Where is the fashion industry heading? Between ultra-fast and second-hand.

The fashion industry is at a crossroads. On the one hand, Zalando recently took a stand for more sustainability and second-hand with its Zircle app; but on the other, the concept of ultra-fast fashion is gaining momentum.

The future of the fashion industry is somewhere between ultra-fast fashion and second-hand clothing.
Image: Jannissimo / Adobe Stock

Zalando Zircle is promoting sustainability

Zalando’s Zircle app is still relatively new, but is taking the international fashion scene by storm. The fashion giant’s aim is to contribute to a circular economy in the fashion industry by letting users sell used clothes directly to the company. The quality of the clothing is ensured as part of a two-step process (first when users upload a photo and then when the items reach the company), meaning that only flawless items are traded on Zalando Zircle. Compared to fast fashion, that significantly increases the lifespan of clothes, because they don’t immediately end up in landfill once their original owners no longer wear them.

As an alternative to selling their used clothes to Zalando, Zircle users can also buy from and sell to other users. This digital marketplace is very similar to what’s probably the most well-known player on the second-hand fashion market: Vinted.

Second-hand giant Vinted

In the last few years, the second-hand concept has revolutionized the fashion industry, in particular. By embracing retro and vintage trends but increasingly modern styles as well, second-hand fashion is occupying a growing market share. One of the most popular players in this segment is Vinted, previously known as Kleiderkreisel and Mamikreisel in Germany. Vinted users can buy or sell used clothes on the platform. Swaps are also possible. Through advertising and sales commissions from transactions via the payment system, sustainable second-hand fashion is not only environmentally friendly, but is also an economically future-proof model.

Ultra-fast fashion from ASOS, SHEIN, etc.

In stark contrast to Zalando Zircle and Vinted, there are also the ultra-fast fashion producers. Nowadays, they can manufacture trending products in big batches and launch them on their online stores within a few days or weeks. And there’s a market for their products: especially young people who spend a lot of time on social media have the urge to regularly express themselves in new ways, particularly through their clothes. Companies such as ASOS and SHEIN are meeting this demand with their online stores. Since they don’t have to display their ranges in physical stores, they are much more flexible and can respond to trends more quickly. They also offer their clothes at extremely affordable prices. For all those reasons, they’re putting their stamp on the fashion industry and increasingly driving out “traditional” fast-fashion brands.

A crossroads in the fashion industry

The fashion industry is currently at a crossroads. On the one side, major companies in the industry are stepping up for more sustainability and the reuse of clothes.

Above all, Vinted, Zircle, and others thus want to protect our planet and make consumption more environmentally conscious.

On the other side, ultra-fast fashion is also becoming more and more popular. People want to express themselves through their clothes and constantly update their look. Brands such as ASOS and SHEIN are meeting this demand on the market. Particularly young target groups who haven’t found their style yet can be reached through clever marketing. The low prices of these clothes mean that they can constantly reinvent themselves.

It will be interesting to see if one of these trends will prevail over the other. Or will they continue to coexist? And what will happen to what’s already almost become “traditional” fast fashion? Will ultra-fast and second-hand fashion leave it in the dust? We’ll have to see what answers the next few years bring.