Fast Fashion is not cheaper in the long term, says new report

The world cannot afford fast fashion.

That is the conclusion of new research from Vestiaire Collective, the leading global platform for second-hand luxury fashion.

The report claims that in addition to fast fashion’s devastating climate impacts, it is a mistaken idea that fast fashion is more affordable. As price barriers remain a key concern for consumers, Vestiaire has introduced a new approach to understanding the true value of fashion: cost per wear.

Cost per wear is intended to reflect the true cost of an item based on frequency of use, total lifespan and resale value. While fast-fashion items may initially seem more financially attractive, the report states that second-hand fashion items are a financially sounder investment in the long run.

“In the current inflationary climate, it is clear: neither people nor the planet can afford fast fashion. We want to inform consumers about the benefits of circularity and at the same time sound the alarm about the devastating impact of fast fashion. This report is a wake-up call to combat overconsumption and overspending, fueled by temptingly low initial prices,” said Fanny Moizant, president and co-founder of Vestiaire Collective, which launched in Paris in 2009 and is a certified B Corp.

Vestiaire’s March 2024 survey, conducted in partnership with Vaayu, delves into consumer behavior and analyzes responses from 13,400 participants, alongside data from 250,000 transactions and insights from 28 qualitative interviews across key global markets. With this research, Vestiaire aims to change consumers’ perception of the price of an item and encourage them to invest in both financially and environmentally sustainable pieces. The report encourages fashion customers to take better care of their items for their resale value and to invest in long-lasting, quality items.

According to Moizant, the secondhand industry is growing “super fast” and is a $200 billion industry growing at 15 to 20 percent.

Discussing the impetus for this research, Moizant said: “This industry is changing dramatically. Fifteen years ago we saw enormous waste caused by something quite new: overconsumption. We saw that our peers were consuming more and more. Overconsumption skyrocketed and the number of times people wore their clothes fell.”

She said this was the beginning of Vestiaire. “At the time we weren’t even talking about sustainability, but we saw enormous waste,” she says. She said they believed in sustainability, sustainability and craftsmanship and what fashion should stand for.

She said Vestiaire conducted the research “to help people understand the real cost of fashion and the real bad cost of fast fashion.”

“There are hidden costs behind fast fashion that go beyond the shiny price tags you see in stores,” Moizant continued. Three years ago, Vestiaire, which focuses on designer, premium and high-end brands, decided to take a stand against fast fashion and banned fast-fashion brands such as Asos, Shein, Burton, Fashion Nova, Pretty Little Thing, Missguided, Topman , TopShop, Zara and Gap from their site, as reported. It launched the fast-fashion ban campaign in November 2022 (banning 33 brands), followed another wave in November (banning 30 brands) and has another coming this fall.

When asked if she feels like she has to beat fast fashion to build Vestiaire, she replied: “For us, this is the model that introduced overconsumption.”

Does she want to get rid of fast fashion?

“I would like it to be honest. I would like those companies to no longer exist. And that consumers become more aware,” says Moizant. She said that 40 percent of orders on Vestiaire are under 100 euros. And these are brands that are not fast fashion. The average basket costs about 350 euros.

The circularity report, entitled ‘Exposed the True Cost of Fast Fashion’, reveals the environmental and social impact of companies. It points out that 60 percent of fast-fashion items end up in landfill within a year of purchase. And every year, 92 million tons of textiles are thrown away. “It is an ecological and social disaster,” she said.

The report claims that the high demand for second-hand luxury shows no signs of slowing, with Vestiaire Collective set to see a 25 percent increase in sales by 2023, compared to a 4 percent increase in the luxury industry. It also found that one in three buyers are using Vestiaire Collective to find unique, hard-to-find items, with almost a quarter of a million searches for vintage in 2023, up 40 percent from the previous year.

According to Vestiaire, combating fast fashion is their top priority. In 2023, Vestiaire worked with a team of industry experts to define fast fashion for the first time based on a set of five key criteria (very low prices, strong promotional intensity, rapid collection renewal rate, extremely wide product range and record speed to market). “If you have an enemy, you should be able to define it,” Moizant said.

The report found that consumers did not abandon their platforms after the ban on fast fashion. Instead, they changed their habits and switched to more premium brands. The study found that 92 percent of affected buyers stayed with Vestiaire, and 88 percent of affected sellers stayed with Vestiaire.

According to the report, fast fashion is not a niche market. Seven out of 10 garments sold in France come from fast-fashion brands, “making this the dominant mode of consumption.” Vestiaire believes in purchasing higher quality second-hand pieces that use better fabrics in flattering cuts. “And while they may not be as stunningly cheap, they are more cost-effective in the long run, with a longer lifespan and lower cost per wear,” the report said.

The research also claims that shopping on Vestiaire is 35 percent cheaper in the long run than buying brand new fast-fashion products.

A visual comparison of the cost per wear of a new fast fashion trench versus a pre-owned luxury trench coat.

A visual comparison of the cost per wear of a new fast fashion trench versus a pre-owned luxury trench coat.

Thanks to Vestiaire Collective

Among the key claims in the report comparing Vestiaire to fast fashion:

  • Looking at comparable price ranges, second-hand fashion jackets are said to be worn on average four times more than new fast-fashion jackets (worn 28 times). The result is a cost per wear of $1.72 versus $4.82 for new fast-fashion jackets.
  • It is said that second-hand fashion dresses are worn on average eight times more than new fast-fashion dresses (worn nine times). This result is a cost per wear of $1.56 versus $5.66 for new fast-fashion dresses.
  • Used designer bags have a cost of minus 72 percent per wear because the resale value is higher, resulting in a $2.56 cost per wear versus $9.05 for new fast-fashion items.
  • Across all categories and price ranges, pre-owned fashion items offer approximately 33 percent lower costs per wear, compared to fast-fashion items, which are worn more than twice as much on average.
  • Pre-loved fashion consumers hold on to their items 31 percent longer than average, with the difference in shoe categories (+48 percent) being greater than average.
  • Regardless of the circumstances, the cost per wear is consistently lower when purchasing used items. According to the research, this mainly applies to seasonal and occasional items such as jackets and dresses.

“Affordable fast fashion is a false economy. Buying cheap fast fashion is deceptive because you end up having to replace items over and over again. We are in favor of circularity because it not only benefits the consumer’s wallet, but also protects our planet. Used luxury items become more cost-effective and last longer over time. Our mantra, ‘Think first, then buy’ makes more sense than ever,” said Dounia Wone, chief impact officer of Vestiaire Collective.

When asked what Moizant hopes consumers will take away from the report, she said: “Fast fashion is no longer an option for them. They have to think about the planet and their own wallets. We hope that through this research they will be much more sensitive to their own wallets and think more sensibly and carefully when purchasing their next item,” she said.

A visual image of the cost per wear for a fast fashion jacket versus a second-hand luxury jacket.

A visual image of the cost per wear for a fast fashion jacket versus a second-hand luxury jacket.

Thanks to Vestiaire Collective

To mark the launch of the report, Vestiaire has unveiled the next part of its ‘Think First, Buy Second’ campaign, with a series of videos, testimonials and memes, appearing on social media channels from Monday. Five months after the initial launch – which went viral on Instagram – this campaign will showcase the cost-per-wear approach and challenge perceptions to break the illusion of affordable fast fashion and encourage conscious consumption to improve both personal finances and as well as protecting the environment.