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The RealReal Is Investing in Luxury’s ‘Afterlife’

The RealReal is taking its commitment to circularity a step further with a new program designed give past-their-prime haute couture pieces a new lease on life.

To kick off Earth Month on Thursday, the Bay Area-based luxury resale marketplace announced the debut ReCollection 01, the first stage of an upcycling initiative that brings together a diverse cadre of brands in the interest of promoting an “afterlife” for used garments. A garbage truck’s worth of textiles are landfilled or burned every second, it said, and this platform will keep promising pieces from meeting such a fate.

Los Angeles’ circular fashion initiative Atelier & Repairs will take the lead on transforming distressed or damaged styles from A-Cold-Wall*, Balenciaga, Dries Van Noten, Jacquemus, Simone Rocha, Stella McCartney, Ulla Johnson, and Zero + Maria Cornejo into newly wearable and one-of-a-kind pieces. ReCollection’s creations will honor American craftsmanship by incorporating portions of unfinished American quilts, lending a modern patchwork effect to the fresh looks.

“As a designer, I think it’s the biggest compliment for your designs to have an afterlife—to me, that is luxury,” Stella McCartney, founder and creative director of her eponymous label, said in a statement. The designer added that she considers the possibilities for a garment’s second act during the creative process, taking into account “the timelessness of the design, how it’s made, what materials are used to produce it.”

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“We invest a lot to make sure that our products are made to last rather than end up in a landfill,” she added.

Garments given the ReCollection treatment will have to meet high standards for sustainability, The RealReal said, noting that the program will operate on zero-waste processes and pay its American production team fair wages for reviving the fashions. No virgin fabrications will be accepted, it added.

“To have such a dynamic group of luxury brands join us for our first collection sends an incredibly powerful message about the importance of circularity and the opportunity we all have to support a more sustainable future for fashion,” said Julie Wainwright, founder and CEO of The RealReal, adding that the resale firm’s upcycling program is bolstered by the quality and craftsmanship inherent in luxury goods. “Our hope is that ReCollection will inspire people to think about the afterlife of what they own and embrace more conscious consumption.”

The program’s introductory range, ReCollection 01, available on The RealReal’s website, features more than 50 men’s and women’s ready-to-wear garments,  accessories, and quilts with prices ranging from $195 to $2,450. A portion of the proceeds from each sale will be donated to One Tree Planted’s reforestation efforts.

While retail suffered steep losses throughout the pandemic, the resale market represented a bright spot for the sector. Through online marketplaces like The RealReal, along with Poshmark, ReBag and eBay, shoppers jonesing for a fashion fix could indulge with less anxiety over their finances—or the future of the planet. Fewer occasions to wear new clothes left consumers with more time to reflect on their purchases and buy with intention, meaning that secondhand surged while fast fashion floundered.

Competitor ThredUp, which went public last week with a $168 million IPO, further underscored the category’s meteoric rise. The online thrift store’s initial $14-per-share pricing when it hit the market Thursday has since climbed to more than $23 when the market closed Wednesday. ThredUp’s 2020 study with GlobalData projected 414-percent growth for the global resale category by 2024—versus the predicted 4-percent contraction across the rest of retail.

And despite 2020’s headwinds—which disproportionately impacted physical retail over savvy digital natives—The RealReal in January announced plans to open 10 stores in the not-so-distant future after cutting the ribbon on a new location in Brooklyn. “Stores boost our penetration in a market and drive supply, so brick and mortar is an important part of our strategic growth plan,” Courtney Hawkins, vice president of retail, said at the time.