A new report into the state of secondhand fashion has found that the resale market is growing at a rapid rate, as the concept of a circular economy for fashion gains traction with Australians. 

Reluv Clothing’s latest Fashion Resale in Australia report, which combines a comprehensive survey of the available data about the secondhand fashion market with original research, takes a closer look at environmental issues within the fashion industry, as it transitions from a linear to a circular model. 

The report explores the existing mechanisms for resale in Australia, the rise of the reseller, and the emergence of new platforms that are helping consumers realise the value of the clothes that are already in their closets.   

Resale is rising… 

A Reluv poll conducted in July 2021 found strong support for the resale market in Australia, with 72 per cent of Australians having purchased an item of secondhand clothing in the past 12 months. 

Between 2017 and 2019, fashion resale grew 21 times faster than traditional retail. It’s a trend that shows no signs of slowing – by 2030, global secondhand clothing retail is expected to be twice the size of the fast fashion industry. 

The Reluv report notes that environmental awareness, as well as the ‘trendy’ perception of thrifting and vintage items, is behind the fast-tracked development of a circular economy for fashion. Reusing a garment reduces its environmental footprint by 73 per cent, and increases its lifespan by an average of 2.2 years. 

The charity sector, in particular, is responsible for a significant proportion of fashion resale in Australia. The Reluv survey found that of the 72 per cent of Australians who bought preloved clothes in the past year, just over half of them (52.6 per cent) purchased from op shops. 

According to Charitable Recycling Australia, there are over 3000 charity stores in capital cities across Australia, responsible for $527.5 million in revenue from clothing sales. These charity shops create $1700 in revenue from each ton of textiles they recover. 

But while op shops remain popular, fashion recommerce in Australia is no longer limited to charity stores. The Reluv report notes there are approximately 100 independently owned brick-and-mortar secondhand clothing stores across Australia’s capital cities, and roughly two thirds of these stores offer online platforms. On top of these stores, there are also 13 Australian-owned online-only resale sites.

Even traditional retailers are jumping on the resale train. E-commerce giant The Iconic and brick-and-mortar mainstay David Jones have recently partnered with independent platforms to offer their customers resale and rental options, in a bid to establish their secondhand credentials. 

…But overproduction is soaring, too

Despite these positive steps towards a circular fashion economy, the amount of clothing being produced is still growing at a rate much faster than population growth. 

The Reluv report highlights that excessive consumption patterns, coupled with overproduction of clothing, is still resulting in high wastage and underutilisation of garments. 

From 2002 to 2017, clothing production doubled in size, a trend that’s been attributed to the global growth of the middle class and the effects of fast fashion. According to a 2020 McKinsey report, the fashion industry is responsible for emitting more CO2 than France, Germany and the UK combined.

Following the global trend, Australia’s fashion industry is growing in size, leading researchers at Monash University to note that it will be impossible to reach net zero carbon emissions without the clothing industry taking action. 

Worse yet, a recent YouGov survey found 24 per cent of Australian adults threw away an item of clothing after wearing it just once in the last year. And according to the National Waste Report, only seven per cent of textile waste in Australia is recycled. 

This is despite the fact that attitudes towards shopping seem to be shifting. A 2019 report by the Australian Circular Textile Association found 53 per cent of Australian shoppers are willing to spend more for sustainable products, while a Pulse of the Fashion Industry study that same year found that 38 per cent of global customers have actively changed their shopping habits to preference sustainable brands. 

The Reluv report highlights pioneering efforts that have been made overseas to reduce waste from the clothing industry, including a new European Union directive requiring all member states to separate textile waste collection following consumer use, and French legislation that bans retailers from destroying unsold or returned fashion items. 

Australia has yet to take these steps, but Federal Minister for the Environment Sussan Ley did attend the very first Roundtable on Clothing Textile Waste earlier this year, and later added clothing textiles to the National Priority Waste List

As a result of being added to that list, action is expected to be taken to reduce the volume of clothing being sent to landfill from next year, with a particular focus on the design and production of goods that facilitate longevity and reuse. 

Until we see what form that action takes, though, it’s good to know that consumers are increasingly doing their part to resell their clothes, and purchase pre-loved instead of new items. It’s a sign the industry is heading in the right direction – even if it has a long way to go before it can be considered truly sustainable. 

Read the full report here.

This article was produced in partnership with Reluv Clothing