Tagged: fashion industry

The Business Case for Secondhand

This I Wear | Secondhand

I think we can all agree that there is too much stuff in the world today.

If you don’t agree with that statement, read this again after spending an hour at your local H&M to see how much stuff people are buying. Alternatively, you could choose to google “Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” or better yet, stop into any charity shop and see what nervous ticks the staff have developed since the release of Marie Kondo’s “The Magical Art of Tidying Up.

But for those of you who do agree, my guess is that you’re already trying to do your small part in encouraging a world of “less stuff” in your own way.

I also thought I was doing my part until I realized I could be doing a whole lot more because, well, #economics. And by that, I mean I had an enlightened moment of understanding that I was all supply and no demand, and that this was not gonna get any of us any closer to a “less stuff” world. Let me explain.

Here’s my usual routine when it comes to closet cleaning: Clean out closet. Decide if what I cleaned out warrants hosting a swap party. If not, donate clothes to my neighborhood charity shop. Cue that feel good feeling of knowing that I kept my stuff out of the landfill for at least a little while longer.

Oh how I have been naïve.

After my most recent “tidying up” inspired by Marie Kondo, I was all set to do the above usual routine when I heard a podcast talking about all the places to sell your clothes online. Beyond selling my really nice pieces at a local consignment store, I had never explored selling my clothes. I soon found myself browsing sites like The Real Real, Tradesy, and Threadflip that all specialize in online secondhand clothing and accessories for women, and I was floored by the amount of (really really good) merchandise on these sites. If fact, there is enough merchandise on these sites to keep all of womankind clothed and happy for all of eternity.

That’s when I realized that my usual routine was missing a really crucial step: shopping secondhand.

While I am very careful about knowing what I’m buying when I do shop (Was it made ethically? Where was it made? Are the materials sustainable and/or recyclable? Etc.), I’ve still been buying mostly new. And that isn’t really helping us solve our “stuff” problem, because we’re still creating more stuff and using more resources to make all these new things. So while the stuff might be ethically made, what about the unnecessary harm done by further cluttering up the world and using up our resources?

So if I really believe in the importance of valuing our resources and creating less waste, my habit of donating or selling my clothes is only solving half the problem. To make the secondhand market work, I also have to become a consumer of it – taking as much as I’m giving, and looking for what I need on the secondhand market first before I look to buy something new. (Luckily, between local consignment and vintage shops and the online secondhand retailers, this is even easier than trying to find something new that is ethically made.)

The same argument can apply to a million different scenarios when it comes to solving our stuff problem. If we’re recycling but not buying products made with recycled materials, we’re not really creating demand for those materials to tell the market we want more recycled products. Likewise, if we’re powering our house on solar energy but still driving a gas-guzzling car, then we’re really not committing to renewable energy.

Baby steps are important. Yes to making sure our stuff stays out of landfills, that we opt for renewable energy when we can, and that we buy responsibly made goods. But we could be doing so much more if we looked at our behaviors in a more holistic way to see what unintentional signals we may be sending to the market about what we as conscious consumers want. #economics

And anyway, perhaps the only good lesson that fashion has taught us is that vintage is just way cooler and we should know that the old will always becomes new again. So while I will by no means be a perfect secondhand shopper, I’m definitely going to do my best to close this loop.

Photo via ReDone Denim (source here!), a company that is definitely proving there is a business case to be made for secondhand fashion.

Now What?

Perhaps on Sunday evening or early this week, you watched John Oliver’s segment that shared the scary cycle of fast fashion companies getting in trouble for human rights violations and the rest of us quickly forgiving and forgetting.

It is a full 17 minutes, but I hope you’ll forget about the fact that our attention spans have disappeared and stick it out for the full video.

Why? Because we have to recognize this as a significant moment. No, we didn’t do enough after the Rana Plaza factory collapse and the subsequent factory fires that led to the creation of Fashion Revolution Day whose anniversary was April 24. Just like we didn’t do enough after all the tragedies since the early 1990s caused by the pursuit of ever cheaper clothing that John highlights in this feature. But it is a significant moment when an extremely popular tv show that is only 30 minutes long gives more than half of the show over to reminding us how we (this means you and me) are letting this pattern continue.

