Should we expect to see more pre-loved fashion on runways? 

Words by Bianca O’Neill

A trend is sweeping retail and runways – be it upcycled, re-purposed or vintage, pre-loved fashion is here to stay. So what can we expect to see on the catwalk in 2022?

If you’re thinking about investing in the retail space as we usher in 2022, you’d be better to jump into the pre-loved clothing space rather than diving into fast fashion, according to a report released earlier this year.

ThreadUp’s annual Resale Report is a striking prediction of a mammoth increase in the resale market, off the back of strong gains during the pandemic as bored consumers turned their wardrobes into cash, and sustainability savvy Gen Z picked up bargains galore.

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According to the report, about 40 per cent of customers replaced fast fashion purchases with thrifting during the pandemic – a trend that is set to result in a resale and thrift market that dwarfs the fast fashion market by 2030, projected to contribute $84 billion to the industry.

So while we’re all scrolling through local resale favourites like Selling Your Wardrobe and Hawkeye Vintage on Instagram for the latest vintage or pre-loved bargains, what does that mean for the fashion industry at large? Are we set to see secondhand on the runway anytime soon?

It’s probably not as far-fetched as you might think. Melbourne Fashion Week has been dotting vintage here and there in its runway styling for years, showcasing archival designer pieces from beloved retailers like Reina Melbourne alongside new fashion.

But it’s not all about luxe resale and pre-loved on the runway either – the shift toward sustainability in the fashion industry as a whole has seen the rise of upcycled and repurposed collections, presenting consumers with a new way to look at fashion with a zero-waste lens.

Romance Was Born reimagined its whimsical style into an upcycled collection born of remanent fabrics and vintage offcuts earlier this year, while Melbourne-based emerging designer Luisa Marrollo features this week in a Melbourne Fashion Week capsule collection made from her Nonna’s old pillowcases.

Also at Melbourne Fashion Week this year, you’ll spot Commes des Garcon obsessive Octavius la Rosa delivering more of his unique and rare archival favourites, with his Melbourne store Dot Comme appearing at the NGV Runway.

Big retail, meanwhile, has also picked up on the pre-loved sales tsunami. Who would have thought that one half of our department store duopoly, David Jones, would join the resale revolution? Partnering with iconic Sydney vintage luxe reseller, Blue Spinach, David Jones recently launched a capsule collection of 30 luxury items for sale on its Mindfully Made online portal, which focuses on sustainable shopping.

“Resale of preowned designer pieces is gaining momentum globally and we are thrilled to introduce luxury items through this model to our customers,” Bridget Veals, General Manager of womenswear, footwear and accessories at David Jones told RagTrader.

“We are dedicated to offering our customers choice in how they shop and the introduction of resale is a further expansion to our range of services which includes personal shopping, fashion rental, tailoring and virtual services.”

Veals here points to a recently inked deal with clothing rental website GlamCorner, installing designer rental dresses into a concession at its Elizabeth Street Sydney flagship as well as online, in an attempt to corner both the resale and reuse markets. (Although there are questions in the wider sustainability community about the green credentials of dress rental services, when you consider the repeated transport and packaging impacts. One recent study even suggested the clothing rental market was worse for the environment than simply throwing the garment away.)

Interestingly, online fast-fashion behemoth The Iconic has also dived into the world of resale this year, partnering with Aussie start-up Airrobe to launch a one-click functionality at the point of purchase that allows customers to pre-register their garment for resale once they’re ready to sell it on.

“We have done all the hard work,” Erica Berchtold, Chief Executive of The Iconic, told the Financial Review earlier this year. “Customers can feel confident knowing that they have the imagery of the clothing, all of the correct details and a fair pricing structure for their items. It takes the guesswork out of resale and we believe that will lead to greater uptake of the circular economy.”

It heralds a new frontier in the resale space, as big retailers realise that resale websites like Depop are profiting from the on-sell of their own product. It’s a service that smaller brands have been quietly offering for a while now – Byron-based label Spell, for instance, has been cultivating a 50,000 strong Facebook group that encourages its devotees to swap and sell old Spell designs.

And if we know one thing in fashion, it’s that where the money goes, the runway follows. Although currently, pre-loved and upcycled pieces are few and far between at fashion week runways, it’s only a matter of time before the pressure on brands grows too hard to ignore.

As consumers increasingly expect their fashion labels to deliver on sustainability goals and ethical credentials, it’s not hard to see why upcycling and pre-loved could tick more than a few boxes for cash-strapped millennials and eco-conscious Gen Zs. In 2020 alone, over 542 million pieces of secondhand clothing were spared from landfill, displacing the need for producing millions of new garments, and saving a whopping 116 billion pounds of CO2 from entering our atmosphere.

So if secondhand, upcycled and vintage are already in our shopping carts, why not on the runway? Savvy retailers and trailblazing labels take note: recycled is the new fast fashion – and thankfully, it’s here to stay.

Catch a range of events highlighting repurposed textiles and pre-loved fashion at Melbourne Fashion Week – including the Recycling Textiles Roundtable and Millinery Upcycling Workshop.

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