“We exist to make sure clothes don’t go to landfill,” says Andrew Ferguson, Founder of Re-Fashion, a new and rapidly expanding preloved clothing retailer.
Re-Fashion has its sights on one of fashion’s biggest environmental challenges: £140m worth of clothing is sent to landfill each year in the UK, and most of those garments are made from non-biodegradable materials. Preventing clothes from ending up in landfill is critical – but it’s a more difficult task than you might think.
Traditional ways of disposing of clothes can be problematic
Disposing of used clothing is a challenge because there’s simply so much of it: Global production of fashion has doubled in just fifteen years. Shoppers now buy clothes in a quantity and at a frequency that would have been unthinkable in the recent past. Haul culture has flourished on YouTube, and made buying bags full of new outfits in one go not only normal but aspirational. 50 million people devote more than 1.6 billion minutes watching haul videos each month.
Our attitude to fashion has changed – most clothing purchases these days lead to a brief fling rather than a long-term relationship. As a result, lot of us regularly need to get rid of clothes that have been worn on just a few occasions: A 2015 study reported that on average, an item is worn just seven times.
Obvious ways of disposing of used clothing include charity shops and textile bins. However, the fate of clothes donated this way isn’t what users might anticipate. People imagine they could bump into someone else proudly sporting their recently donated dress or coat in a local café. But it has been estimated that only around 10 percent of UK donations go on to be retailed through charity shops. Much of the rest is sent to developing countries, where it can stymie local textile industries, or ends up being incinerated. Many people are unaware that recycling clothes is rare, as fibre-to-fibre recycling isn’t yet a viable option for many commonly used clothing materials.
Keeping clothes in circulation
Re-Fashion offers an ingenious solution to these problems. The company keeps little-worn clothes in circulation by matching them with new owners. Vinted and Depop have increased the prominence – as well as the cool factor – of the clothing resale market. But Andrew points out that not everyone is willing to go through the time-consuming process of selling clothes. Re-Fashion eliminates this barrier; customers can order a donation bag and post their excellent quality used items for free. These are then sold to other customers via Re-Fashion’s website: “We’ve shown that fast fashion pieces can have multiple owners,” he says.
While early adopters of Re-Fashion have mostly been environmentally-conscious types, the brand plans to expand by attracting a mainstream customer base. Re-Fashion’s mission is to reduce clothing’s environmental impact, but the company aims to engage everyone who loves clothes. To make a difference at scale, the ‘shift to thrift’ needs to be experienced as normal and fun. To this end, Re-Fashion borrows tactics from fast fashion brands, referencing “drops” and styling tips in its marketing.
As well as popularising secondhand as a way of making fashion more sustainable, Re-Fashion’s work extends to tackling the causes of fashion’s sustainability problem. Proceeds from clothing sales benefit the Rieves Foundation, a grant-making charity with a specific focus on sustainable fashion projects.
Having recently expanded into Ireland, the company looks set to grow. No wonder, when consumers care now more than ever before about reducing waste and wearing sustainable clothes.