We’re halfway through #SecondHandSeptember and how are you doing? The idea, from Oxfam, was to pledge to not buy anything new for the 30 days of September. Oxfam says every week 11 million items of clothing end up in landfill and ‘throwaway fashion’ is putting increasing pressure on our planet and its people - it’s unsustainable and this is their way of making people think and act differently.
An already under pressure high-street isn’t taking this boycott lightly and many are starting to gravitate towards selling second hand clothing themselves. High street brands and retailers are piling into the second hand market trying to looking like caring, sharing and responsible custodians of the fashion industry. Offering to sell not only their’s, but other’s second hand clothes, often for charity, this is a new take on pop-ups and a perception of giving back and closing the loop on the fashion cycle.
Left - The George at Asda 'Re-Loved' pop-up in Milton Keynes
George at Asda has just unveiled their first in-store ‘Re-Loved’ charity clothing shop running for 4 weeks from 2nd September. Located in Asda’s Milton Keynes store it features donated second-hand clothes from a number of different brands, as the retailer looks at ways to encourage customers to reuse, repurpose or recycle their unwanted clothes. The move is part of a drive by George - the UK’s second largest fashion retailer by volume - to improve the environmental impact of its clothes and operations, following the launch of its new sustainability strategy and first range of recycled polyester clothing in the spring.
Melanie Wilson, Senior Director for Sustainable Sourcing at George, said, “By trialling our Re-Loved pop-up shop, we hope to help create another route for unwanted clothes to find a new home and encourage people to think again about throwing away that top or those jeans they no longer love.” All proceeds from the shop will go to Asda’s Tickled Pink campaign, which supports Breast Cancer Care and Breast Cancer Now.
As a whole in the UK, the average lifetime for a garment of clothing is estimated as 2.2 years. Extending the active life of clothing by nine months can significantly reduce its environmental impact. The value of unused clothing in wardrobes has been estimated at around £30 billion. It is also estimated £140 million worth of clothing goes into landfill each year.
Many brands and retailers are starting to looking into the second hand market as the world is challenged with ever growing mountains of discarded clothes and unsold inventory. It was reported last year that H&M had an incredible $4.3 Billion in unsold clothes. Places like Topshop and Urban Outfitters have had vintage sections for years, and Marks & Spencers has its pioneering ‘Shwop’ scheme, which motivated consumers with vouchers, but to be actually selling second hand clothes alongside new is something new and the next logical step. The stigma around second hand is changing. It’s cool to wear older clothes and a badge of honour not to buy something new. Yet, consumers still get want to get that retail fix.
So, how can brands and retailers make money from this?
Olly Rzysko, CMO & Retail Advisor, says, “Ultimately, every second hand unit sold in the market is another brand new item a retailer isn’t selling. In a declining market, executive teams won’t like that and are responsible for protecting those sales. Second hand clothing is having a surge and it proves to be a logical route on paper.”
“Retail is hard right now and a number of elements are playing a factor in the growth of second hand.” says Rzysko. “Depop and Ebay are doing very well. They are ultimately taking sales from the high street, specifically taking sales of new product away from the retail brands. These businesses are making nothing when people are reselling their product and that will be challenging to accept. Depop particularly has kept its head down and built a sizeable business with only ASOS responding in the form of their Marketplace platform.” he says.
“Most brands experience double digit returns and some of these cannot be sold (as new) on for various reasons. Repairing product or repurposing them enables the returns to be more valuable and not a complete loss.” says Rzysko.
“Many stores right now are larger than required (having been built for a Bricks and Mortar landscape) and filling that space with low cost stock is crucial to prevent cash being tied up with inventory. Vintage / Reclaimed / Second Hand is a great way to fill these spaces.” says Rzysko. “Critically, it ensures the customer returns to the store at a time where footfall is in the decline.”
Right - Oxfam's new 'Superstore' in Oxford
“I think for a lot of brands it can work for their customers. It can also bring in new consumers to a brand where pricing may have been prohibitive before and serving as a gateway into the brand just like Outlet shopping does.” says Rzysko.
Besma Whayeb, Ethical Fashion Blogger, Curiously Conscious, says “With more and more shoppers conscious of the impact that fashion has on people and the planet, second-hand fashion is becoming more sought-after, as well as fashion retailers who outwardly show their sustainable practices.”
