What if after you’d worn a garment for a few years, you could simply send it back to the brand you bought it from in exchange for cash or store credit? There’d be no need to find a second-hand marketplace that would accept your items or worry about donations ending up in a landfill.

Green-minded fashion brands are embracing resale. Soon, buyback programs might be as common a customer-service offering as product warranties and repairs.

Last fall, Balenciaga announced that it would be partnering with tech platform Reflaunt to enter the second-hand market for the first time. The French luxury-fashion house’s resell program—now available in select countries globally, including the United States, France and Singapore—enables clients to find buyers for used items in very good condition. There’s a pickup service, the platform handles photography, pricing and shipping and sellers can opt for payment via bank transfer or brand voucher.

This is Balenciaga’s first foray into the resale sector, but other fashion labels like Mara Hoffman, Lululemon and COS have also debuted buyback and resale programs in the U.S. and elsewhere. Even fast-fashion behemoths Shein and PrettyLittleThing have been dipping their toes into resale.

In Canada, outdoor brands Arc’teryx and The North Face have long offered circularity initiatives online and in-store, and independent, sustainably minded clothing labels like Birds of North America and Hoi Bo have launched similar resale programs in recent years. H&M Canada launched a site in 2021 through which customers can sell and shop for second-hand items from any brand, and last year, Toronto-based brands Alder Apparel and Nobis both debuted resale programs for customers.

The business of second-hand

Recommerce is big business. According to consignment retailer ThredUp’s latest Resale Report, consumers bought almost one billion used garments instead of new ones in 2021, and the market for second-hand apparel is expected to grow three times faster than the global apparel market overall. Consumers are interested in shopping second-hand for both environmental and money-saving reasons. The same ThredUp report says that 45 percent of gen-Zers and millennials say they’re more likely to shop with a brand that offers second-hand clothing alongside new clothing.

For sustainably minded brands, resale is an important way to embrace the circular economy. “From the jump, I think having things that last and were made with purpose has kind of been in our brand DNA,” says Lauren Bigelow, Worn Wear marketing manager at Patagonia. “In 2013, we realized that there was an opportunity for us to invest in an infrastructure that allows us to resell our durable goods.” In addition to letting consumers trade in used apparel and gear, the company’s Worn Wear program—currently only available in the U.S.—offers repair services and how-to-repair guides and acts as the company’s outlet for upcycled and imperfect products. It’s less about profits and more of an after-sales service. “There are a lot of operational costs with starting a resale business,” says Bigelow. “Everything people trade in gets inspected for condition grading, then it gets cleaned and then it gets relisted. It’s almost another business.”

A philosophical approach to resale

For brands like Vancouver-based Arc’teryx, circular initiatives like its ReBird program—which includes an after-sales care-and-repair component, a resale program that’s recently become available in Canada and upcycling initiatives—are a way to provide repairs to a certain standard and, in the case of resale, ensure authenticity. “We’re offering a solution whereby you’re buying something that’s been meticulously cared for and repaired and cleaned [that] you might not necessarily get in a marketplace,” says Dominique Showers, VP of ReBird at Arc’teryx.

Recommerce programs can be time-consuming and costly to organize, especially for independent brands. “Logistically, it’s a lot for us to manage on top of everything else,” says Sarra Tang, designer at and founder of Hoi Bo. The Toronto-based fashion label launched an online resale pop-up, Life/ /Life, early in the pandemic; now, the popular program runs when Tang receives enough pieces to post a batch of items online. “[Each edition] typically only stays up for about a week before the pieces are all sold out,” she says.

“From the inception of the brand, I always wanted to create those pieces that last and that you love and that age really beautifully,” adds Tang. “Life/ /Life just seemed to be a natural extension [that would] support and even validate that approach and why we do what we do.”

Despite the extensive work involved in collecting, repairing and posting products, Tang says she wants to keep the resale platform going. “I just want things to stay in use and be [valued for] their potential…and if there’s something that my team and I can do to help that along, then that’s amazing.”

Similarly, designer Hayley Gibson says that her ReNesting program, which she launched in March 2021 as part of her brand, Birds of North America, has been “a beautiful way to connect” with customers and expand the lifespan of their garments. “We’ve always made it a priority to make good-quality long-lasting clothing in Canada, and seeing pieces come back that are more than 10 years old and still have years of wear and enjoyment left in them has been very affirming of our work.”

Resale and buyback initiatives are not by any means a panacea for fashion’s overconsumption woes, but they ultimately offer a valuable way to alter our shopping patterns and recognize the benefits of investing in garments that are made to last. “We may be very used to a world of fast and easy and cheap, and this is not that,” says Bigelow. “It’s kind of like investing in a different way of being and existing on this planet.” 

Read more:
Earth Month
The Effects of Secondhand Clothing
Where to Buy Secondhand Bags (Without Getting Scammed)