Fast-Fashion Is Trying to Go Green — But Is It Working?

By: Anneken Tappe · September 28, 2023 · Reading Time: 2 minutes

Carbon Cuts

The apparel industry accounts for 10% of global carbon emissions. And, with its breakneck production rate, fast-fashion is a major contributor.

Consumers are aware of this — but so are companies. Fast-fashion powerhouses like Zara (IDEXY), Shein, and H&M (HNNMY) are championing resale platforms in a bid to make operations more sustainable Zara and Shein have both launched in-house resale platforms, while H&M partnered with consignment company thredUP (TDUP) to enable customers to buy its products secondhand. But a new study is casting doubts on the effectiveness of these initiatives.

Numbers Don’t Lie

Fast-fashion retailers generate 11.5 kilograms of carbon dioxide per item produced — and their resale programs only trim this by 0.7%, according to the study conducted by research companies Trove and Worldly. Meanwhile, brands like Patagonia, Tory Burch, and Ralph Lauren (RL) are able to reduce their CO2 footprints by around 15% using similar resale methods.

The disparity is being attributed in large part to the fast-fashion business model. With brands offering new clothes quickly at low prices, in exchange for lower quality of production and materials, the resellability of the items is lower.

Consumer’s Guide

The fast-fashion giants represent the tail-end of a resale trend spanning from clothing conglomerates like Gap (GPS) to home goods brands like The Container Store (TCS). Companies are embracing these initiatives not only to attract sustainability-minded customers and comply with the SEC’s recent climate guidelines, but also to limit emissions and cost of producing new items and open an additional revenue stream.

A lower cost for consumers, companies, and the climate? That’s a discount we can all get behind.

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