“There’s many ways retailers can promote second-hand fashion or circularity: many high street retailers already provide take-back schemes, inviting shoppers to return items when they’re finished wearing them, which they then use the materials for in new pieces or sell on to third-parties.” says Whayeb. “But when it comes to preserving the items (rather than dismantling or disposing of them), they could look at selling them as pre-loved pieces. There are already many independent second-hand and vintage resellers, however I don’t see why many brands don’t provide a second-hand section in their own stores and resell pieces they’ve previously made. This needn’t be a full-scale or full-time operation either; pop-ups to show they’re being more circular could be a promising first step.” she says. “I believe it’s a combination of lip service, taking advantage of the growing demand for sustainable fashion, and when (hopefully) they see positive results, it will become a more permanent fixture.” says Whayeb.
George at Asda says its concept is just a trial to see how customers respond to the concept. They’ll take feedback and learn from the trial to see how customers have responded to it. But, won’t these new schemes take away from the charity sector?
“It is not our intention to take away support from other charities. This charity shop continues Asda’s long-term commitment to fundraising for vital breast cancer research and support,” says a spokesperson for George.
Charities like Oxfam are fighting back though. The charity has just opened their first ‘superstore’ on the outskirts of Oxford. About 12 times the size of the average Oxfam shop at 18,500 sq ft, and run by 150 volunteers, it also works as a community space and includes an on-site café housed in an Oxfam water tank. They hope initiatives like Second Hand September will convert more people to second hand clothing. An Oxfam spokesperson said, ”We are delighted by the overwhelming positive response to Second Hand September and the huge public support it has received.
"The campaign is raising awareness about the harm fast fashion has on planet and people. Clothes that too often end up in landfill are frequently made by garment workers paid poverty wages in harsh conditions. Second Hand September is encouraging people to think twice about their shopping habits. There seems to be a real appetite for change, which some brands are responding to – but more needs to be done.”
The more clothes we have, the less we’re wearing them. This makes the majority of second hand almost like new. Second hand shopping is becoming cool and for brands it could be a good way of dealing with returns and old season stock while trying to look responsible. Fashion is addicted to volume, whether it is fast or not, so while consumers might not be buying anything new, they’re at least in your store buying something.
Below - The cafe inside a water tank in Oxfam's new mega charity shop
I think we all know how competitive it is at the lower end of the clothing market. But, it was an e-mail, a few weeks ago, from Marks & Spencer that really summed up where we are. It was announcing their new range of men’s ‘Quick Dry Swim Shorts’, all pretty standard for this time of year, but it was the price that caught my eye. A bargain £10! This is cheaper than Topman, cheaper than River Island and even New Look. It’s certainly cheap for M&S and, then, you realise all the retailers are busy racing to the bottom.
What this means is, in order for those companies to make money, they need to shift a hell of a lot of product. British retailers are currently playing a game of poker, holding their hand i.e. keeping prices low, waiting for their competitors to fold.
Left - Pep&Co at Poundland SS17
But, if this game wasn’t tough enough, new competition is entering the market which will only increase pressure on those margins and unsustainable volumes.
For example, Poundland has entered the clothing market. Their in-house brand, Pep&Co, launched into stores in March this year.
They've already opened over 50 Poundland shop-in-shops with another 50 or so planned for the second half of 2017. The chain, which was bought by the South African group Steinhoff International, expects to put Pep&Co clothing outlets in up to 200 of its 850 stores over the longer term.
Pep&Co was founded by Andy Bond, who once ran Asda’s George clothing label, with backing from the South African tycoon and Steinhoff shareholder Christo Wiese.
The first shop opened in Kettering, Northamptonshire, in July 2015 and the chain opened its first 50 stores in less than two months.
If people are wearing Poundland, it means they aren’t wearing another brand. This isn’t about sneering at this end of the market, it’s about wondering who will go out of business first. It's unsustainable.
The market is saturated and these business models only work if you can order huge volumes and shift it fast.
This is new competition for all the supermarket brands plus Peacocks and Primark and traditional high-street retailers like M&S and Debenhams are more keenly pricing their offering. Add discount brands such as TK Maxx and the neverending discounts and sales and you have an environment that is harder to make profit in.
Consumers are being squeezed with higher inflation and low wages and are generally satisfied with cheaper clothes. They can't or don't want to pay more.
Then add the internet, with Boohoo offering bargain fashion-led clothing and websites such as EverythingFivePounds, where everything is, literally, five pounds, and you have the perfect storm to implode some of the giants of the British high-street. Arcadia, the owner of Topman, is already seeing revenues fall and Topman is looking increasingly expensive against the competition.
In this game of pound wars poker, who will run out of chips and fold first?
Left - Louis Vuitton? No, Everythingfivepounds - £5