by Emily Coogan

Secondhand smoke and mirrors.

Fast fashion heavyweights are trying secondhand retail on for size, in an attempt to dress up overconsumption as circularity.

For years, we have understood selling and buying secondhand clothing to be the pinnacle of ethical fashion. Cleaning out wardrobes, hosting clothes swaps and finally donating those bags of goodies are all contributing to a more circular fashion system, but are they the be-all and end-all of sustainability?


The resale revolution has been led by the likes of eBay, Depop, Vestiaire Collective amongst others, as well as our insatiable hunger for clothing. The former is a positive step towards a reduced wardrobe footprint, while the latter appetite has been nurtured by fast fashion brands as the puppetmasters of consumerism.

The current fast fashion players have socialised consumers to wear more, buy more and demand more. Our sartorial attention spans rip through trends faster than ever before, as even the most brief of trends fly off shelves and in and out of wardrobes at breakneck speeds. By feeding into the speedy business model, we’ve become accustomed to the lowest prices possible and ceaseless variety, creating a waste problem more significant than that of most other industries.

Enter fast fashion-led resale platforms, an ironic foray into secondhand business. 

Shein is the latest perpetrator to launch a peer-to-peer secondhand app in the US, where users can sell their Shein items directly to others. UK outlets Pretty Little Thing and Boohoo Group have made similar decisions but, in reality, the quality of the products themselves are designed to last a single, waning trend cycle, which doesn’t lend the brands to long-term resale solutions. The businesses behind the resale apps are treating symptoms while ignoring underlying causes, demonstrating a complete failure of self-awareness.

On face value, resale is a step in the right direction, one that’s more circular and less focused on the concept of newness. However, when that business move is paired with an unwavering production line of apparel, human rights violations and unsustainable materials, it’s nothing more than a gimmick. Whether a secondhand purchase genuinely has the ability to replace a new purchase is a question of wider consumer culture.

As told by the companies themselves, the goal of each respective platform is to make resale as convenient as buying something new - which is almost the entire problem. Fashion is too convenient, too easy and too immediate, when we have no real need for regular hauls and wardrobe updates.


Despite purporting to have consumer’s best interests at heart, Shein continues to churn out over 2,000 items daily while Boohoo fills over 62 million orders annually. The more clothing we purchase, the more clothing we dispose of, amounting to 23kg of clothing per Australian being sent to landfill each year. When most microtrends and fast fashion supplies are produced using plastic and petrochemicals, we’re left with an industry in crisis and a planet even moreso.

The rise of resale has fooled us into thinking that as long as we don’t send our garments to landfill directly, we’re doing the best we can. 

For as long as we are wired to see fashion as abundant and disposable, we will continue to treat it as such. Shein’s latest venture into greenwashing works to convince users that buying a piece to wear once is all well and good, as long as you send it on to someone else to repeat the cycle until the trend has passed.

Data from the resale apps is also reportedly being used to optimise retail processes and algorithms, with the intention of encouraging users to continue to buy more with no remorse, spitting in the face of genuine sustainable commitments.


Culturally, better promoting mindful consumption has started with resale but it doesn’t end there, as the ultra-fast giants would have us believe.

Pre-loved garb has shed its stigma and become an entirely new beast, thanks to the likes of Shein, Pretty Little Thing and Boohoo. Facilitating resale may be better than nothing at all, but it does little to offset the sheer scale of fast fashion, the encouragement of overconsumption, and harmful manufacturing practices.

Until they produce fewer garments, opt for low-impact textiles, improve working conditions and generally overhaul every aspect of their business, every resale app launched by a fast fashion retailer is a matter of lip service - brazen and cynical attempts to absolve themselves of the waste problem. Resale can’t override the exploitation and harm caused by the industry, and secondhand retail isn’t the life raft we want it to be.

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