Fashion for the Earth

Thrifting Goes Mainstream: How Fast Fashion Giants Are Capitalizing on the Trend

How Fast Fashion Giants Are Capitalizing on the Trend.

In an era of overconsumption and accelerated trend cycles, consumers are buying more clothing than ever. From 2020 to 2022, revenues from the fashion industry grew 20% and, analysts are predicting a 5 to 10 percent increase in 2023 alone. Today, the fashion industry is estimated to be worth  $2.5 trillion, with over 100 billion garments produced annually. Only 1% of produced garments are recycled while 85% end up in a landfill or incinerator.  

Dominating the garment industry today are the fast fashion and ultra-fast fashion companies who churn out thousands of designs daily. By marketing their clothing as both affordable and on-trend, they have transformed the traditional biannual fashion seasons into a relentless cycle of “micro seasons” every week, despite the costs to the environment.  

Although unsustainable practices dominate the fashion industry, sustainability sells. Globally, 60% of consumers indicated sustainability as a top factor when deciding what to purchase.  As sustainability has become more of a priority for consumers, the demand for alternatives has soared; in 2023, the thrifting market will see an estimated 1.4% growth pushing the annual revenue to over $14.2 billion. Moreover, the secondhand market is expected to increase 127% by 2026, three times faster than the global apparel market overall. Essentially, the circular market is growing rapidly, encroaching on fast fashion’s profits with some estimating the secondhand industry will be worth over $700 billion by 2030.    

As the secondhand market’s growth began to outpace fast fashion’s growth, and as many companies began to see their clothing sold on different resale platforms, the fast fashion brands realized the potential of creating secondary streams of revenue. This led to the popularization of “eco-friendly” schemes such as take-back programs, and secondhand marketplaces.    

The goal of these programs is to cash in on conscious consumers. For example, some companies have introduced “repairs” which give the appearance of promoting upcycling over buying. Some brands have rolled out “recycling” programs, rewarding customers with in-store credit through a cash payment or discounts for returning their worn-out clothes. Still, others have created their own peer-to-peer reselling platforms allowing customers to sell the company’s products to one another directly.   

While some see these new programs as a step in the right direction, critics have called these initiatives thinly veiled attempts at greenwashing, incentivizing their customers to shop more.     

This is another way for fast fashion brands to continue capitalizing on sustainability-minded consumers. Customers are seeking better ways of shopping both from an environmental and economic point of view and brands know how to create an image appealing to them.  

By introducing these schemes, brands are creating a second stream of income while enhancing their reputation as environmentally responsible. This additional revenue, however, only  increases the production of fast fashion garments and is not based on a circular business model. Rather, they are based on a linear model of “take-make-waste”, continually depleting the Earth’s limited resources.   

When shopping secondhand, it is crucial to understand where the money spent is going and what the money will support in the long run.  As consumers, we all have the power to reshape the fashion industry into a force for good. Take action today and implement sustainable shopping habits. By choosing quality over quantity, practicing circularity, and staying educated, we can change the market. Make your voice heard, read more about Fashion for the Earth, and sign the Fashion Industry Must Change petition. 

How Fast Fashion Giants Are Capitalizing on the Trend