The Big Idea: Reduce, Reuse, Upcycle
The buzzwords around everything from surfboards and ski jackets to home goods—terms like re-commerce, post-consumer and circular economy—aren’t new. And “not new” is exactly the point.
Over the past year we’ve seen a confluence of trends which suggests a shift toward more sustainable consumerism, with a focus on reuse, repair and resale from brands big and small, plus booming secondary markets for the types of goods—clothes, shoes, furniture—that once hit the dump the moment the shine wore off.
Unsurprisingly, eco-friendly outdoor companies have blazed the trail on reuse. Last year, Arc’Teryx launched its Used Gear initiative to refurbish and resell old kit, joining similar programs from Patagonia, the North Face and REI. Nike, which has long incorporated recycling in its designs, now uses 100 percent recycled polyester in its popular Flyknit shoes, while in January Adidas unveiled Primeblue, a new material made from recaptured plastic waste and available in everything from its Ultraboost sneakers to golf shoes to professional rugby jerseys.
And if you’ve made a high-dollar purchase that no longer suits your life, whether that’s a watch, a bespoke suit, vintage streetwear or a chair from Virgil Abloh’s Ikea collaboration? There’s still value to be found on secondary consumer-to-consumer markets like Watchfinder, Thredup, Grailed and 1stdibs, to name a few.
Of course, massive floating garbage islands and landfills overflowing with new clothes have been the unfortunate reality for a while, so why this critical mass now? First, there’s a business case to be made. According to a 2019 report by Thredup, the secondhand apparel market accounted for $24 billion in 2018 alone—and that’s only poised to grow. But the human cost of rampant consumerism has also recently come to the fore, not just for creatives trying to keep up with ever-faster product cycles but also for the low-wage workers endlessly squeezed by shrinking margins, just-in-time supply chains and same-day delivery demands even for labor-intensive luxury goods.
The good news is that the same instantaneous global connectivity that allows for one-click shopping and immediate delivery now lets us keep worthwhile products in the value economy as long as possible and nearly as easily. Which means there are new rules for being a conscientious consumer in 2020: Shop thoughtfully; invest in things made to last; and, whenever possible, make sure the lifecycle of any product outlives your interest in it.