Our shopping addiction to apps like Depop and Vinted is no better than buying fast fashion

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It might feel like a sustainable choice, but it won’t curb the tonnes we’re sending to landfill

September 25, 2023 6:00 am

Is there anything more capitalist than trying to save the planet from consumerism through more consumerism?

The resale market is booming, with more platforms than ever before and the worldwide market for secondhand goods predicted to reach $350 billion by 2027. There’s more choice than ever, with eBay, Vinted, Depop, Vestiaire, and the latest “Finds” – a combination of TikTok and Depop.

But none of this matters when the fast fashion market, and the amount of textile waste we send to landfill, is also still growing year on year.

The way we’re using resale has changed. It used to be a place to shop vintage clothes, and preloved designer brands you wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford. Or maybe find a sell-out “bloggers favourite” that everyone bought from a popular H&M collaboration listed for twice the retail.

Now, it’s something different. It’s the mainstream. It’s made shopping for already impossibly cheap throwaway fashion even more affordable – and it acts like it’s a green alternative. But if you didn’t care about that £20 dress from Pretty Little Thing that you shoved online after one wear, how much is the buyer who got it for a fiver on Vinted going to care about it? It might feel like a sustainable choice, but an item getting two uses in its entire lifetime isn’t going to curb the impact of fast fashion and the tonnes we’re sending to landfill.

The real shift that needs to happen is cultural, with shoppers buying less. With us re-wearing the clothes we already have, taking care of them and realising we don’t need a new fit for every night out – even if it is bought from a recommerce app. The amount of fast fashion labels found on these sites for rock bottom prices means that users can now consume twice the amount that they would be able to afford if shopping them new. And they are.

I type “Shein” into Vinted. There are 15.4 million items for sale from the brand. There are dresses, jeans, shirts, and bralettes all for just £1 each. There are 13.6 million pieces from Primark, and searching Pretty Little Thing brings me 3.2 million results. These aren’t clothes designed to last. They’re pieces only designed to physically last as long as they’re in style, which is a period of time forever shrinking. Their lifespan is being increased, but only for a very short cycle.

If there are more than 15 million pieces of apparel from Shein up today, how many will be uploaded tomorrow? How many by next weekend? The fast fashion market is fuelling the resale market, by providing unwanted clothes for their sites. It seems impossible that we’ll be able to consume them as quickly as they’re being churned out. The more fast fashion is produced, the more that’s uploaded for budget resale apps like Vinted to profit from. When I upload an item, I’m encouraged to list it for lower, so it sells faster. It doesn’t feel very “slow fashion”.

Looking on TikTok, there are pages of videos of girls opening their “Vinted hauls”. My screen is a sea of multi-coloured plastic postage bags from all the different sellers they’ve bought from, shipped from all across the country. They open their 20-plus packages, and show the camera the £2 Primark top they bought, to pair with a £2 skirt. I watch one girl open four pairs of near-identical denim shorts for one holiday, all from different sellers and packaged individually in new plastic bags. Would she have bought so many from the high street? Probably not. But for these prices, why not get four instead of one? Now, she can afford to.

Boasting about the hoards of clothes you’ve purchased resale, in terms of sustainability, is akin to boasting about how much more plastic waste you’re putting out in the recycling every week. You’re not saving the planet by doubling the amount of plastic waste you’re recycling, when you’re also doubling the amount you’re buying.

Rhiannon Picton-James is a freelance journalist

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