While fast fashion has been on the rise for years, in the last decade we've seen the growth of a movement calling the fashion industry's throwaway culture into question. As sustainability becomes a focus, consumers are increasingly expecting retailers to both clean up and green up their act.

Simultaneously, social media – in particular Instagram – has transformed the fashion industry, giving consumers and retailers around the world the ability to connect over clothing, design and shopping.

Because Instagram allows every man, woman and dog (quite literally) to grow an audience, it also creates ready-made clienteles. An increasing number of Instagram users have realised they can influence their followers’ buying decisions and are using the platform to curate and sell second-hand fashion pieces. Similarly, up-and-coming fashion entrepreneurs are opting to launch their businesses with an Instagram-first strategy.

The global online market for pre-owned high fashion is growing: In 2018, 64 per cent of women bought or sold second-hand goods in a market worth US$24 billion (roughly AUD$33 billion), according to a 2019 report by Thredup, one of the world’s largest online marketplaces to buy and sell women’s and children’s second-hand clothes. That market is predicted to rise to US$51 billion – about AUD$70 billion – by 2023.

“There has been such a surge of demand for vintage resellers that, in the near future, they might give the high street heavy-hitters a run for their money,” Australian stylist Xanthe Wetzler recently told Broadsheet.

Vestiaire Collective

Vestiaire Collective launched in 2009 from co-founder Fanny Moizant’s Paris apartment. It enables anyone to buy and sell luxury, pre-owned fashion to a global audience. More than 3000 new items are added daily.

“I spotted that some fashion bloggers were starting to resell on their blogs,” Moizant tells Broadsheet. “On the other side, if you had amazing pieces that you no longer wore it was difficult to sell these items. You could go to resale stores in Paris, but they would have a small reach. The other option was eBay, but this was lacking trust and also inspiration.”

The platform is now used in 48 countries, features 600,000 items at any one time, and has an editorial arm that features style personalities including Margaret Zhang and Amber Le Bon. It also recently announced it had dropped its prices due to demand, reducing the commission it receives for each sale.

Vestiaire Collective has invested heavily in its verification process, unlike some other peer-to-peer platforms. The quality-control team ensures an item’s condition is accurately represented, while the authentication team – comprising 16 authenticators hired from auction or luxury-fashion houses – ensures no counterfeit items are sold.

Vestiaire trains its authenticators for at least six months at an in-house academy before they commence independent work. Additionally, each authenticator is a specialist in their own category. For example, one authenticator might work solely with shoes, while another works only across bags. “It has been a pillar of the brand since day one,” says Moizant.

Na Nin and Shrimpton Couture

An increasing number of established international vintage sellers and buyers are turning to Instagram to expand their market. We like the Insta-shops belonging to American seller Na Nin Vintage (which first launched as an online store in 2009, before introducing Instagram sales in 2016) and Shrimpton Couture (which launched online in 2006, introducing Instagram later, and has a celebrity following that includes Alexa Chung, Poppy Delevingne and Heidi Middleton).

Open Shop, Mōri Market and The Drobe

The Australian online resale market is still in its infancy, but there are several businesses worth watching.

Melbourne-based creatives and best friends Seala Lokollo Evans and Wave Lachish are budding vintage resellers. Lachish runs luxury reseller Open Shop, while also working with Lokollo Evans on Mōri Market, which ships recycled one-off pieces worldwide. Both accounts launched within months of each other late last year.

“We source as we travel, wherever we go,” says Lokollo Evans. “We look for pieces that are unique.” She says customers favour high-quality materials, unique shapes and colours, and timeless basics such as cotton dresses, ’90s-style denim, suits and boots.

For Mōri Market, Lokollo Evans and Lachish style and shoot each product. Photos are then added to their Instagram stories, with all customer correspondence managed via direct messaging. Prices are based on how long it took to source the piece, shipment costs and quality.

Melbourne vintage reseller The Drobe takes a slightly different approach. It invites interested buyers to bid on items in the comments section of an Instagram post in increments of $5. The highest bidder wins and payment terms and processes take place in direct messages. The Drobe recently held its first Melbourne pop-up, and the queue to get in went out the door and around the corner, indicating the demand for quality, second-hand fashion from trusted sources.

Second-hand buying and selling has long been common in the fashion industry. In the social media age, it’s more accessible to more people and has become an integral pillar of the sustainable fashion movement.

“The consumer has shifted from an era of possession to an era of usage,” says Moizant. “People don’t want to own anymore, they want to play with an item and go onto the next one. To answer that, we need to find a way to recycle in a sustainable way.”

One way is by creating circular economy (as opposed to a linear economy), which reduces waste by getting the most out of the products we make and buy, and finding another use for the product’s materials at the end of its life. In fashion, that might take the form of recycling or upcycling a garment after maximum use has occurred – perhaps after servicing several wearers or owners.

Vestiaire Collective recently conducted a report into consumer habits and found that while Australia is a leading market globally for sustainable fashion, only 15 per cent of Australians interviewed were familiar with the term “circular fashion”. “It’s a term that we use often,” says Vestiaire Collective’s Candice Ho, “[but] regarding our understanding of circular fashion and economy, there is room to grow.”

Depop

The app Depop, founded by Simon Beckerman, is another one to watch in this space. Beckerman co-founded Italian culture magazine Pig and sunglasses label Retrosuperfuture. Depop was originally conceived as a network where Pig readers would be able to buy pieces featured in the magazine, but it has since grown into a global marketplace for creative influencers to buy and sell pre-owned items.

“I love what this says about the direction that our generation is headed in and also the positive impact that it will have on our planet,” says Xanthe Wetzler. “It cuts down on the mindless consuming and this whole burn-and-churn mentality that high street fashion has dictated to us over the last couple of decades.”