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“In 2025 the greatest competition to a brand will be the products it has already sold.”
- Kalkidan Legesse
Kalkidan, the founder of independent ethical fashion retailer Sancho’s, spoke to me recently about her new venture Shwap, launching in April 2021. In her mind, brands would be ill-advised to ignore the rising tide of fashion’s sharing economy, a marketplace where clothing is swapped, rented and resold on a peer-to-peer basis long after it has left the shop floor.
“The sharing [economy] business model is crucial for sustainable business in both an environmental and financial sense. The challenge, however, is that without a full understanding of a product’s lifecycle, it is hard to optimise when an item should be shared, swapped, sold, rented or recycled. Shwap aims to provide that crucial insight to business so they can optimise their product delivery, and to customers so they can see a transparent picture of where their clothes started and where they end up.”
We’ve also seen dozens of brands lately jumping on this sharing economy trend, from Urban Outfitters to Patagonia to Levi’s. As usual, there is a fine line between greenwashing and positive change, particularly when resale, rental and recycling do little to offset production volumes. But if the commercialisation of the sharing economy could help scale up sustainable fashion, how do we get more people on board? And what are the barriers preventing mass-market adoption of sharing? For the last six months, I’ve been trying to find the answers to this for a university research project. So far there have been some interesting findings, including:
Some forms of sharing have ‘rebound effects’ that offset any environmental impact reduction, for example, dry cleaning and shipping for rental fashion.
Sustainability can be the least appealing aspect of sharing. Consumers are much more driven by budget, style and community.
Monetisation creates barriers to entry, like competing with the professional sellers on Depop or property moguls on AirBnB, or investing significant sums of money in short-term clothing rental. High-street fashion shouldn’t be destined for landfill just because its deemed low value.
Successful sharing is all about long-term habit building, not short-term transactions.
The biggest challenge for sharing to be widely accepted is trust. Trust in the provider, in the other participants, in the products, in the system.
Fashion sharing providers shouldn’t be trying to mimic fashion brands. They should be looking to tech, such as dating apps, for inspiration on building trust.
Older women can feel excluded from the mainstream fashion sharing economy as it doesn’t cater to their needs.
For sharing to ever be a realistic replacement for traditional consumption, clothing needs to be designed to last. Designers should be thinking about the afterlife of their clothes from the beginning, in style and in substance.
Ultimately we need a diverse set of solutions to re-circulate a diverse range of products. No single startup can ‘solve’ this alone.
More to come. In the meantime, read my beginner’s guide to the sharing economy and what it means for the future of fashion in EcoCult.
Apologies in advance for the longggggg list
Plus a couple of sneaky videos
We’ve released a bunch of new episodes of Common Threads to round off the second series. Listen back while we’re on a little hiatus:
- Mending a Broken System with Ros Studd and Siobhan McKenna
- Transforming Fashion Waste with Holly McQuillan and Cassandra Belanger
- Loved Clothes Last with Orsola de Castro
- How to Start an Ethical Fashion Brand with Lora Gene
I learned a lot from this episode of Wardrobe Crisis with Jason Hickel on what degrowth means for the fashion industry, and this episode of the BoF podcast with Kalkidan Legesse on racism and inequality in fashion.
Slow Factory has been running another semester of their brilliant Open Education programme that makes learning about sustainability accessible and inclusive. Liz Ricketts on fashion waste colonialism was eye-opening. Register for their free classes here, and donate to the foundation if you can.
Catch up on this panel discussion with Elizabeth Cline, Samata, Aja Barber and Eshita Kabra:
A life update
You may have already seen this, but just announcing it here that I am officially leaving the freelance hustle behind, having started a new job at Fashion Revolution, the world’s largest fashion activism movement campaigning globally for a fashion industry that conserves and restores the environement and values people over profit and growth. Last month, I joined the team as their Communications and Content Manager, a role that combines all the things I love - copywriting, comms, collaborations, content. This comes after many years of volunteering for the Fashion Revolution Scotland team, and it’s remote so I’m still living in Edinburgh for now.
Although it’s been difficult to leave many wonderful freelance projects and clients behind, particularly my faves at Delicate Rébellion, I’m excited about this next chapter. I will still aim to send out this newsletter once a month, although you should definitely also subscribe to the weekly Fashion Revolution newsletter which I now curate. I’ve also got a couple of articles coming out soon but that side of things will down, and Common Threads is now on a break until the summer.
Sustainable fashion *action* of the month
Seamless segue… your action this month is to get involved in Fashion Revolution Week! Taking place from 19th-25th April 2021, Fashion Revolution Week is an annual mobilisation surrounding the anniversary of the Rana Plaza tragedy. The theme for this year is the interconnectedness of human rights and the rights of nature, and the campaign aims to amplify unheard voices across the fashion supply chain. Download the Get Involved guides for citizens, brands, producers, unions and students to find out more. You can also host your own virtual event and invite a friend to take part.
Food for thought for the first Monday of March: this tweet about how the cult of social media makes us chase other people’s idea of success, not necessarily our own.
Enjoy the Spring sunshine,