British Retail Consortium releases second-hand fashion guideline

In a bid to maintain the circulation of clothing, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) has announced its new ‘Voluntary Guideline on Second-hand and Preloved Items’.

charity clothing bank for circularityThe guideline – consisting of input from retailers, resale platforms, charity retailers, and other industry experts – presents various steps that retailers can take to adhere to circular economy principles and further progress already made in lengthening the lifecycle of clothing products.

According to the trade association, complying with ‘circular economy principles’ should see the industry moving away from the economic and linear model of ‘take, make, throw away’ – where resources are extracted, turned into products, used, and then discarded. As explained by Chatham House, a circular model would involve “redesigning products to be more durable, reusable, repairable, and recyclable, and changing the way we consume and use goods and services, and rethinking consumerism as a society.”

Retailers can promote resale markets and platforms for clothing, footwear, homeware textiles, and other items. As well as this, the BRC highlights the benefits of using hire and rental services, offering product swaps and upcycling and repair schemes, as opposed to throwing away items.

Further guidance includes emphasis on the importance of preliminary quality checks, which inform customers of an item's condition. The guideline offers the following examples:

  • Visual checks like looking for bobbling, fading, stretching, marks or stains
  • Physical checks like looking for functional zips and all buttons still on the item
  • Creasing or scuffing on the footwear, or worn down tread on the sole
  • Authenticated checks like checking the label for higher-end garments.

A central aim of the guideline is to circulate all items with both the buyer and seller armed with equal levels of information and the same expectations of their condition. The BRC clarifies that it does not advocate for the circulation of perfect items alone.  

Oxfam’s celebration of ‘Second-Hand September’ comes alongside this announcement, encouraging people to buy only second-hand items for 30 days in the month of September. The guideline recommends that retailers work with charity retailers, who are ‘always looking for good, clean stock to sell or donate’.

According to WRAP, an estimated £140 million worth of clothing is sent to landfill every year, despite 88 per cent of people wanting brands to help them live sustainably (Source: GlobalData). For this reason, the BRC and its members have an objective to ‘reiterate their duty of care’ and responsibility to customers, ensuring circular economy principles are followed.

Helen Dickinson OBE, Chief Executive of the British Retail Consortium, said: “We are delighted to launch our first voluntary guideline on second-hand and preloved items. With more people looking for ways to shop sustainably, particularly as the cost of living rises, the sale of second-hand items in-store and online can encourage sustainable behaviours at affordable prices and take us one step further toward a circular economy.

“Retailers recognise the role they can play in helping their customers shop in more environmentally friendly ways, and we hope that this guideline will help many on their sustainability journey.”

Murray Lambell, General Manager of eBay UK, a contributor to the guideline, commented: “We all have a part to play to get to a more sustainable future, and shopping differently is a vital part of this.

“At eBay, we’re on a mission to change the conversation around pre-loved shopping to help every person, little by little, have an impact. That’s why we’ve launched a number of specialist hubs such as Certified Refurbished and Imperfects, and why we recently partnered with Love Island.

“But to bring about the major change we need, we need to work together as a broader industry, which is why we’re so pleased to be helping set standards for the fashion industry to be more circular, and to back the BRC’s new Second-Hand Guideline, to help us move to a more sustainable, circular economy.”

Dr Lisa Cameron, MP for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Textiles and Fashion, also noted that: "It is great to see retailers take responsible initiatives to deliver a more circular economy.

“This practical and detailed guideline will support retailers, brands, and resell platforms to keep thousands of products in use for longer, an important move towards their aim and ambition to limit, and ultimately end, sending items to landfill.

“Parliament welcomes this guidance, and we hope to support more actions taken by retailers to further the circular economy in the future.”