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What Actually Happens to Your Online Fashion Returns?

What Actually Happens to Your Online Fashion Returns?

We've all been there.

There's not long before a wedding, a birthday party or another special event and you've got nothing to wear! So you find something you really like the look of online, but you're unsure about how it might fit. Maybe you order two different sizes, or perhaps it is a pricier item so you just hope that when it arrives it'll fit like a glove. 

Except it doesn't. Either way, you either need send something back. But what actually happens to your online fashion returns when you've done this? 

Here's What Actually Happens to Your Online Fashion Returns

Fast fashion and huge retailers have gotten a bad wrap for not looking after people or planet. In the recent past retailers including Amazon have been accused of simply dumping any excess, unsold or returned stock. 

In fact, one ex-Amazon worker said that there was a target to destroy around 130,000 items a week. Crazy. 

We have an excess clothing problem, with enough clothes on the planet for the next six generations to wear.

Even when returns are dealt with, our old clothing gets shoved to the back of our wardrobe and eventually heads to a charity shop.

But what happens when clothes don't get sold at a charity shop? Some of it will get turned into rags, which recycles worn out clothing into products like insulation materials. 

As much as 70% of clothing donated to charity shops was found to be exported rather than sold on the highstreet, according to the Guardian in February 2015. 

Unwanted second hand clothes are washing up in huge piles. on beaches in Ghana. The fast fashion dump in the Atacama Desert, Chile was covered in thousands of tonnes of clothes.

Recently fast fashion brands are getting better at dealing with online returns and deadstock. For example you can now find Zara in British Red Cross charity shops which they have a partnership with.

ASOS revealed that they have a zero landfill policy. They claim 97% of their returns get resold, with 3% "sent to brand partners to be recycled or reused so that it can go on to live a happy second life."

They take four steps to resell their good returned items. 

  1. Inspect the item. 
  2. Repair if necessary.
  3. Clean up, pressing and steaming.
  4. Hung to dry in cabinet, before reselling.

Cost of Returns Reaches £20bn

It takes times, money, effort and resources to process returns. Committing them to landfill is more cost effective for some fashion labels. 

Many brands have outlet stores where they are able to sell returned, damaged or defected stock at a cheaper price. 

Back in 2018, a huge backlash was caused by Burberry's burning of stock worth around £28 million, or the equivalent of 20,000 of its signature trench coats, as The Times notes. They were not the only designer brand to be accused of this - with Chanel and Louis Vuitton also questioned. 

Why do brands burn stock? Some of the high-end luxury brands cannot afford for their unsold stock to be heavily discounted at an end-of-line store. So they destroy the items so they don't re-enter the marketplace for super cheap prices


Resale platforms like eBay are certainly not a new idea.

But now fast fashion brands are launching their own resale markets. This includes Pretty Little Thing's new resale marketplace.

This is what they say about what their platform is for.

"With PLT Marketplace we’re dedicated to creating a space where like-minded buyers and sellers can join the movement, creating a community for those who are constantly striving to be more mindful when it comes to how they consume fashion."

So what's in it for them? Well the PLT Marketplace gives its "movers, shakers and creators" a grace period of 3 months where they get 0% selling fees. 

It's way for their brand to stay relevant and to receive selling fees for stock they've already sold. This is still better than sending items straight to landfill and even gives an incentive for rewearing and reusing these clothes. But does that mean they're producing fewer new clothes and styles on their main website?

Popular brands like Lucy and Yak, Dr Martens sell their overstock and slightly defected items on Depop. Dr Martens even refurbish and then resell their famous boots and shoes, which they call 'Resouled'.

Here's What Happens to our Returns at Green Heart Collective


Like we said, we've all been there! Returns are just a normal part of buying items online. So we still get a few returns that we have to deal with. It all works slightly differently with us, because we almost always sell something that is preloved, second-hand or rescued. Some of the rescued stock is brand new with tags. 

One of the most important things we do is to ensure we've listed the item with enough information in the first place. This means making careful measurements (to allow for irregular sizing) as well as making note of any marks or imperfections that second hand clothing, yoga equipment and books might have. 

Still, sometimes things aren't quite the perfect fit. Or maybe there's something else wrong with the dress, top or pair of boots. Once we've identified what the issue is we then have to decide what to do next. 

If it's just a matter of a size or if something has been returned because the customer doesn't like the colour or style, we can simply check the item over and then relist. 

If there's a small imperfection, we may be able to relist the item on a different online platform like Vinted, or we might try to sell it in our physical shop, making a note of what the issue is. 

If something is returned that was originally listed as brand new but then clearly worn, labels cut out and returned, we sadly cannot relist that item as new. Instead we would have to sell that item as used on Depop, Vinted or in our shop.

What Happens to Your Returns: Summary

  • Returns are just part of online shopping when you can't try things on.
  • They aren't an issue unless brands don't deal with them properly.
  • We have a huge excess of clothes in our wardrobes.
  • Even when we mean well, donating old clothes, we can often saturate charity shops who sell on the items to recycling companies, which eventually means items go overseas.
  • This can flood second hand clothing markets in other countries, causing mountains of textile waste to pile up.
  • Fast fashion culture means we, as consumers constantly want to buy new clothes.
  • More new clothes means more old clothes that may go to waste
  • Check where you shop for what policies they may have with regards to returns and end of line stock.
  • By shopping second hand you can reduce the amount of clothing that goes to landfill.
  • Even when your clothes become unwearable, you could upcycle them or use them as cleaning cloths.


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