Imagine you buy a pair of boots on Steve Madden’s website, but they don’t quite fit. So, you toss them in the closet and forget about them. After the return date passes, you’re stuck having to throw them out or sell them to your local vintage shop or an online marketplace where hagglers attempt to get them for half of what you paid.

That used to be true, but now you can sell them for what they’re worth directly on the Steve Madden website under its newly-created Re-Booted section. The section functions as a direct peer-to-peer re-commerce site for the brand, reselling pre-owned apparel, shoes and accessories.

“Customers can quickly list their ‘pre-loved’ items directly from their purchase history,” explains Adam Siegel, the CEO of Recurate, which helped the apparel brand create the new resale section of its website. 

Recurate manages the shipment from seller to buyer, compensating the seller in store credit or cash after the product is delivered. 

“Previously, brands had no control over the experience or revenue from their products circulating online,” Siegel said. “Now, we can offer a turnkey integration that launches a resale program in a matter of weeks.”

The company is not alone in working to help reduce unnecessary waste in the fashion world. The circular economy is making its way to the fashion space in a big way, especially as DTC and hybrid shopping models have exploded in popularity since the pandemic hit. This new focus on sustainability is long overdue: more than 13 million tons of clothing trash is produced a year. It’s one of the main causes of ocean pollution.

Consumers are demanding change

The good news for brands looking to cut down on waste is that their customers want to be a part of the solution. According to a retail report from IBM released in January over 62% of customers are willing to change their buying habits to reduce environmental waste (up from 57% in 2020). Around 44% of consumers are choosing to buy products based on a company’s sustainability values, as many as  70% of customers are willing to pay more for ethically made and shipped products.

Mark Mathews, the vice president of research development at the National Retail Federation, which partnered with IBM on the report, sees all this as a fundamental shift in consumer behavior.

“Over the past year, sustainability became increasingly important to consumers, though there's still a gap between their intentions and actions, due to lack of information in the buying process,” he said.

That’s where companies like Recurate come in to make it easier for brands to give their customers what they want. Recurate works with over 20 brands to launch resale channels, including Rachel Comey, Mara Hoffman, Ministry of Supply and Amour Vert, creating a dedicated resale marketplace that “keeps their styles in circulation and out of the landfill,” according to Karin Dillie, Recurate’s vice president of partnerships. 

“The resale market is growing 11 times faster than traditional retail, because customers are demanding more sustainable and affordable ways of shopping.”

“The resale market is growing 11 times faster than traditional retail, because customers are demanding more sustainable and affordable ways of shopping,” said Dillie.

Of course, anyone can sell their goods on secondhand marketplaces like Depop, ThredUP, Poshmark, and The RealReal. What makes something like Recurate attractive to fashion brands, though, is the ability to build brand loyalty by keeping customers on their own websites, while also improving sustainability.  

“As a brand, we are committed to promoting the longevity of our garments,” said Mara Hoffman, the founder and creative director of ready-to-wear brand, Mara Hoffman. 

“We’re able to create a dedicated space on our own platform for our customers to buy and sell pre-owned Mara Hoffman garments, taking us a step closer to our overarching sustainability goals.”

Resale isn’t the only way to reuse

In addition to getting into the resale game, fashion and beauty brands are finding other ways to step up and become greener. Circular packaging is catching on, too. 

Companies like Returnity create fabric packaging for brands to reuse. It’s like a reusable shopping bag that arrives in your mailbox. Then you leave the bag out for a driver to pick up and bring back to process for the next delivery. Each bag is cleaned, and reused for other customers, and remains in circulation until it shows severe wear and tear.

“We’ve been using cardboard forever, its dumb and cheap. It's good until it's not. It's going to take some time for the system to evolve.”

The company counts Estee Lauder and Rent The Runway among its biggest clients, as the model works best for monthly subscription or refill programs and for luxury product rental. 

“Reusables only make sense if they’re returned, and the consumer reuses them,” Returnity CEO Mike Newman told us. “It's critical for retailers to understand their systems and supply chains.”

It can be harder for bigger companies to adjust to the new demand for reusable packaging since they are competing against newer, more nimble brands that are embracing circularity from the start, he said.

But whether companies want to change or not, they may be forced to soon. Product responsibility laws being passed in states like Maine and Oregon are slapping brands that aren’t moving towards more responsible packaging with penalties. Though they are catching on, these laws have yet to become widespread. 

“It’s going to take years, it's complicated,” said Newman. “We’ve been using cardboard forever, its dumb and cheap. It's good until it's not. It's going to take some time for the system to evolve.”

Whatever ultimately prompts necessary changes, the circular economy is likely to continue growing. 

“We know that our planet is changing, we know we need to be very thoughtful about the kinds of investments we need to make—and make sure we have a safe and healthy planet not just for today, but for generations to come,” National Retail Federation President and CEO Matt Shay said.

“I think we’ve seen retail companies step up,” he said. “There are a lot of initiatives underway and we’re confident that retail is going to continue to step up and meet the biggest challenges of today.”

Ad placeholder