Updated Thursday,8June2023-00:04

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  • H&M now sells second-hand clothes (and other brands) in Barcelona
  • The inflation crisis pushes Spaniards to consume used clothes

The textile giants worldwide, trendsetters by definition, have chosen for years to let slip a fashion that is transversal to all sectors such as social and environmental commitment and now, given the figures of the billionaire business that could involve the recycling of clothes, it seems time to get involved in the change. Green is the new black. These are the words of the British house Barclays that includes in a report in which it throws data on the future of the fashion industry in the remainder of the decade. "The immense consumption of water and energy and the waste it generates have created a social and environmental awareness that cannot be ignored any longer. Fast fashion has exacerbated the problem and the decline in the lifespan of clothing is estimated to generate a loss of value of 500,000 million per year for the industry, along with the lack of recycling, "say its analysts.

It is estimated that the fashion sector will reach a valuation of 3.3 trillion dollars in the year 2030. This represents an annualized growth of 5% over the 1.9 billion in 2019 and second-hand sales will play a fundamental role in this improvement. The involvement in the causes that ESG encompasses also generates an incalculable reputational benefit in the face of the effervescence of the conscious consumer.

"Between 2000 and 2014 the production of clothing doubled" and this continues to increase taking into account that "the customer buys today 60% more than fifteen years ago, while the life of use of the garments is half" of what it was then, says Barclays. At the beginning of the century those who bought a T-shirt came to use it in their daily life about 200 times. In 2015, the latest data available, that average is over 160 and falling. Meanwhile, sales have doubled, from 50 billion units to nearly 000,100.

But the fashion sector is aware that the environmental impact it generates is unsustainable. It is considered the second most polluting behind the industry. And the figures prove it. The manufacture of a cotton T-shirt consumes 2,700 liters of water, which a person would drink in two and a half years. Its water expenditure represents 10% of the entire industry worldwide. And, logically, reducing their water or electricity needs would also benefit them. It is estimated in a saving of about 110,000 million dollars that is penalizing its margins by about 3 percentage points.

But, regardless of what the industry decides, we must consider some hypocrisy in the discourse of consumers who claim to be very aware of the environmental impact produced by the brands where they buy, but the reality is that the price of garments continues to prevail "as a driver of growth for the industry". And for example... A button: while in France 44% admit to being willing to resell those garments that they no longer use, in Spain this percentage falls by half (22%), in the United States it is 24% and in China 28%.

In the United States alone, 36,000 garments are thrown away each year, of which 95% could be reused. Chile's Atacama Desert has the dubious honor of being recognized globally as the dumping ground of fashion, with millions of tons per year being dumped there.

Buy, sell and don't throw away. Despite all this, in 20 years the paradigm shift will be evident. If second-hand sales represented 4% of the total sector in 2010, by 2030 they are expected to reach 18% (in 2020 this percentage was half). In that photo taken seven years ahead also appear new players such as Amazon, which alone will account for 5% of sales. Brands considered fast consumption, such as Zara and H&M will timidly increase their market share, from 8% to 9% at the end of the current decade. And a new format will appear such as clothing rental, still very minority.

And if there is a key player in this change of consciousness, that is luxury. By definition their garments, much more expensive, have an intangible that only these houses have and is the exquisite valuation that is made of their brand. Long live luxury bags. To buy the iconic Birkin model, from Hermès, there is a waiting list of years. It doesn't even matter what price to pay for it. And its sale in the second-hand market is assured, compared to fashion models prêt à porter, massive and cheaper. According to Bain data, revenues generated by the luxury textile market reached $20 billion in 000 and, three years later, had grown 2017 percent to $40 billion. It is not trivial either that firms such as Kering, the owner of Gucci, entered the capital of Vestiare two years ago, one of the largest second-hand platforms for luxury firms.

Down to the mob, there are also pure second-hand players who are eating the piece of cake that the big sellers let slip. Thredup, for example, jumped to Wall Street in 2021 with a valuation of $1.300 billion. It loses, on the other hand, 83% since its IPO.

Poshmark, Depop, Vinted, and TheRealReal are other examples. In Spain Vinted is the best known. The last public valuation of 2021 reached 3,500 million. In the Anglo-Saxon world, the Depop clothing supermarket stands out. According to Bloomberg calculations, only Zara's second-hand products generated sales of about 58 million on this platform in 2021. And that's a business that now, traditional brands could try to recover for themselves.

In November Inditex launched 'Zara Pre-Owned' in the UK that allows customers to sell their already used garments through its digital platforms and is also in physical stores. At the moment, it does not represent a line of business for the company.

On the other hand, the group has a clothing collection program that is intended for 90 social organizations. In 2022, 17,015 tons of garments were recovered, of which 63% could have a second life. In the case of H & M this figure reached 14,768 tons last year (it is the equivalent of about 74 million shirts), a very relevant fact considering that its sales were 41% lower -19,100 million compared to the 32,569 of the national fashion giant.

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