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EDITORIAL Retailers reinvent around re-loving, but can it stick?

Sustainability is good for business (Image: Shutterstock)

Sustainability is good for business (Image: Shutterstock)

Aside from being forced online, one of the biggest shifts in consumer shopping habits to have emerged from the coronavirus pandemic has been a nebulous interest in wanting to see retail become more sustainable and more ethical.

While the details of how consumers want this to manifest itself are vague, retailers in fashion and homewares are increasingly looking at what they can do to make themselves more ‘green’.

Last week IKEA launched its Buy Back scheme, where it literally buys back customers old IKEA furniture and resells it (the added benefit to the consumer being that, not only are they doing their bit for sustainability, but they also don’t have to wrestle with Alan keys and wooden pegs to assemble it).

This week, both the apparel and the furniture sectors saw further sustainability pushes. MADE.COM launched a ‘zero-waste, zero-cost giveaway service’, while second-hand fashion marketplace Vinted secured €250m to expand internationally – and Secret Sales has cracked the luxury left-overs market wide open. This all comes the day after Thriftify – the site that aims to bring charity shop chic to the internet – launches in the UK.

And apparel is a great place to start, with stores open, online retail has shrunk back – apart from in womenswear, which surged 98% in April as ladies purchased ‘going out gear’ ahead of things opening up in May – many of them Millennials, who are leading the charge back into the real world. It also taps into the boom in sports and leisurewear sales that have also taken place across lockdown.

This love of online fashion is also an international affair, with cross-border apparel sales growing rapidly, led by Singapore and Russia.

But this explosion in sales has to be squared with sustainability. To make sustainability work, these ideas have to work together: the exploding demand for fashion must also push that pre-loved items are a very big part of the inventory available. Getting that right is what is going to be what make retail truly circular.

Both fashion apparel and furniture need this. Both have become ‘fast’ over the past few years, churning out low-cost eminently disposable items on a vast scale. Clearly unsustainable. Now the rethink has begun.

What is interesting is the speed with which this is happening. While consumers have expressed an interest in things being more sustainable, it usually takes any industry years to catch up. There is so much to do to make it happen: rebuilding business models, supply chains and more.

The fact that these retailers have sprung into action so rapidly and have delivered some interesting new ways to re-love clothes, accessories and furniture can only help fuel consumers growing desire to buy these things (and to sell on their used items).

It could also be the start of a very new way to look at the economics of consumer goods. The second-hand world is a rapidly growing – and potentially very lucrative –market. Estimates suggest that it could be worth as much as $2.2trn in revenue by 2025, according to Statista – possibly even more as more consumers start to see the appeal of pre-loved.

With fashion and furniture leaders pushing the circular economy it is likely to be with us for some time to come – and it is likely that more retailers will start to tap into this new way of doing business.

The key will be making it permanent. Right now it could be a flash-in-the-pan, a fad. While retailers and marketplaces continue to make it easy to do and an accepted part of shopping behaviour there is now a window to make this habitual rather than Voguish.

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