The fashion industry is surprisingly bad for the environment. As fashion icon Eileen Fisher famously said, “The clothing industry is the second-largest polluter in the world, second only to the oil industry.”
The main cause is the clothing industry’s water-heavy production cycle, but responsibility lies with the consumer as well: More than one-third of women wear an item less than five times before tossing it, according to thredUP’s 2018 Resale Report, which indicates that buying a used clothing item extends its life by an average of 2.2 years and reduces its environmental impact by 73%.
This company, the world’s largest online thrift store, is now aiming to do even more in an effort to reduce fashion-related waste.
On Tuesday, thredUP launched a new program, UPcycle, inviting outside retailers to get involved with the circular fashion industry. The idea is when customers send their used clothes to thredUP for resale, they’ll have the option to get paid with a gift card to a partnered brand. All the brand has to do is drive traffic to thredUP, then receive the income of returning customers.
“We’re living in somewhat of a throwaway culture, and textile waste is accelerating,” Karen Clark, thredUP’s vice president of communications and partnerships told Fortune. “We’re all, as consumers, buying more and discarding faster than we ever have before.”
The program only includes sustainable woman’s brand Reformation at the moment. Customers can order a “thredUP x Reformation UPcycle kit” in which to send their clothes, then they get a Reformation gift card worth the value of their clothes, plus an extra 15%—a bonus encouraging participation in the UPcycle program.
“There’s a lot of retailers that want to get on board, want to participate in a circular economy, but they potentially lack the operational infrastructure to do so,” says Clark.
With UPcycle, thredUP handles all the resale responsibilities: the intake of clothes, pricing, photographing, and marketing. The brand just has to distribute the “Clean Out Kits” consumers use to send clothes to thredUP.
“Retailers are realizing that those two things—the good for the planet and the good for the business—don’t actually have to be mutually exclusive,” says Clark. “They can, through a program like this—an apparel recycling program that’s essentially a sustainable loyalty program for their customers—accomplish both.”
According to thredUP, consumers are becoming more environmentally conscious, and thus are more likely to return to stores they know participate in this “circular economy.”
“The modern consumer is changing in a lot of ways. She’s more environmentally conscious,” says Clark, stating that 75% of consumers say they’re more likely to buy from an environmentally conscious brand.
Reformation, UPcycle’s first participating brand, definitely fits that mold, but Clark says they’ll be partnering with more than just sustainable brands—as long as quality isn’t sacrificed. thredUp will announce a second partner on Black Friday, and it plans to establish 10 new partnerships next year.
Eventually, thredUP plans to move the partnerships offline as well, including its branded used products in stores.
“I think that one thing you’ll start to see in 2019 from us is not just an apparel recycling program with retailers,” says Clark, “but also a shopping experience where used products and new products live alongside each other.”
All these efforts will encourage customers to consume outside the primary market, reducing textile waste and increasing the already-booming resale industry.