Easy to be sustainable with other people’s wallets

Three clues make proof: studies by Bain, ThredUp and Vinted confirm that, at several levels of consumption, there is a clear gap between attitude and behaviour when a consumer has to choose whether or not to buy an item of clothing, a shoe, a bag or who knows what else. In the end, it is not whether to be sustainable that is the question that still routs the field but, “How much does it cost?”

We are all willing to be more sustainability-conscious as long as doing so does not affect our wallets. It may not be an exquisite phrase and sounds rather venal, but it is hard to refute. Especially in the world of fashion. And if three clues make proof, studies by BainThredUp and Vinted confirm the thesis.

Sustainable with other people’s wallets

The report How Brands Can Embrace the Sustainable Fashion Opportunity, published by Bain & Company and WWF Italy, tells us that only 15% of consumers actually prioritise sustainability when shopping for fashion. The gap between attitude and behaviour is even wider and more evident if we think of all the younger generations who declare themselves to be environmentally conscious but then, in fact, contribute with their purchases to the rapid rise of Shein, Temu and other fast and ultra-fast fashion brands.

If we shift our attention to the resale sector, we see the same thing happening. It is a market developing not so much because of increased environmental awareness but because of rising inflation. The second-hand offers a saving for the buyer and a gain for the seller. And it equally satisfies the consumer’s compulsive shopping urge.

177 billion dollars

The pre-loved, i.e. guaranteed used sector, reached $177 billion in global sales last year, according to the Resale Report 2023 published by ThredUp. This equates to a 28 per cent growth over 2021. The study is based on research and data from GlobalData, a retail analysis company, and predicts that this sector will double to $351 billion by 2027. There is no denying that there is an increased awareness of sustainability, which is likely to grow as the years go by.

Still, the study reveals that by 2022 the market will have expanded mainly due to rising inflation. Even for fashion and luxury brands, the paradigm is not changing. They are more conscious of their environmental impact but are even more careful about their revenue. The resale market makes it possible to achieve both goals at the same time, which is why many brands are beginning to preside over it.

The doubts are many

Whether the rise of second-hand and other ‘circular’ business models will also produce a reduction in the number of new items produced or consumer demand for new goods is still an open question. “In 2022, the trend is being driven largely by the pandemic economic squeeze, with more people looking to sell their luxury goods for cash and luxury buyers tightening their belts,” explains Jacob Cooke, co-founder and CEO of WPIC Marketing + Technologies.

The gap between attitude and behaviour

A study by Vaayu for Vinted, one of the largest resale sites, confirmed the abovementioned gap between attitude and behaviour. 47% of the 350,000 Vinted users involved in the survey said they buy on the platform because it offers cheaper items than new ones. To this 47% add another 7% who use Vinted because the products offered ‘are cheap and there is no financial risk’. This means that more than half of the users buy second-hand products not for sustainability reasons but for wallet reasons. By contrast, only 20% (one in five) said they were motivated by environmental interests.

That the wallet reigns supreme is also evidenced by the 42% who stated that they prefer to buy an item with a later resale value. And for 82% of Gen Z, this is a decisive variable in their purchase choice. In other words, they do not buy a garment because it is sustainable but because of its value on resale sites. Thus, the initial outlay is reduced by the value the consumer collects by reselling the same item. This reasoning induces more purchases, while sustainable practices preach the exact opposite.

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