With Black Friday having just passed, one of the largest shopping days in the world, we reminded again of the humanitarian and environmental dangers of fast fashion. Brands such as Pretty Little Thing have been accused of encouraging unsustainable consumption with their deals of up to 99% off – including dresses for as little as 8p. Which begs the ethical question, how does this compare to the human cost of manufacturing that same clothing piece? Similarly, how can the depletion and degradation of our ecosystems be normalised for cheap garments that will be discarded of next season? Yet, the most ironic fact is that with fast fashion – the more you buy, the more you want, the more you waste. Earlier this year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) calculated the fashion industry produces 10% of global carbon dioxide emissions annually and used an estimated 1.5tn litres of water every year. This combined with reports that more than 60% of fabric fibres are now synthetic, derived from fossil fuels in developing countries, means that, when our clothing inevitably ends up in a landfill or the sea, it will not decay.
Slow fashion: locally grown materials, often domestically manufactured or sources on a relatively small scale has been praised recently as an alternative. Similarly, shopping second hand in charity shops or online thrift stores to elongate the lifespan of a garment has become a popular way for the everyman to become more sustainable. This is the reason why I chose to interview Esooko: an upcoming second-hand marketplace with a twist – it encourages buyers and sellers to become more conscious of their footprint while shopping. The website has a section explaining the benefits of second-hand fashion, and displays Esooko’s impact so far; including 115,500 kgs of CO2 removed. Most importantly, half of the commission fee is used to help fund environmental initiatives – the buyer/seller can choose whether their money goes towards planting trees, restoring coral reefs or educating people about fashion!
How would you define your business?
Esooko is a peer-to-peer marketplace where users buy and sell clothes whilst funding environmental initiatives. Or to phrase it in another way – we’re a Depop competitor that is on an environmental mission.
What inspired your mission?
We are lovers of fashion. However, we also consider ourselves keen environmentalists. We found that these two passions often contradicted each other as the fashion industry has become so environmentally damaging. Therefore, we wanted to create a way for fashion and positive environmental action to coexist. The answer was ESOOKO – a second-hand fashion marketplace where fashion transactions are used to regenerate the planet not destroy it. And the best thing is that we knew that this idea would be popular because there is already so much environmental conscience within the second-hand fashion market. There are so many people who, like us, love fashion but are also driven to save our planet.
Do you feel that your audience is quite young? If so, do you feel that this is reflective of the anti-fast fashion movement?
On the most part our audience is in the age range of 16-30. I think this is reflective of the love for second-hand fashion which is largely driven by the anti-fast fashion movement. Second-hand fashion is being adopted at a much faster rate by the younger generations. In America, 40% of Gen Z bought a second-hand piece of clothing in 2019 compared to 20% of 40+ year-olds. Buying second hand has much less of a stigma for younger people. In fact, buying second hand elicits positive feelings for them as they are so aware of the environmental benefits of it. However, we can’t forget that young people are also the biggest consumers of fast fashion. Therefore, there is still a lot of work for the younger generation to do in terms of educating our peers. We will be using ESOOKO as a platform for education. We frequently share facts about fast fashion, second-hand fashion and wider environmental issues that we hope our users will share these with people who are currently not on the platform. We are also partnered with HUBBUB, an environmental initiative that educates people on how to go slow with fashion and be kinder to the planet.
What makes you different from other online reselling websites e.g. Depop, eBay?
Whilst we love these platforms and have been inspired by them, the difference is key. On these platforms you can buy and sell second hand which is much better for the environment than buying first hand. However, this is only a damage limitation. This makes your fashion habits much less harmful for the planet but it doesn’t cause your fashion habits to have a positive impact. On ESOOKO, you can actually use fashion to regenerate our planet. You can plant trees through the platform, restore coral reefs, educate people on fast fashion and as we grow you’ll be able to do much much more.
How do you feel about the issue of mark-up (where people buy cheap items from charity shops/ fast fashion stores and then sell them online for a higher price)?
On the one hand, mark-up is completely understandable and necessary. As a buyer, you’re not just paying for the item, you’re paying for the seller’s time. I know from being a seller and from having lots of friends who are sellers that it is incredibly time-consuming work – going to charity shops and wholesalers, photographing, listing and posting. These sellers work really hard in order to put together an amazing curated list of clothes for buyers to look through. Therefore, they need to earn enough money to make it worth their time. On the other hand, we do not want the markup to become so extensive that it puts buyers off second-hand fashion and leads them back to fast fashion.
Do you think there will ever be a sustainable change in fast fashion? Or is the whole industry too flawed for improvement?
Fast fashion is by its very nature unsustainable. It’s not like there are certain elements that are unsustainable that after a bit of tweaking will make the industry acceptable. An industry which relies on extreme mass production at a very low cost, fundamentally relies on unsustainable practices. Therefore, the only answer is to bring about its end. We can do that as consumers by no longer having a need for it.
Do you feel covid-19 has been a catalyst for the end of fast fashion?
I think Covid has accelerated the growth of second-hand fashion as everyone has been at home and finally got round to clearing out their closets and selling their unused clothes on second-hand marketplaces. And I believe that the more popular second-hand fashion becomes, the less popular fast fashion will become. However, there is a long, long way to go as fast fashion is clearly still incredibly popular. Therefore, we need to be constantly educating each other. I genuinely do not believe that people who engage in fast fashion are consciously harming our planet. I think that they just haven’t been made aware of how damaging it is. So those of us who are aware need to be actively helping to build a wider awareness and show people that there are cost-effective alternatives to fast fashion.
Finally, what do you hope for Esooko’s future? Any exciting plans?
We have really exciting plans. We built the current platform just to test whether this idea would catch on. It has very quickly caught on. And so, we will now start building a much more advanced version of ESOOKO that will bring the community feel right to the forefront of the marketplace and bring the environmental aspect to the centre of the user experience. The environmental features are going to be AMAZING. As for our hope for ESOOKO’s future, our hope is to genuinely do what our slogan says – to build a fashion community that defends our planet. That doesn’t mean that our desire is simply for our users to defend our planet only when they are on ESOOKO, engaging in buying/selling. Our desire is for them to be inspired by the ESOOKO community to take that passion to defend our planet into all walks of their life. And one more thing – if we could help bring about the end to fast fashion along the way, we’d be pretty happy with that too…
image credits: esooko