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The RealReal Does the Math on Luxury Consignment’s Environmental Savings

The RealReal is toasting National Consignment Day with a little math.

The digitally native luxury-resale store, which opened a brick-and-mortar store in New York City last year and another in Los Angeles this past July, has launched a science-based sustainability tool aimed at quantifying the “positive impact of consignment on the planet.”

Homing in on the 2.5 million women’s clothing items it has fielded since its 2012 debut, The RealReal says it has “softened luxury’s impact on the environment” by saving 65 million car miles’ worth of greenhouse gases and energy, or the equivalent of about 23,000 cross-country trips between its SoHo and L.A. stores. With the help of its consignors, the company has also saved 246 million liters of water—enough to fill 1 billion glasses.

A staggering 80 billion pieces of clothing are produced worldwide each year, up 400 percent from two decades ago, according to the 2015 documentary “The True Cost.” Roughly 75 percent of that winds up in landfills. By extending the life span of pre-owned goods (a Chanel chain bag, say, or a pair of mid-calf Dries van Noten boots), The RealReal says it helps contribute to the circular model of fashion, where products are used and reused rather than used and discarded. 

The RealReal developed the first iteration of its calculator in partnership with Portland-based consulting firm Shift Advantage, along with sustainability experts such as Eliot Metzger of the World Resources Institute and Camille Gillet from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. 

Identifying each item’s impact required no small amount of guesswork, even for a company that employs more than 90 in-house gemologists, horologists and brand authenticators, The RealReal admitted. It neither owns nor possesses special insight into the supply chains for consigned items, which can hail from hundreds of different brands. 

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Shift Advantage helped the company break down the most common women’s clothing types into four archetypes—dresses, tops, jackets and knitwear—from which it cobbled together industry estimates of the environmental impact of the fabrics most often used, including silk, cotton, polyester, viscose and wool.

Because each item consigned is unique, The RealReal used sample weights to develop average weight measures for each archetype fabrication group.  

The results, it noted, “are big,” not to mention proof positive that its exhortation to “be kind, consign” rings true. 

“Consigning is good for the environment, and I am thrilled we have developed a valid and quantifiable way for our customers to measure the positive impact their consignment has on the planet,” Julie Wainwright, founder and CEO of The RealReal, said in a statement. “It takes my breath away that people consigning apparel alone have made such a tremendous impact—the equivalent of 340,000 trees planted.”

Last year, The RealReal marked National Consignment Day, which takes place on the first Monday in October, by announcing a partnership with Stella McCartney, which it said is “still going strong.”

Consignors have until December to drop off a Stella McCartney item at The RealReal in exchange for $100 off their next purchase at a directly owned and operated Stella McCartney store or online at

“Sustainability is the cornerstone of our brand, which is why we believe in the circular economy,” McCartney said last year. “We believe in what The RealReal is doing and are thrilled to be the first luxury brand to put together a program of sustainability initiatives with them.”