DEMAND AN END TO POVERTY THIS GENERAL ELECTION
TAKE ACTION
Environment

'Greenwashing' fast fashion brands are going all in on the resale market. But consumers are pushing back

Fast fashion brands are eagerly tapping into the resale industry but campaigners and consumers say it's just 'greenwashing'.

Summer Botwe at the PrettyLittleThing Marketplace launch PrettyLittleThing Marketplace launch in London in September 2022. Indiyah Polack features on the banner behind. Photo by James Veysey/PrettyLittleThing/Shutterstock

Summer Botwe at the PrettyLittleThing Marketplace launch PrettyLittleThing Marketplace launch in London in September 2022. Indiyah Polack features on the banner behind. Photo by James Veysey/PrettyLittleThing/Shutterstock

“RE-SELL. RE-WEAR. RE-CYCLE,” Love Island’s Indiyah Polack wrote underneath her announcement to become the first ever ambassador for PrettyLittleThing’s (PLT) Marketplace platform. 

Polack, fresh off a relatively successful season of the ITV dating show where second-hand clothing was strongly promoted, said the role was a “dream come true” for her. But there is a growing pushback against these fast fashion platforms and their “greenwashing” attempts to promote a more eco-friendly demeanour.

Selling and buying second-hand clothing is increasingly popular and considered to be a sustainable alternative to buying new clothes. According to academics from universities in Finland, Sweden, Manchester, New York, and Australia, 92 million tonnes of textile waste is produced every year while the United Nations Environment Programme suggests people usually wear clothes seven to 10 times before throwing it away.

PLT launched its Marketplace app in late August 2022, allowing users to buy and sell clothes they no longer wear. It includes collections, curated by staff and ambassadors, of pre-loved and second-hand pieces from both PLT and other fashion labels too.

It is not the only fast fashion brand to have invested in resale platforms. Shein has Shein Exchange, Steve Madden has SM Rebooted, and Zara has Zara Pre-Owned. All  are pegged as peer-to-peer resale platforms, and seem to be a way for these brands to tap into the circular economy. 

One day they promote purchases of throwaway clothes, the next they encourage customers to be “mindful” and “sustainable” by reselling them to each other while, more often than not, the company takes a cut.

“I think this is one of the most blatant examples of greenwashing we have today. Brands that are known for encouraging people to over-consume are now providing a get-out-of-jail-free card for all those massive hauls they encourage shoppers to make,” Lakyn Carlton, a sustainable fashion expert and personal stylist, told the Big Issue.

Greenwashing, where businesses ride the wave of interest in eco-conscious sustainability to cover up their own climate-damaging practices, is a growing accusation in the fashion world. And consumers are pushing back.

“It is essentially lying about (or exaggerating) the measures your company is taking to be sustainable. Some of it is downright silly. I’ve seen Reformation brag about the lightbulbs in their stores, but the worst of it preys on the average person’s lack of awareness of sustainability. They don’t expect people to look into it, and, to be honest, most consumers don’t,” Carlton said.

Abandoned factory for sorting clothes in Cambodia
Abandoned factory for sorting clothes in Cambodia. Approximately 92 million tonnes of textiles waste is produced every year. (Image: Francois Le Nguyen/Unsplash)

She’s not alone in her frustration. Brett Staniland, another Love Island alum who appeared on an earlier season of the show than Polack, spoke out against the PLT’s resale platform on Twitter, calling it a “load of boll*cks”.

He wrote: “Their entire business model is built on the premise that their clothes have a shelf-life shorter than milk. It is trend-led & ultra fast. Meaning once you’ve worn it, it’s old. It’s not made to withstand wears and washes (mostly made from plastic) hence reselling it like it has longevity on either of these fronts is redundant.”

Other social media users with an interest in sustainability have also to called out fast fashion brands’ resale markets as “ridiculous”.

One person tweeted: “Shein having a resale programme is a damn joke, don’t nobody want those polyester threads that look washed out after the first and only wash. Sorry but is this a piss take? The over consumption alone negates the programme girl I can’t.”

None of the brands immediately responded to the Big Issue’s request for comment.

