How second-hand clothing retailers can compete with fast-fashion giants


With growing awareness of the environmental impact caused by fast fashion and everyone’s increasing passion for a circular economy, one would be right to ask why people still choose fast fashion. The answer lies in the fact that whilst 52% of consumers want more sustainable practices in fashion, only 29% are willing to pay for it. As crucial as it is, price is not the only reason consumers still buy fast fashion. 

Consumers’ issue with slow fashion 

Slow fashion is the polar opposite of fast fashion, in that ranges are limited and less waste is produced. Whilst searching for our podcast of the week, I was recently introduced to a brand I believe is doing slow fashion perfectly called Zero Waste Daniel who pride themselves in contributing nothing to landfills. The podcast that featured the designer belongs to Emily Stochl and you can listen to the episode here. 

I admire the sustainable intention of slow fashion and love that more brands are designing exciting pieces that appeal to me. An example that comes to mind is Mirror Palais, a brand I was introduced to on Twitter — now I have so many of their pieces on my wishlist. I believe the exciting styles make people like me in their 20s more attracted to sustainability. 

As a consumer, when I think of the problems with slow fashion, two things come to mind: quantity and price. These brands have limited stock and high prices which some people are happy to indulge in once in a while. However, it becomes an issue when the style is so popular but there’s not enough to go around, or the price is beyond people’s budgets. This is where fast fashion wins — in many cases these styles are recreated and mass-produced, making them readily available at a lower cost. The quality won’t be the same, but from an Instagram picture, would you be able to tell? 

 Second-hand retailers vs fast fashion retailers 

Second-hand retailers are attempting to bridge the gap between consumers’ issues with slow fashion and desire for sustainability by lowering prices wherever possible. But even then, they still find themselves in combat with fast-fashion retailers. For one, shoppers are not able to try on items from most second-hand stores before buying. And because it can be difficult to know exactly if something will fit as you imagine, most people prefer to save themselves the hassle of returns by popping into the nearest store to get what does. 

Another interesting issue is the “psychology of stuff,” a theory that explains what makes us addicted to owning things. It’s partly related to the endorphins released in our brains which are triggered by activities like shopping. Fast fashion encourages this by being cheap and readily available so people can keep buying and maintain this feeling. Alternatively, this is difficult to recreate in second-hand shopping because even if there is a sweet deal for an otherwise expensive item the number of people that can enjoy it is limited. 

Looking around my room, I can confirm that I do like owning stuff. However, I’m more attached to the things with some sort of emotional background and story behind their purchase, like the Victoria Beckham shirt I got for almost 80% off. The deal was so sweet that I jump at the chance to tell someone new about it when I’m wearing the shirt. I’m not a psychologist, but I wonder if this kind of experience might be able to eventually trump the psychology of stuff. Perhaps if people were able to negotiate their own deals online at a rapid pace it might trigger the same endorphins when they get that sweet deal. This is one way second-hand retailers may be able to win against fast fashion. Luckily, this is an experience that Nibble can make possible. 


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