Vestiaire Collective’s fast-fashion ban: clever or counterproductive?
Last November, international fashion resale platform Vestiare Collective shocked the apparel industry by banning the trade of ‘fast-fashion’ labels. Welcomed by some commentators, others questioned if the move might be counterproductive in closing the door on a valid channel that would allow consumers to repurpose used clothing, rather than consign them to landfills as waste. Inside Retail talked to Paris-based Dounia Wone, Vestiaire Collective’s chief impact officer, about the
ut the rationale behind the decision, the growth in the resale industry, and how pending regulations in Europe are set to provide a further fillip to the channel, spelling bad news for fast-fashion companies.
Wone, who joined Vestiaire Collective in March 2020, said the ban underlines Vestiaire Collective’s founding mission – to drive collective change towards a circular fashion economy.
“Fast fashion has no value, and even less in resale. We’ve taken this step because we don’t want to be complicit in this industry which has a tremendous environmental and social impact. The current system encourages overproduction and overconsumption of low-quality items and generates huge amounts of fashion waste,” she said.
She argues that banning fast-fashion brands from the platform reinforces the notion of buying quality over quantity and “encourages consumers to invest in craftsmanship at better prices”.
But, we asked, how is the company defining fast fashion, which she concedes currently lacks any “clear definition”.
While “working to create a set of criteria” that would help describe the category, Vestiaire Collective is trying to pinpoint the brands that encourage overconsumption – and thus by nature overproduction – ahead of inciting people to repair, resale, and wear their items.
“In order to avoid going into qualitative criteria like quality or durability of the garments, we are choosing to go by the business model behind fast fashion,” Wone told Inside Retail.
Those criteria include:
Price: If buying new is cheaper than repairing, then this encourages overconsumption.
The number of promotions and the average discount applied during the year, which she considers as incentives to overconsume.
If the company is promoting more than 100,000 SKUs at any one point in time, which she considers to be overproduction.
The renewal rate of fashion collections and their average time online.
Dounia Wone, Vestiaire Collective’s chief impact officer. Source: supplied
During the next three years, an external agency will work with Vestiaire Collective to create a definition of ‘fast fashion’ recognising brands’ product quality, working conditions and carbon footprint. “All brands that fit the criteria will subsequently be banned from the site,” she said.
“We are working on this definition with industry representatives and third parties. The brands that we have already started to ban are considered ‘ultra fast-fashion brands’ because they respond to these criteria.”
They include Asos, Atmosphere, Boohoo, Burton, Cider, Coast, Dorothy Perkins, Fashion Nova, Karen Millen, Miss Selfridge, Missguided, NA-KD, Nasty Gal, Oasis, Pretty Little Things, Shein, Tezenis, Topman, Topshop and collaborations, as well as Warehouse. High-profile brands she did not include on her list include Primark, H&M and Zara.
But is there a risk of being seen as elitist, we asked. Not everyone can afford to buy luxury brand clothes – or even ‘affordable luxury’ like products from SMCP brands, or Charles & Keith, for example.
“The idea behind Vestiaire Collective is to offer high-quality pieces at affordable prices to follow what is called the ‘upscale’ effect, meaning that our community is able to afford luxury second-hand brands at the price of a first-hand purchase of lesser quality and hence, get access to brands that they would not be able to afford in the first place,” Wone said.
“We might not address the entire population, but we are confident that fast fashion holds no value, even in resale. So, by converting the big fashion consumers – and all fashion lovers to second-hand – we incite them to adopt behaviours that will eventually reduce the industry’s environmental impact.
“Also, our goal is to focus on the upstream and do more prevention than reparation. We wish to educate our community to buy less, but better, by shedding light on the impact of fashion and the necessity to transform the industry from the ground up. We encourage them to invest in second-hand craftsmanship at more affordable prices rather than turning to first-hand or second-hand fast fashion in general.”
A counterproductive tactic?
Some may contend that banning fast fashion – especially when embracing such a large number of brands – might be counterproductive, effectively closing down a channel for the recycling or repurposing of apparel which could lead to people discarding products rather than reselling them. But Wone refutes suggestions the ban might be contributing to the very problem Vestiaire Collective is trying to address.
“We understand and have discussed this concern extensively. But we truly believe that someone needs to take action now and break the cycle. If we continue to offer a second life to fast-fashion items and offer a place to host these pieces, we continue to encourage people to consume it in the first place and brands to continue offering it, which makes us part of the system.”
