Going second-hand to make Black Friday green

Starting out as an American import, Black Friday has been fully embraced by UK shoppers. But at what cost to the planet?

Retailers are looking for increasingly inventive ways to boost sales and footfall, especially during a tough economic climate. The ongoing lockdown across much of the UK due to COVID-19 has limited the opportunities for shoppers to splash their cash in person, but the bargain bonanza of Black Friday and Cyber Monday week is just around the corner.

Past Black Fridays have often been exemplified by images of mass consumerism and outright greed – footage of frenzied shoppers rushing into supermarkets and shops, sometimes stepping over one another or quarrelling over widescreen TVs and other household items.

Many myths abound about the origin of the name ‘Black Friday’, but the most clear origin story is a word-of-mouth name for a post-Thanksgiving shopping rush, which first started gaining media attention around Philadelphia in the early-1960s. In more recent years, the UK has caught onto this rush, which retailers now use to slash prices and artificially boost sales. But at what cost to the environment?

Shop till you drop waste

One of the biggest ways events such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday impact the environment is the sheer volume of waste they produce. Fashion is one of the worst offenders when it comes to waste, as Greenpeace revealed in 2016. The campaign group then wrote at length about the impact of clothes manufacturing on the environment.

Not only that, but a lot of the clothes purchased during events such as Black Friday are often discarded or unwanted, ending up in second-hand piles or ultimately incinerators or worse – landfill. The environmental organisation claimed the life cycle of a typical consumer good had shrunk 50 per cent between 1992 and 2002, reflecting an increasing culture of disposability. As many as 1.5 to 2 million tonnes of used clothing is generated each year in the EU.

As much as 1.5 to 2 million tonnes of used clothing is generated each year in the EU

While 10-12 per cent of these clothes end up being re-sold locally, Greenpeace added that the rest would end up being sold to the ‘Global South’, a large part of the globe which includes some of the world’s less developed yet emergent economies. Clothing waste which winds up there could potentially end up polluting the local environment – as a result, many of these emerging countries are considering a block on second-hand clothes imports, as the mountain of waste clothing continues to grow.

Greenpeace suggested that people should shun overconsumption altogether, especially on Black Friday, so it would become a global ‘Buy Nothing Day’ instead.

Breaking the disposability cycle

The idea of reducing consumption and focusing more on mend and make-do has started to catch on in the retailing world. Swedish brands such as Haglöfs have gone as far as doing a Black Friday blackout, closing down their website and all but their Stockholm shop on a temporary basis.

Shoppers will be encouraged to take part in the brand’s ‘Green Friday’, where second-hand options are on display. The retailer’s philosophy is simple: on one of the busiest shopping days of the year, it’s worth taking a stand against disposability, against waste, and buying second-hand instead.

Fortunately, the concept of second-hand fashion is increasingly catching on, as a recent survey, The Consumers Behind Fashion’s Growing Secondhand Market, revealed. A change is now underway, which has led the resale sector becoming worth as much as $30-40 billion at the latest estimates, with expected growth of 21 per cent in 2020 and 27 per cent in 2021.

The message from consumers in the survey was loud and clear – 70 per cent of preowned buyers were attracted by the sustainable aspect of their purchases. This suggests that it’s becoming increasingly on-trend to avoid focusing on the year’s latest fashion craze, and see what the second-hand aisle has to offer.

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