I will say that Gap, which is the company in focus for majority of the video, is not the worst offender. Who is? Every store you’ve ever been in where you’ve exclaimed “I can’t believe how cheap this is.” Sometimes that is Gap, but it’s also Forever21, H&M, Zara, Target, Walmart, American Eagle Outfitters, Old Navy, Topshop, Kohl’s, Joe Fresh, and so many more.

Many of these companies are in reputable industry organizations and have CSR departments and compliance teams. Some of them have really innovative programs for trying to improve on environmental issues. But at the end of the day, a $5 t-shirt and a $20 blouse need to cause us to raise our eyebrows and ask ourselves “but how?”.

The next step is action, but today, I hope you’ll take some time to watch the video,  notice the patterns, see the cycle, and decide whether you want to do something about it.



Buzz Word: Transparency

This I Wear | Buzz Word: Transparency

It is ironic that “transparency” has become, well, not so transparent as the fashion industry isn’t being very upfront in how it is defining the word. And in honor of transparency’s definition – “frankness, openness, candor” – I’m going to try to stick to those qualities as I explain this dilemma.

Frankness. Transparency is interesting. It inspires a level of trust and it feels new and fresh, especially in an industry that is so mysterious. It’s not just fashion that has a burgeoning fixation on the idea of transparency. I’ve been listening to the podcast “StartUp”, which is exciting and innovative because never before has anyone been so honest and open about the process of starting a company. It’s easy to understand why this hasn’t been done before. It makes you really vulnerable to share the proud moments and the not-so-proud moments. From a listener’s perspective, it feels like there is nothing withheld. But that’s not true – there is editing, there is waiting for the right time to share sensitive information, and there is strategy, even if it’s all well-intentioned.

Openness. The fixation on transparency is likely a result of the Internet age, where we expect all information to be available at all times. We don’t expect privacy in our own lives, and we have the same “open book” expectations of companies now. This is a great thing, but we need to acknowledge that transparency, in the context of the fashion industry, can mean vastly different things. Companies who claim transparency might be open about some aspects of their business but have no intention of sharing other aspects.

Candor. Transparency could very easily become a meaningless buzzword like “heritage” or “natural”, but there’s still time to stop it from the clutches of marketing. And we should infuse it with real meaning because a movement towards greater transparency in the fashion industry is a win for everyone.

So how is the fashion industry defining transparency?

I think it boils down to four key concepts:

1. Transparency of Pricing – Yes, Everlane claims to be transparent on where their products are made, but what they were really founded on was transparency of pricing. Their claim to fame is that you aren’t paying the markup of traditional retail, and they transparently transfer the savings to you. Later, Honest By used this idea of transparency of pricing to share the exact cost of every button, zipper and fabric that went into the product as well as how much was paid in wages. The idea is to truly show what the item is worth and what it costs to make a responsible high quality product with fair wages.

2. Transparency of Supply Chain – Nike does this best with an interactive map of all of their suppliers (pictured above), so anyone can access the name, address, and details (such as number of workers) for any Nike supplier. This invites activist organizations to hold Nike accountable to its promises of social responsibility and encourages collaboration on factory initiatives with other brands working in the same factories.

3. Transparency of Materials/Ingredients – While this isn’t as common in the fashion industry, there are some great examples in the growing safe beauty product movement around disclosing all ingredients. Beautycounter was founded on this idea, and brands like Tata Harper allow you to trace the ingredients of your product back to the farm. In the apparel industry, Icebreaker allows you to put in the “Baacode” of your purchased garment to trace where the merino wool was sourced and under what conditions. I think this category will grow rapidly in the fashion industry as well as demands for disclosing chemicals used in the dyeing and finishing processes increases.