She said the company would like to find a solution for the fast-fashion items that already exist – and to ensure that the ban doesn’t push the responsibility of managing waste onto places like Kantamanto in Ghana, for instance, (more about that later).
“We are committed to finding and promoting practical solutions for the fast fashion pieces that our community already has, which also explains why we are banning fast fashion brands in waves. The most simple and efficient way is to wear the items instead of letting them rest in our closets. Other actions that can be taken and that we want to educate our community on include repairing, recycling and upcycling them in different creative ways.”
Such an approach is shared with Redress founder Christina Dean who told Inside Retail in a recent interview that “the most sustainable garment you’ve got is the one that’s already in your wardrobe”.
“We need to buy fewer clothes, buy better quality clothes, wear our clothes for longer, and support circular economy models. That means buying secondhand clothing, using rentals, swapping, repairing, and cleaning. That is actually what we need to do,” Dean said.
Actions run deeper
Wone stressed that Vestiarie Collective’s actions run deeper than banning fast fashion from its platform.
“Our goal is to prevent overconsumption and overproduction by holding big polluters – mass-market producers – accountable through stronger and larger extended producer responsibility (EPR) regulations.”
For example, EPR should include national reuse targets, ahead of encouraging the export of waste to developing countries, like Ghana.
“We are also in talks with various governmental leaders, EU parliament members, and powerful industry stakeholders to build strategies around fast fashion’s toll on the environment.”
Vestiaire Collective supports The Or Foundation, a US and Ghana-based not-for-profit organisation that has been working between the two countries at the intersection of environmental justice, education and fashion development since 2011, raising awareness of fashion’s waste crisis through research and action around the second-hand clothing trade. Last October, the foundation took a team of Vestiaire Collective employees to Kantamanto in Ghana, the largest reuse and upcycling economy in the world. Of some 15 million garments flown through the Kantamanto market every week 40 per cent of items leave the market as waste, causing environmental devastation and plunging second-hand retailers into debt.
Through the work of the foundation, and the work of Vestiaiure Collective, consumers are taking more notice of the sustainability of fast fashion, said Wone. She cites research predicting the second-hand fashion and luxury market will grow by between 20 and 30 per cent annually, driven by younger generations looking beyond seasonal trends and embracing circularity as part of their lifestyle.
The trend is being driven by consumers as far afield as Paris and Hong Kong who she believes are acutely aware of the environmental problems the planet is facing, from global warming to pollution, including fast fashion and textile waste. A Vestiaire Collective x Boston Consulting Group Report published last year concluded that sustainability is now the second most important driver for its customers trading on the site, at 40 per cent – quickly catching affordability, the current key driver, which has been decreasing over recent years.
“We are just at the beginning of our circular fashion movement with hundreds of new members joining our community every week,” she said. The platform currently has more than 3 million items in stock around the world, with more than 25,000 items being listed daily.
Vestiaire Collective is steadily expanding its global footprint, with a presence in countries including New York, Seoul, Singapore, Korea and Berlin. To help minimise the company’s carbon footprint, the platform promotes local transitions as much as possible through its local warehouses, like one in Tsing Yi, in Hong Kong. Local deliveries and the professional authentication of garments submitted help it offer what Wone describes as “a trusted shopping and selling experience for our community members which … paves the way for a broader, trusted fashion resale market around the globe”.
European regulations “a crucial step’
Europe is the greatest driver of growth for now – unsurprising given that the company was launched in Paris in 2009. But Wone says the platform has witnessed a growing interest in second-hand fashion in the US and Asia-Pacific during recent years – “where consumers are very tech savvy and feel comfortable using apps to purchase pre-loved goods, in particular, Gen Z and Millennials” – which is why it is opening offices and warehouses in those areas.
With the EU and many of its member states tightening rules over how the fashion industry disposes of unused materials, unsold stock and returns, one can expect further acceleration in the second-hand trade of fashion and luxury goods, she said. (Although she politely declined to say how Vestiaire Collective is dealing with unsold or unsuitable stock.)
“The European Commission’s strategy to end fast fashion by 2030 through its new eco-design rules is a crucial step towards a more sustainable, circular fashion industry to which we are also committed. It’s extremely encouraging to observe more governments explore the EPR concept essential in our current consumer environment for holding polluters accountable.
“However, we believe these regulations need to shift their focus more on prevention than repairing, uncovering the source of the problem and taking concrete actions and incentivising product quality over quantity for both the consumer as well as the producer,” she said.
“There is still a long way to go and many important discussions to have with different stakeholders to truly transform the industry.”
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