, CEO of Auction Technology Group.

September is the month of London Fashion Week; an opportunity for designers to showcase their ideas and shape the next big trends on the catwalk. But this year, it’s also the month that Oxfam has named ‘Second Hand September’, in a bid to encourage fast-fashion lovers to go slow and pledge to say no to buying new clothes for 30 days.

Already thousands of people have signed up to Second Hand September, which has been trending on Twitter alongside #secondhandfirst, #vintagefashion, #sustainablefashion and #slowfashion.

What does this signify for the fashion and clothing resale market?

At a time when the UK has committed to zero carbon emissions by 2050 and the Extinction Rebellion is gathering mainstream momentum, it seems we’re finally seeing the tipping point of a sea change in consumer consciousness and the way people buy goods. This coupled with the Instagram generation’s desire to be constantly seen in new styles has made second-hand de rigueur. And it’s usually cheaper, too.

A recent trends survey we undertook showed that half of Brits would consider buying second-hand clothes, with many doing so at least monthly – and ONS figures suggest that retail sales are being propped up by a rise in second-hand sales, driven by items sold at auctions and antiques dealing. Indeed, we are seeing increasing numbers of people searching for fashion brands on our sites thesaleroom.com and i-bidder – Gucci and Louis Vuitton were two of the biggest risers on our top search terms list this month.

Many of those people are coming to our auction platform for the first time, with the number occasional buyers on the rise, and women and younger buyers leading the charge. This is supported by online thrift store ThredUp’s 2019 Resale Report which reports that millennials and Gen Z are adopting second hand 2.5 times faster than other age groups.

And the market is responding, with fashion auctions growing in popularity and number all the time, meaning more choice for those seeking vintage or second-hand. Swan Fine Art, Chiswick Auctions and Fellows are among the auction houses to be holding large fashion sales on thesaleroom.com this month.

But the fashion resale story goes beyond simply encouraging consumers to buy second-hand. Behind the scenes of the fashion industry there is real movement to reduce the amount of clothes that end up in landfill further up the chain, too.

The UK’s thirst for fast-fashion has created a bit of a waste problem to say the least – Oxfam estimates that 11 million items of clothing are sent to landfill every single week. This is generated in part by retail returns – shoppers sending clothes back after wearing them once or simply changing their mind.

£60bn of items are returned by UK consumers every year and entire new industries are being created to deal with the returned items and distribute them back into the circular economy. This type of asset recovery is where auctions once again have an important role to play and we are working closely with commercial auction houses up and down the UK to enable surplus stock to be resold back to trade buyers and consumers through i-bidder.com – often at heavily discounted prices.

According to Oxfam, in one month alone, the carbon footprint of new clothes bought in the UK was greater than flying a plane around the world 900 times. But with efforts from consumers and the industry, the future for slow-fashion looks bright.

Image: Chanel, black tweed tailored jacket with fringed ends, gold and white embroidered detail and golden detailed buttons. Size 10. In Amanda Eliasch Designer Single Owner Fashion sale, 17 September, at Swan Fine Art.