4. Transparency of Values – This is where it gets murky. There are a lot of great companies founded on strong values that ask for your trust based on those values. Companies like vegan handbag company Matt & Nat or artisan-made shoe company Nisolo claim transparency as one of their core values. While they don’t have complex supply chain maps like Nike or a breakdown of how much they paid workers, there is a clear message that the company is trying to work in the most responsible way possible and will share as much with you as their small staff can possibly do in their limited time. It’s just not always clear how they are sharing it. But there are other brands in this category that maybe we shouldn’t be trusting, so we have to go with our gut a bit here.

Now that your head is spinning you might ask: If transparency is this complicated, why push for it?

Because transparency isn’t just good because you as the consumer know your product was made in a way that you feel ok about. Transparency done well has the opportunity to change the way fashion companies do business – from how brands could collaborate together on worker safety and factory remediation to how a brand makes both financial and responsibility decisions. It’s a win-win for all when companies get a little vulnerable with their peers, partners and customers. Smart people like the founders behind Project Just are on this already, and there’s room for more innovators too.

How do you define transparency? What do you expect from a brand who claims to be transparent? Share your ideas in the comments and include any brands that you think are doing transparency the right way.

Pictured: Screenshot of Nike’s Global Manufacturing Map.

A New Year’s Intention

This I Wear | A New Year's Intention

A few years ago, I stopped writing New Years’ resolutions and started writing New Years’ intentions. This may sound like a small difference, but it is actually revolutionary.

Unlike a resolution, an intention can’t be checked off a to-do list. Instead, it’s just a gentle reminder to guide your actions throughout the year. With no way to fail, it’s more of an intention to change and expand your viewpoint or how you approach life.

This year, my intention took a little while longer than usual. I’ve gotten into the habit of starting to think about what my New Year’s intention will be before the December holidays, and unconsciously, I start noticing things that I’m thinking about and collecting ideas, storing them away for when I can sit down to reflect on where I’ve been, where I am, and where I’m going. And I like to let my intention brew – playing with the wording, trying it on in situations and noticing how it might encourage me to live differently before I commit to it.

Well, I finally arrived at what my 2014 New Year’s intention might be, and I was surprised to realize it had a place here.

As a late-20s professional finding her path, it’s been easy to get lost in the constant changes of life and the struggles experienced everyday. So this year, I intend to see abundance – to see the abundance of love, generosity, compassion, opportunity, friendship, laughter, and even money that can exist when I start noticing it and looking at things in a different way.

Maybe my intention or even the idea of setting intentions is a bit too abstract or kumbaya for you. And that’s ok. But I think it has a place here. After I determined my intention, I woke up the next morning and realized it worked right here within the philosophy of This I Wear and might give us a new way of thinking about the “shopping” problem, especially in the apparel industry.

Fashion is at a point of confronting scarcity. There is and will be a scarcity of resources to prevent producing and consuming apparel (and all the other things we make) in the way that we are doing it right now. And at the same time, maybe companies are scared that there will be a scarcity of profits and happy customers if they change their ways in recognition of this resource scarcity. And today, for many of us as consumers, we may see a scarcity of choice since so many of our options are poor quality, better quality but unattainable, or it’s just plain difficult to find things that we need that are produced in ways that match our values.

But what if all sides of the situation, consumers and companies and all the people in between, saw abundance instead? What would that mean?

It could mean an abundance of new connections, new creativity, and greater meaning in our lives. It could mean an abundance of materials found by creating new technology or upcycling garments and materials. Or it could mean that as consumers we see an abundance of choice in stocking our closets with things we acquire outside of the traditional marketplace – from shopping in our friends’ closets to swapping clothes online or buying secondhand and vintage. It could mean an abundance of opportunity to learn how to tailor our own clothes or make something from scratch! It could mean an abundance of connection in buying from and supporting emerging designers in our own communities. This list goes on.

I know there are a lot more ways that we can find abundance even as we take on the issue of scarcity. I’d love to hear from you on how you think the fashion industry or consumers can reframe this scarcity as abundance. Or share your own “New Years Intention” (or prediction) for fashion in 2014. Comment below to keep the conversation going, and here’s to an abundant 2014 for all of us.

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