The changing role of charity shops in the resale market
- Written byUna Lote Andzane
- Published date 24 May 2023
“The new generation of fashion designers need to incorporate sustainable innovations in their practice, instead of being taught about the previous retail system. Fashion designers will always be needed because we need as many creative minds thinking and working towards sustainability as possible.” - Avni Jain MBA Student at LCF
While Oxford Circus is brimful of people enjoying the late afternoon sun, the lecture theatre at John Prince’s Street is packed with industry professionals. And rightly so, as the topic of the day, ‘The Resale Clothing Market: A Charity Perspective’, is one that is making real waves throughout the entire fashion industry. Moderated by Hannah Middleton, Knowledge Exchange lead in LCF’s Fashion Business School, the panel discussion brought together Rónán Ó Dálaigh, founder of online charity shop Thriftify, Maria Chenoweth, CEO of charity retailer Traid, and Wayne Hemingway, founder of fashion brand Red or Dead and multi-disciplinary design studio Hemingway Design, to discuss the changing role of charity shopping, hidden greenwashing agendas, overconsumption, and more.
“The economic model is a fallacy to protect those at the top, so I was conflicted about how to approach entrepreneurship and marry it with a very strong social conscience,” Ó Dálaigh kicks off the discussion with the challenge of creating a socially and environmentally conscious business. After noticing how various daily life functions were rapidly moving online, he was determined to make charity shopping one of them. Ó Dálaigh believes that technology is a key part of tackling the problems in the industry: “Fashion’s why starts and ends with colonialism and exploitation. We need to use all the technology tools available to facilitate and enhance the market, ensuring things like traceability and transparency.” For example, technology can help with dead stock fabric categorisation which can then be used as a database for fashion designers looking for reusable materials. “Environmentally and economically, everything as we know it is over. There will never be a moment like this in history again, so it’s extremely important we all reflect on that,” states Ó Dálaigh. But turns out that charity shopping is not a new concept.
When Traid was founded at the end of ‘90s, there was a new movement that saw charity retail be brought into the mainstream for young people, with less rules and more creative freedom. “Back then, second-hand shopping was all about fashion because little was known about the environmental impact and inhumane conditions of clothing production,” Chenoweth reflects on her beginnings in the industry. However, the buzz would soon become overshadowed. “We thought charity retail would be the start of a revolution. But it was pushed aside by another one, the fast fashion revolution,” states Hemingway who also found himself among charity retail pioneers.
Today, we see fast fashion companies introducing a myriad of seemingly positive initiatives like recycling schemes or second-hand shopping corners in their stores to come across as environmentally conscious to the changing mindset of consumers. In reality, it all simply boils down to them being scared of the growing trend of shopping second-hand without changing their unethical operations. “When you’re buying second-hand through these avenues, you’re just feeding the monster. That money goes back into fast fashion and perpetuating our trajectory to a place where we don’t want to end up,” declares Chenoweth.
Advanced marketing is another reason why overconsumption is so prevalent. Ó Dálaigh believes that, unfortunately, technology plays a massive part in this psychological manipulation. “For example, Shein has some of the most sophisticated retail technology that has ever been built. They have an artificial intelligence which is scanning social media, identifying trends, manufacturing garments, testing them online and sending them to the warehouse production, all based on mere imagery. There’s no human involved in the process,” he says. Overproduction has become one of the principal issues charity shops are facing. On the one hand, they have the opportunity to eliminate the amount of clothing that ends up in a landfill. On the other hand, it means overlooking the unsustainable practices of companies that are responsible for the crisis in the first place. It all comes down to the matter of values and principles because charity shops cannot be treated as a quick fix to this problem.
“People are not hearing what we’re talking about, we’re talking to ourselves. We’re in a bubble,” Hemingway pointed to the absence of educational conversations happening outside the insider circles. This sentiment is echoed by Srijani Chanda and Avni Jain, Master of Business Administration (MBA) students at LCF who attended the panel discussion. They believe that events like this are brilliant for not only gaining more knowledge about sustainability, but also spreading the message further. “LCF students are in a position where they have many resources and information easily available, so they should make good use of it,” believes Srijani. With sustainability being a common topic on their course, Srijani and Avni find it inspiring to hear from people who are actively taking steps to bring about change. “The new generation of fashion designers need to incorporate sustainable innovations in their practice, instead of being taught about the previous retail system. Fashion designers will always be needed because we need as many creative minds thinking and working towards sustainability as possible,” Avni is hopeful about the future fashion creatives.
“There’s nothing wrong with wanting something as long as it doesn't harm the planet,” Hemingway adeptly sums up the panel discussion. With charity shops becoming an increasingly serious player in the fashion ecosystem, we find ourselves at the brink of another revolution yet again. This time around though the issue that cannot be ignored any longer. But despite everything, Ó Dálaigh remains hopeful. “The intersectional piece around fashion is a challenge and we have to change everything,” he says. “But that’s what also makes it really exciting. Let’s change everything.”
Written by LCF Newsroom Content Creator, Una Lote Andzane - BA (Hons) Fashion Journalism and Content Creation
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