It’s not every day that the fashion industry finds a trend that’s potentially saleable, scalable and sustainable, that checks all the earth-loving boxes consumers are craving, and upholds the tender images that luxury fashion houses guard assiduously. While the list of luxury brands like embracing sustainability continues to grow, there are still many notable holdouts.
The RealReal, which has been one of the leading proponents of fashion’s circular economy, has made hay of recycling luxury ready-to-wear and handbags. Now, the resale platform is set to spin thread into currency and au courant fashion by taking on the scrap heap of luxe fibers and fabrics and turning them into high-end one-off creations.
“The natural next evolution for us is to address the high volume of goods that can’t live on in their current state and are at high risk of being part of the garbage truck’s worth of textiles that are [sent to] landfills or burned every second,” said Allison Sommer, senior director of strategic partnerships at The RealReal. “For the past decade, we’ve championed the circular economy, engaging more than 21 million members in creating a more sustainable future.”
Director of sustainability James Rogers said The RealReal is building a library of scraps with any leftovers from the new collections, which it plans to make available to other designers, in essence showing the way to better practices. He added that the library will be a repository of sorts.
The RealReal on April 1 will launch ReCollection 01, followed by ReCollection 02, which will bow during Earth Month. The San Francisco-based platform is partnering with eight brands, including Balenciaga, Dries van Noten, Stella McCartney, A-COLD-WALL, Jacquemus. Zero + Maria Cornejo, and Ulla Johnson.
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Upcycling was a rising runway trend during the most recent New York Fashion Week when The RealReal collaborated with Collina Strada and Imitation of Christ of Christ, while Gabriella Hearst’s first collection for Chloe in Paris featured her earth-friendly ethos.
“As a designer, I think it’s the biggest compliment for your designs to have an afterlife,” said Stella McCartney. “To me, that’s luxury, and something I take into consideration from the beginning of the process.
“The timelessness of the design, how it’s made, what materials are used to produce it – it’s all part of our ethos at Stella McCartney,” the designer added. “We invest a lot to make sure that our products are made to last, rather than end up in a landfill. To me, a luxury product is something that can be handed down to family or friends.
“We’ve seen many designers come out of this moment of pause and begin to upcycle old fabrics, to repurpose and redesign and give things a second life,” McCartney continued. “This is one way the industry can tackle its enormous waste problem. We see the world crying out for change with the younger generation standing up. My dream is that we come together as an industry to achieve sustainable change to help build a better future.”
Sommers said ReCollection is possible because it’s built on luxury pieces. The quality and craftsmanship behind them means they can have many new lives. In addition, ReCollection creates an opportunity for brands to engage with resale in a new way and be a part of contributing to a more circular future. Brands are an important part of driving conversation about more conscious consumption that helps to drive resale awareness and engagement, The RealReal executive said.
What about simply reselling products on consignment, as The RealReal now does? Luxury resale still has a long runway as consumers continue to prune their wardrobes, ridding their closets of unwanted items from Chanel suits to Hermes Birkin and Kelley handbags, The RealReal’s latest approach, while not expected to be a large part of the business, is also symbolic for its ability to transform unusable materials into luxury garments, with the attendant bragging rights and high prices that come with buying an original one-off product.
The luxury resale market is expected to reach $64 billion by 2025. According to a report by ThredUp, ESG assets – managing money according to environmental, social and governance factors that are both profitable and considered good for society – will advance from 11% in 2012 to 50% in 2025.
The RealReal isn’t the first to upcycle in the fashion industry. Of course, brands have worked with found objects, detritus and leftover patches of fabric and leather for decades. Zero Waste Daniel, a.k.a. Daniel Silverstein, has built a brand with a large loyal following by picking up tasty morsels of fabric, sequins and piping, which he masterfully snips, snaps and sews into tops with 3D flowers gracefully bobbing on one shoulder, and track pants embellished with satin rectangular and triangular shapes.
Recollection has several standards, including: No virgin fabrications; zero waste creation, and fair wage, made in America production.
The first installment of ReCollection brings together the diverse group of luxury brands at different stages in their sustainability journeys to collectively promote the importance of creating an afterlife for clothing.
About 50 pieces created from items donated by the eight brand partners will be upcycled into new, one-of-a-kind pieces by Atelier & Repairs. ReCollecrion 02 will consist of upcycle loungewear and hair accessories made from damaged scarves and ties.