While politicians all over the world discuss plans of action to stop the harming effects that fast fashion has on the environment, thousands of young people get caught up in an ultrafast shopping whirl, besides young generations being very conscious about climate change and the negative impacts that fast fashion patterns have on our planet.
You only have to open TikTok to meet the most noxious of trends: hauls. Haul is a term that generally refers to a video where someone shows off massive amounts of items they have recently purchased. These are usually cheap clothing from low cost firms. Massive fashion hauls are not new, but they have been blowing up recently because of TikTok, where haultryons are the newest turn of the screw. This latest fad of useless overconsumption consists of buying tens of items, try them on for others to see and then basically return most, or all of them.
So, as if buying mass produced, cheap, poor quality, disposable clothing to keep up with accelerating fashion trends was not bad enough, here comes a new diabolical machine of waste generation. And why, you will wonder, should returned items that have only been tried on—and still have their tags properly hanging—become waste? Simply because online returns are more likely to be thrown away than restocked.
Online purchases are the most returned, and rates have increased 30% in the last years, according to KPMG consultants. The need for succeeding in the e-commerce market has pushed firms into easing return processes and even offering free returns in order to increase their sales. The problem is that most of the returned garments do not go back to sale channels, so then they are unsold stock. Nowadays, dealing with product returns is one of the hardest parts of running a brand. To make sure that these returns do not end in landfills is a pricey logistical headache. Inevitably, part of the solution must consist of trying and reduce return amounts from the consumer, and resell the returned items that won’t be restocked, so they can find their first use.
Returns certainly have become a huge Goliath for fashion brands. The textile sector is one of the most affected, as it is the one that receives the most returns. With no consistency in sizing, and thanks to fast fashion and fast shipping, shoppers often fill their online carts fully expecting not to keep what they have ordered. That is why some brands have started to charge for their returns in order to disincentivize this way of buying clothes. Inditex’s flagship brand Zara, for instance, started to do so in the UK and Germany towards the end of 2021, and it seems obvious that other brands could follow.
A high amount of returns not only has an impact on sales profits, but also leaves a huge carbon footprint. According to Greenpeace, in 2020, from Black Friday until the 13th of December, transport companies delivered 50 millions of parcels, with a return rate around 25%. Studies talk about increased buyer awareness, but on the other hand new forms of overconsumption proliferate. A lot of brands we work with want better options than just throwing things in the trash. A transition towards circular economy has started, but we need to keep alert and transform along with the transformations that our world undergoes, with new generations and their new ways of experiencing life, technology and, also, fashion.