Back at the tail-end of November, something happened. Something which ought not to be so surprising but which, unfortunately and undeniably, is still pretty rare: a major player in the fashion industry took not only a position but also immediate action on an imperative social issue.
In this particular case, the big name stepping up was the Paris-based, high-end resale platform Vestiaire Collective. The issue in question being the proliferation of fast fashion and its well-documented toll on the environment. And the solution? Banning the resale of fast fashion brands from the platform, removing the likes of ASOS, SHEIN, and boohoo, to name just three of the most recognizable names now erased from Vestiaire’s marketplace.
This, of course, sounds like a good thing. And in a lot of ways it is. The optics alone of seeing such an established e-tailer take such a huge step, presumably well aware of potential negative effects on its own bottom line, has the potential to push other adjacent brands into similar action; matching Vestiaire’s commitment in order to avoid being seen as behind or out of step with the world on such critical issues. (And, yes, more cynically, to avoid the chances of negative press which come with that.)
And wiping fast fashion labels from the platform doesn’t just speak to Vestiaire’s peers: it’s also a statement to buyers, to sellers, and to the brands themselves. To buyers, it says: “Choose more wisely.” To sellers, “Own your mistakes.” And, to the implicated labels, it says: “Make better decisions.”
All of which are, without a doubt, worthwhile sentiments: declaratives to be considered and embraced. It’s their knock-on effect, though, that feels most impactful: the notion that, if someone who buys fast fashion knows that they won’t be able to shift it on resale, they’re surely less likely to make that purchase in the first place – particularly those who buy low and sell inexplicably high, with the sole intention of moving merchandise at speed. This, in turn, might force the hand of the brands: push them to make changes in order to avoid losses. Not a noble choice, per se, but a necessary one.
But then, amongst the kudos and the headlines – Vestiaire’s decision was announced just in time for Black Friday – there are, as always, questions worth raising.
“Vestiaire isn’t depop – it isn’t eBay – and its bread and butter sales do not come from fast fashion.”
Firstly, there’s the issue of circularity. Now, fast fashion isn’t renowned for its endurance – in a circular economy, pieces for fast labels aren’t likely to make many orbits in their journey before reaching the landfill – but denying them any turns at this doesn’t quite sit right. After all, as much we might hope it pushes those brands to change their ways, they don’t actually make any money from resale and, realistically, resellers just aren’t their core customer base. What that means, ultimately, is that they continue to produce at similar speed and volume – roughly the same number of garments pushed out into the world, but with an even shorter lifespan.
And, speaking of core audiences, there’s the question of just how big of a move this really is beyond the marquee statement of intent. Vestiaire isn’t depop – it isn’t eBay – and its bread and butter sales do not come from fast fashion. Vestiaire’s USP is luxury: high-end clothes and accessories – brands who show their clothes season by season, in places like Paris and Milan, rather than releasing more new pieces with every passing day.
When you think about it, that Vestiaire ever allowed fast fashion labels to be sold on the marketplace at all seems like a mistake – an oversight – and this latest news is more like a rectification than a realignment. It’s antithetical to the image that the platform presents: a circular economy of high-quality, high-end goods from trusted and established names in luxury fashion. It’s a market for Balenciaga, not boohoo; Alexander McQueen, not ASOS.
Kering, under the umbrella of which sit names like Bottega Veneta and Gucci, owns a stake in Vestiaire – acquired last year, equating to roughly five percent ownership – and surely isn’t keen on anything which might dilute its reputation for luxury. The removal of those brands now is a quick fix to what ought never have been in the first place and which, now that there are multiple parties with their name on the line, certainly cannot continue.
“If the Parisian reseller wanted to make a bigger dent in those numbers, then there are other options to explore.”
It’s also worth noting that Vestiaire isn’t the smallest of the Matryoshka dolls in this sequence: back at the start of 2022, the French company acquired and merged with the US-based outfit Tradesy, making use of its infrastructure in a move that pleased sustainability observers when it comes to air miles earned on things like travel to authentication hubs. However, as a somewhat less high-end enterprise – and with more distance from investors like Kering by virtue of travel in different circles – this latest announcement doesn’t seem to have extended to Tradesy. In fact, at the time of writing – and though currently in the process of shuttering entirely – boohoo, ASOS, and SHEIN – along with other, similar fast fashion labels – remain prolific across the Tradesy marketplace with no sign of imminent removal.
Still, there are positives and there are encouraging signs. Vestiaire is working in partnership with The OR Foundation – a US and Ghana-based non-profit, working to stem the destruction of overproduction and end the cycle of waste – and cite a visit with the group to Kantamanto Market as the accelerant for the recent decisive action.
Vestiaire notes on its website that “[o]ver 15 million fashion items arrive at the Kantamanto market in Ghana every week. 40% of these items leave the market as waste, causing environmental devastation.” An injustice which, in partnership with the Foundation, the certified B-Corp hopes to address.
To that end, if the Parisian reseller wanted to make a bigger dent in those numbers, then there are other options to explore: surely, rather than banning fast fashion outright and effectively consigning those items to the exact kinds of landfill heap they’re trying to reduce, they might consider accepting those garments and taking on the burden of recycling them. Not cheap, for sure, but potentially more impactful and just as eye-catching in publicity terms.
Still, the possibilities remain in play and there’s nothing wrong with leaving room for improvement: expecting everything to happen all at once is the kind of naivety which holds back change, rather than facilitating it. Waiting for what might happen – or what you think should happen – in reality only means more time for the Bad Things Currently Happening to continue.
Progress over perfection, right?