Carlton is sceptical of the reasons behind these resale platforms: “Never mind the fact that everything these brands do (and any business, really) is for profit, it is all a plot to get people to buy more.”

Aja Barber, a sustainable fashion consultant and author of Consumed, a book about climate change and consumerism, is similarly sceptical of the actual impact of these resale platforms.

“Brands that are serious about sustainability will scale back their production,” Barber told the Big Issue.

Your support changes lives. Find out how you can help us help more people by signing up for a subscription

Barber said that the “majority” of fast fashion brands are not truly committed to sustainability, but rather want to put money into looking like “they’re doing the right thing instead of simply transforming their business model and the way in which they produce clothing”.

Carlton agreed: “There’s no profit in caring for the planet.”

Fast fashion brands produce billions of garments every year, and the industry as a whole is responsible for about 10 per ent of global carbon emissions, which nets brands like PLT and Shein millions in profit – PLT reported £8m in profit in 2022 while Shein reported a profit of £700m in the same year.

Barber and Carlton said that our culture of over-consumption and the proliferation of fast fashion go hand-in-hand.

The marketplace charges seller’s fees after the first three months. (Image: PrettyLittleThing)

Barber added that fast fashion brands need to “focus on scaling back their production and creating better long-lasting products”, which would reduce the amount of waste being produced by the industry.

“Most big high street brands over-produce clothing and a lot ends up as waste,” Barber added. Like Love Islander Staniland, she suggested that many of the products are not designed to be long-lasting due to the fickle nature of trends and fashion seasons.

Staniland tweeted last year after an investigation into Shein’s labour practices and environmental impact was released by Channel 4: “Reminder: SHEIN DON’T make clothes that are resell-able. They DO exploit their workers. They DO exploit the planet. Pay attention. They’re sweeping exploitation under the rug & hopping on the green glow of resale.”

“A lot of the brands who roll out the plush green carpet for themselves are some of the biggest polluters in this conversation and it will take a lot more than a resale platform to fix the mess they’ve created,” Barber said. 

“When we address the waste only then will resale not be a greenwashing move,” she continued.

Get the latest news and insight into how the Big Issue magazine is made by signing up for the Inside Big Issue newsletter

Carlton agreed: “We’re past the point of trusting big brands to hold themselves accountable. We need legislation and we need third party certifications, regular auditing, and actual consequences for bad actors.”

Barber said that fast fashion brands need to “create systems that put less pressure on  the consumer to buy the latest trends every week” because the planet is “groaning under the weight” of the current fast fashion model.

But, consumers are not powerless: “Be discerning about the brands you choose to support, and be loud about what kind of practices you refuse to reward with your hard earned money.”

“It costs nothing to choose better, buy less, and make it last,” Carlton added.

Support the Big Issue

For over 30 years, the Big Issue has been committed to ending poverty in the UK. In 2024, our work is needed more than ever. Find out how you can support the Big Issue today.
Vendor martin Hawes

Recommended for you

View all
Labour's plan for the climate and nature: The good, the bad and the glaringly absent
Keir Starmer and Angela Rayner announce new grey belt Labour housebuilding plan
General election 2024

Labour's plan for the climate and nature: The good, the bad and the glaringly absent

Water companies paid shareholders £377 for every hour they pumped sewage into seas, study finds
Pollution

Water companies paid shareholders £377 for every hour they pumped sewage into seas, study finds

Billions added to British energy bills due to failure to properly insulate homes, study finds
More insulation for homes is part of the Government's fight against fuel poverty
Energy bills

Billions added to British energy bills due to failure to properly insulate homes, study finds

What is Labour's Great British Energy plan – and will it really bring down bills and ease cost of living?
Keir Starmer addressing a business conference in London, February 2024
Great British Energy

What is Labour's Great British Energy plan – and will it really bring down bills and ease cost of living?

Most Popular

Read All
Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits
Renters: A mortgage lender's window advertising buy-to-let products
1.

Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal
Pound coins on a piece of paper with disability living allowancve
2.

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over
next dwp cost of living payment 2023
3.

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know
4.

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know