Summer Botwe at the PrettyLittleThing Marketplace launch
PrettyLittleThing Marketplace launch in London in September 2022. Indiyah Polack features on the banner behind. Photo by James Veysey/PrettyLittleThing/Shutterstock
“RE-SELL. RE-WEAR. RE-CYCLE,” Love Island’s Indiyah Polack wrote underneath her announcement to become the first ever ambassador for PrettyLittleThing’s (PLT) Marketplace platform.
Polack, fresh off a relatively successful season of the ITV dating show where second-hand clothing was strongly promoted, said the role was a “dream come true” for her. But there is a growing pushback against these fast fashion platforms and their “greenwashing” attempts to promote a more eco-friendly demeanour.
PLT launched its Marketplace app in late August 2022, allowing users to buy and sell clothes they no longer wear. It includes collections, curated by staff and ambassadors, of pre-loved and second-hand pieces from both PLT and other fashion labels too.
It is not the only fast fashion brand to have invested in resale platforms. Shein has Shein Exchange, Steve Madden has SM Rebooted, and Zara has Zara Pre-Owned. All are pegged as peer-to-peer resale platforms, and seem to be a way for these brands to tap into the circular economy.
One day they promote purchases of throwaway clothes, the next they encourage customers to be “mindful” and “sustainable” by reselling them to each other while, more often than not, the company takes a cut.
“I think this is one of the most blatant examples of greenwashing we have today. Brands that are known for encouraging people to over-consume are now providing a get-out-of-jail-free card for all those massive hauls they encourage shoppers to make,” Lakyn Charlton, a sustainable fashion expert and personal stylist, told the Big Issue.
Greenwashing, where businesses ride the wave of interest in eco-conscious sustainability to cover up their own climate-damaging practices, is a growing accusation in the fashion world. And consumers are pushing back.
“It is essentially lying about (or exaggerating) the measures your company is taking to be sustainable. Some of it is downright silly. I’ve seen Reformation brag about the lightbulbs in their stores, but the worst of it preys on the average person’s lack of awareness of sustainability. They don’t expect people to look into it, and, to be honest, most consumers don’t,” Charlton said.
She’s not alone in her frustration. Brett Staniland, another Love Island alum who appeared on an earlier season of the show than Polack, spoke out against the PLT’s resale platform on Twitter, calling it a “load of boll*cks”.
He wrote: “Their entire business model is built on the premise that their clothes have a shelf-life shorter than milk. It is trend-led & ultra fast. Meaning once you’ve worn it, it’s old. It’s not made to withstand wears and washes (mostly made from plastic) hence reselling it like it has longevity on either of these fronts is redundant.”
One person tweeted: “Shein having a resale programme is a damn joke, don’t nobody want those polyester threads that look washed out after the first and only wash. Sorry but is this a piss take? The over consumption alone negates the programme girl I can’t.”
None of the brands immediately responded to the Big Issue’s request for comment.
Charlton is sceptical of the reasons behind these resale platforms: “Never mind the fact that everything these brands do (and any business, really) is for profit, it is all a plot to get people to buy more.”
Aja Barber, a sustainable fashion consultant and author of Consumed, a book about climate change and consumerism, is similarly sceptical of the actual impact of these resale platforms.
“Brands that are serious about sustainability will scale back their production,” Barber told the Big Issue.
Barber said that the “majority” of fast fashion brands are not truly committed to sustainability, but rather want to put money into looking like “they’re doing the right thing instead of simply transforming their business model and the way in which they produce clothing”.
Charlton agreed: “There’s no profit in caring for the planet.”
Barber and Charlton said that our culture of over-consumption and the proliferation of fast fashion go hand-in-hand.
Barber added that fast fashion brands need to “focus on scaling back their production and creating better long-lasting products”, which would reduce the amount of waste being produced by the industry.
“Most big high street brands over-produce clothing and a lot ends up as waste,” Barber added. Like Love Islander Staniland, she suggested that many of the products are not designed to be long-lasting due to the fickle nature of trends and fashion seasons.
Staniland tweeted last year after an investigation into Shein’s labour practices and environmental impact was released by Channel 4: “Reminder: SHEIN DON’T make clothes that are resell-able. They DO exploit their workers. They DO exploit the planet. Pay attention. They’re sweeping exploitation under the rug & hopping on the green glow of resale.”
“A lot of the brands who roll out the plush green carpet for themselves are some of the biggest polluters in this conversation and it will take a lot more than a resale platform to fix the mess they’ve created,” Barber said.
“When we address the waste only then will resale not be a greenwashing move,” she continued.
Charlton agreed: “We’re past the point of trusting big brands to hold themselves accountable. We need legislation and we need third party certifications, regular auditing, and actual consequences for bad actors.”
Barber said that fast fashion brands need to “create systems that put less pressure on the consumer to buy the latest trends every week” because the planet is “groaning under the weight” of the current fast fashion model.
But, consumers are not powerless: “Be discerning about the brands you choose to support, and be loud about what kind of practices you refuse to reward with your hard earned money.”
“It costs nothing to choose better, buy less, and make it last,” Charlton added.