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Fast fashion is out of fashion: how clothes sharing platforms challenge throwaway culture

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Clothes sharing: a new sustainable way to experiment with fashion that does not contribute to fast fashion’s excess manufacturing.

Why is it that we all need to have our own personal wardrobe even though we end up using a small percentage of our clothes? Isn’t it much easier to farewell an item that has a chance of finding a new loving home instead of just taking up space on your shelf?

Clothes sharing and swapping, currently on the rise, provide a sustainable alternative to fast fashion and making it possible to have unlimited access to apparels, either for free or for a low monthly subscription fee. Clothes sharing is an exciting way to get your hands on new items of clothing while also reducing textile waste and pollution. This method has the power to encourage people across the world to stop buying new clothes and reduce their contribution to excess fashion manufacture. Using swapping platforms, you never get bored with your wardrobe, and you actively reduce your fashion consumption and footprint.

Swapping platforms challenge the concept of ownership over apparel, which has brought the fashion industry to its current dismal state; according to a World Resource Institute report, “the number of fashion seasons has increased from two a year to as many as 50 to 100 micro seasons”. In the EU alone, the average amount of clothing bought has increased by 40% in just a few decades. We are buying more than we need, and more than what Earth can provide.

Our constant “need” for new clothing is extremely detrimental to the environment. Redefining the common perception of ‘newness’ we have been conditioned to crave can help subscribers improve and refine their wardrobe. These apps and platforms allow costumers to pass on high-quality and under-loved garments and get others in return. That way, both wearers are happy, and the garment does not end up in landfill, where 85% of our clothes wind up.

There are all kinds of clothes sharing apps and platforms out there: some will allow you to both sell second-hand clothing and encourage peer-to-peer rental and trading, some will organise ‘clothes switches’ throughout the year, and some target children wear swapping, as children grow fast and need a wardrobe that grows with them every couple of months. Some will even pick up your unwanted clothing in return for discount codes, prizes, and vouchers, or offer to recycle your old ones. Some are free, and some require a subscription fee.

But apart from small variations, all of them offer organisational frameworks for clothes sharing and encourage users to purchase and swap clothes to reduce the ecological damage the fashion industry is causing.

clothes swappingOne such platform is Nuw, a social network for clothes sharing and swapping. Realising they were already sharing their wardrobe with friends and family, the founders decided to scale up and create a system that would allow everyone to join the world of wardrobe sharing. “When you go out and borrow a top from a friend, or when you steal your sister’s jumper for way too long — it’s basically that but on a grander scale,” says Nuw’s communications manager Alexandra Farley-Wood.

“People who join the platform upload their own wardrobes and choose whether they want to lend an item short-term or consciously uncouple. If they choose to swap, they will get a token that they can exchange for another item. A gold token is given to high-end, luxury, good-quality vintage, and a silver token to high-street items that are in good condition. The images of the item go through an approval process by a team of stylists who judge whether they think the item will be requested to borrow or swap. They decide what token you get based on the value of the item and the condition that it is in,” Farley-Wood tells me.

When asked about their subscribers’ profile, Farley-Wood says “a lot of our subscribers are people who do not want to buy new clothes and have seriously broken up with fast fashion. [Nuw subscribers] have decided they need an accessible and affordable gateway into fashion that is not going to impact the environment, but is also allowing them to enjoy fashion and look their best. We subscribe to our movies with Netflix and our music with Spotify. This is just new territory for this model.”

Clothes sharing is not only a sustainable way of dressing up but also has the power to generate a sense of community between fashion lovers and people with similar taste. If two people share a liking to particular styles, there should not be a reason why they would not share their wardrobe. It is great to be able to connect over your love and appreciation for fashion without the guilt and damage that excessive shopping involves.

According to Farley-Wood: “If I want to have a new jacket for winter, I can now borrow it for three months from someone who lives down the road from me.” That way, you get to know your neighbours while gaining access to their clothes. “It is a kind of an extension of your friendship group; you just happen not to know these people very well [yet],” she says.

Before you start exploring this world of possible outfit swapping, rethink and organise your wardrobe to decide what you value most and would like to keep, and what are some of the items you should consider readopting back into your style routine. Consider repairing, upcycling, and personalising when it comes to falling in love again with a piece you once cherished. For items that are in good condition but no longer meet your styling needs, consider swapping and getting ‘new’ pre-loved ones instead (or settle with what you already have).

Reducing our fashion footprint is a step in the right direction to ensure people’s lives and the planet are not at risk because of what we choose to wear.

Aviv Nesher
Aviv Nesher is a current Schwartzman scholar studying her master’s in management science in global affairs at Tsinghua University in Beijing. She works at the intersections of environmental action, trend analysis, and sustainable fashion. Her writing revolves around integrating sustainable practices within different industries and markets, and policy development that generates sustainable impact. Aviv has been vegan for five years and raw vegan for one year. She believes that transitioning into a plant-based diet is one of the most significant steps individuals can take to tackle the eco-climate crisis. Aviv is a graduate of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, a United World College alumna, and a Huayu Scholarship recipient.