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Second hand fashion: what environmental benefits does it offer?

Millions of tons of clothes are produced, worn and thrown away every year, increasing the pressure of the fashion industry on natural ecosystems.

Production in the fashion industry doubled between 2000 and 2015 while, in the same period, the average rate of use of the garment decreased by 36%.

This has resulted in an increase in the textile waste generated, of which less than 1% is recycled into new garments.

The application of the principles of the circular economy to the fashion industry could significantly improve these data, favoring the development of a fashion sector that is able to reconcile economic growth with the protection of natural ecosystems.

The vision of circular fashion requires products to be:

  • Designed to have a second life: products must be designed and created to be easily disassembled in order to facilitate recycling and reuse;
  • Made from safe, recycled and renewable inputs: in a circular economy process it is necessary to design safe products. It is important to try to minimize the use of virgin raw materials, preferring the use of recycled materials;
  • Used longer: Circular business models maximize the value of products, which are designed to last as long as possible. Also in this case the design phase is essential to design a product suitable for reuse.

The transition towards circular fashion can take place through the implementation of new business models, resale, rental and repair, which make it possible to decouple revenue streams from the production and use of resources.

Second-hand: what is it and what are its prospects?


Among the business models mentioned, resale involves the sale of second-hand clothing and fashion accessories.

This favors a decline in the production of new clothes and a reduction in the amount of waste disposed of in landfills or incinerated, reducing the pressure of the fashion sector on natural ecosystems.

Second-hand fashion is in a phase of strong development, since it is estimated to grow by 127% by 2026.

This data is confirmed by a further forecast: The global second-hand clothing market will grow 3 times faster than the global clothing market in general.

The thredUP Resale Report 2022 shows that the adoption of the resale business model helps to strengthen the competitive advantage of companies in the fashion sector compared to other competitors on the market.

In fact, most of the respondents to the report confirmed that the activation of the resale service had a positive impact on sales and revenue.

The development of second-hand fashion is stimulated by an increase in consumer awareness of issues related to environmental sustainability.

In fact, the Report shows that 45% of Generation Z and Millennials are more likely to shop with a brand that offers second-hand clothing together with new clothing, with an increase of 11 points compared to 2020.

Application of the LCA methodology to evaluate the environmental impacts of second hand fashion


Second-hand fashion can guarantee companies an improvement in their competitive advantage over other competitors, which translates into new revenues and, therefore, economic benefits.

Instead, to evaluate the environmental benefits of the resale business model,

In a Life Cycle Assessment study, ThredUP compared the environmental impacts of second hand products with those relating to the purchase of new clothing.

The environmental savings have been estimated in three different impact categories: Global Warming Potential (GWP), Primary Energy Demand (PED) and Water Consumption (Blue Water).

The functional unit of the study is a second-hand piece of clothing sold online by ThredUP in the United States that replaces a similar new piece of clothing purchased by consumers in the United States.

The Life Cycle Assessment conducted examined all phases of the life cycle of second-hand clothing and new clothing, excluding the phase of use by the consumer for both.

The use phase was excluded from the study since the impact of the use phase strongly depends on consumer behavior (which can be the same for both new and used clothes).

Assuming that the consumer decides to completely replace the purchase of new garments with the purchase of second-hand garments, the study highlights significant ecological savings in all three environmental impact categories considered in the analysis.

In particular, the LCA data conducted show the following net environmental savings obtained by purchasing a ThredUP second-hand garment compared to the purchase of a new garment:

  • Global warming potential (GWP): 7.9 kgCO2eq
  • Primary Energy Demand (PED): 122.5 MJ
  • Water consumption (Blue Water): 292.9 m3

Consumer decisions can significantly vary the final results of the study, but the LCA analysis shows that the environmental impacts of second-hand fashion are potentially lower than the purchase of new clothing.

Business case studies based on second-hand


Second hand fashion can be applied to any type of clothing, however some clothes, such as luxury or ceremonial dresses, maternity and children's clothing, are rarely worn and are particularly suitable for resale (or rental).

There are several specialized companies for the previous types of clothing that have based their business on resale:

  • Vestiaire Collective: leading platform in the high-end second-hand sector. E-commerce was born with the aim of promoting the buying and selling of second-hand luxury fashion items.
  • Nala Kids: is the first Italian e-commerce dedicated exclusively to the offer of second-hand clothing from major brands for children aged 0 to 12;
  • Svuotaly: Italian platform where you can buy and sell second-hand clothing and fashion accessories. The site has a section where you can buy second-hand maternity and children's clothes.



Considering the high environmental impact of the fashion sector and, in particular, the large amount of waste generated and which is disposed of in landfills every year, the second hand can represent a valid solution that allows you to reconcile the economic growth of companies with the protection of natural ecosystems .

Resale offers the opportunity to improve the competitive advantage of companies, since consumers and, especially Generation Z and Millennials, are increasingly attentive to issues related to environmental sustainability.

The second hand allows companies to benefit from various economic advantages but also allows to mitigate the environmental impacts of the fashion sector.

As highlighted by an LCA study, the environmental impact of a second-hand garment compared to a new garment is considerably lower, in terms of consumption of water and energy resources and contribution to global warming.

The LCA data conducted can be strongly influenced by consumer choices during the purchase phase, confirming the complexity of the issue relating to sustainability and the need to systematically evaluate the environmental benefits that a circular economy practice can offer.

For this reason, we at Cikis offer multidisciplinary skills to support your company in defining an ad hoc circularity strategy and to outline the most effective sustainability path for your company.


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Francesca Poratelli
To analyse your sustainability level

After a work experience in Yamamay, she decided to specialize in the field of sustainability. She has dealt with sustainability assessments for companies ranging from outdoor clothing to textile merchandising.

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