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To Buy or Not to Buy – the Concept of Circular Fashion

Over the recent years, the detrimental effect on the environment exerted by the fashion industry, overproduction of clothes, and, consequently, consumerism, has been commonly addressed in the media.

For this reason, a community that is making new sustainable purchases on an ongoing basis without potentially threatening the environment deals with no guilt. It is even considered a manifesto of some sort or, in some cases, a sacrifice. What is this about? I am referring to a quite novel concept called circular fashion.

Almost a perfect solution

Although theoretically this idea seems the perfect solution to the problem of protecting our planet against dire effects of overproduction in the fashion industry, one should bear in mind that this concept is not free from any shortcomings.

“How come?” you might ask. Even Stella McCartney is promoting circular fashion economy as a new business plan. It is worth to note that she was one of the first high fashion designers to have developed interest in the concept of sustainable fashion and environmental protection.

And that is true: indeed, she is a pioneer and an activist. Her approach to fashion with an emphasis on its restorative and regenerative potential is undoubtedly beautiful and much needed.

However, one should remember that most brands promote a similar concept solely due to prospective profits and a desire to exhibit a trendy image, and not because they care so much for the common good of our planet.

Pre-owned clothing – it is easier than you think

In many countries, brands such as Zalando or H&M are already promoting the idea of the so-called “pre-owned clothes”. It means that one can easily buy pre-owned garments or effortlessly sell those he or she no longer desires to wear.

I have attained an excellent knowledge of the policy applied by Zalando, since in Poland (where I come from) their pre-owned clothing department has become highly popular. I, too, have fallen for this fad.

But let’s get back to the beginning. Over the years, I have gathered bags, literally huge bags of clothes I was no longer wearing at that time. Nonetheless, I couldn’t force myself to get rid of it all. ‘Maybe one day I will put it on.

It would be a shame to just give another bag of clothes away like that when I could sell it all and make some money.’ However, I lacked the vast amount of patience needed to use apps such as Vinted or eBay. Would selling over 400 pieces of clothing even be simple and quick?

Then, Zalando came to my rescue, and within two months I managed to get rid of over 70% of my clothes – in a quick, simple and problem-free way. One photo, automated valuation using AI, approval, free shipping of many items (regardless of the season) available at any shipping point of choice. “That’s ingenious,” I thought.

Sell now and buy back, they say

OK, there is one ‘but’. Zalando doesn’t refund cash for these shipped items. It only provides a voucher that can be used at their online store for making another purchase. The one I got was worth over £2000. Oh, the thrill! It means that from now on, I can make more purchases absolutely guilt-free – and, what is more, I even SHOULD make more purchases!

What should I order, what do I need the most? Flop-flops, high heels, boots, dresses… The summer break and my brother’s wedding are just around the corner… A cashmere sweater – one I’ve always dreamed of. Add several ‘bargain price’ t-shirts and the fun is over.

Exciting as buying things ‘for free’ was (as in exchange for the voucher), after the huge three-week-long online shopping spree, I felt a void.

Yes, I did tell myself that the things I got could be returned within 100 days problem-free, and even sold again if need be. Nonetheless, I soon realised that it was not what I was looking for.

I have lured myself into some kind of a mental trap. I want to have fewer clothes, I want to make purchases that are well-thought out, and I expected the concept of pre-owned clothing to make it easier for me… It came out, however, as a valuable lesson.

Impulsive consumerism

As far as the idea of circular fashion itself is great, one should bear in mind that impulsive consumerism is one of the 21st-century addictions. My experience over the last several weeks showed me that I can still become a mindless consumer despite all the education and quite high self-awareness in this regard.

Sometimes a new item, something slightly different than an ordinary promotion, a form of an exchange, is just enough to create an illusion of a win, a bargain. It is a sort of modern interactive marketing.

There’s nothing wrong with buying, even more so with selling one’s used clothes.

It is not only giving a next ‘life’ to items of clothing, respect for one’s property, but sometimes even a really cool way to manage one’s expenses. However, this gives rise to many traps which one has to keep an eye on.

People are wired to want more and often seek shortcuts, telling themselves that they need more to live a better life. What is more, they find more and more new ‘bargains’. Particularly given that prices in the fashion market, and often times even promotions, are highly attractive.

They also become more and more open to the idea of wearing pre-owned clothes, as sustainability has become fashionable, simply put. There wouldn’t be anything wrong with it if not for the fact that for many it has also become an excuse for guilt-free buying.

Think twice as a customer, as a human

Fashion brands are perfectly aware of human psychological mechanisms and the great power impulses have. For this reason, it is worth to supervise one’s own choices. To keep eyes open on daily basis, without getting overly excited about the novelty within our reach.

I’d like to express my sincere appreciation for the concept of circular fashion. Particularly for Zalando for the brand’s highly intelligent combination of caring about the environment and a business strategy.

Torben Hansen, the VP Recommerce at Zalando, said that such a concept may revolutionise modern fashion in a positive sense, particularly in caring about the natural environment. However, this will happen on one condition: fashion brands will promote not only circular fashion, but primarily “smart” purchases.

The ones that are not impulsive, not made on the spur of the moment, but well thought-out and reasonable. This is a concept where ‘more’ means only ‘more’ and nothing else, let alone ‘better’.

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