a sign on a store window that says open shop.
a sign on a store window that says open shop.

The Difference Between Recommerce, Upcycling, Resale, and the Circular Economy

When you think about the future of fashion and clothing, what do you see? If your mind instantly went to a bleak world where everything we own has an expiration date that eventually leads to our closets overflowing with unusable clothes, then you’re not alone. This is the image that most people have when they hear the words “fashion” and “future” mentioned in the same sentence.

But as many sustainability-minded individuals know, there’s a lot more to it than that. While some of these terms may seem new or unfamiliar, each one plays an important part in shifting how we view, produce, and buy clothing. Let’s take a look at four key concepts—Recommerce, Upcycling, Resale, and the Circular Economy—that all fall under the umbrella of sustainable fashion.

What is Recommerce?

When we talk about recommerce, we’re referring to the broad ability to re-sell or resell clothing or other items that have already been purchased—whether it’s on the same platform you purchased it from or through an entirely different one. “Recommerce” is the recent category under “e-commerce” that focuses on secondhand clothing or upcycling.

You’ve probably heard the term used in relation to shopping apps like Poshmark, which allow users to buy and sell their own clothing items that have already been used. In this sense, the term recommerce is essentially describing the secondhand clothing industry. The most important thing to understand about recommerce is that it’s already happening—and it’s an integral part of the fashion industry.

The reason secondhand clothing is such a big part of the fashion landscape is because it’s problematic to try to manufacture new clothing items that will only be worn a few times before being disposed of. It’s practically impossible to predict how quickly fashions will change, how long people will want to wear the same pieces, or how the environment will evolve and impact the fashion industry (to name a few factors). Instead, the secondhand clothing industry has become an integral part of the fashion landscape because it allows consumers to buy clothing they love, at a price they can afford, while still being stylish, and not having to worry about how long a piece will last.

What is Upcycling?

Upcycling is the process of turning old or discarded materials into something new and useful, like a garment made from repurposed materials. This method of repurposing items that would otherwise be thrown away or put into a landfill is a crucial part of sustainability. And it’s also become a crucial component of the fashion industry as a whole.

With upcycling, designers and brands are able to repurpose old clothing items and fabrics that would otherwise be thrown away into brand new pieces, allowing them to create unique, limited edition pieces that appeal to a wide variety of consumers. What’s really exciting about upcycling is that it can be done in a variety of different ways, with designers and brands using a slew of different materials to create truly one-of-a-kind pieces.

The best place to find upcycled clothing in particular is RE.STATEMENT, the online marketplace for new, unique statement pieces made from used or unwanted materials.

What is Resale?

Resale is the practice of buying used clothing items and other products, like furniture and appliances, and then selling them on a different platform (i.e., through an online reselling platform, eBay, etc.). While reselling isn’t as common as secondhand shopping, it’s still a great way to get clothing and other products on a budget while also helping reduce waste in the fashion industry.

Resale is a concept that many are familiar with today. Whether it’s buying used textbooks online, looking for gently used furniture at a local resale shop, or selling an old iPhone to raise money for a new one, re-selling and resale are concepts that are already part of our everyday lives.

What is the Circular Economy?

The circular economy is a model in which materials (like clothing and other items) are used for as long as possible before being re-purposed, rather than discarded. This means that clothes are designed to last longer before they show wear and tear, and are then re-purposed into something new, rather than being thrown away.

The circular economy is the future of fashion and clothing, but it’s not something that we’ll be able to achieve overnight. That’s why in the meantime, it’s important that we continue to support the fashion industry by buying clothing items that are made to last, supporting brands that promote sustainable fashion, and by repurposing and upcycling old clothing items whenever possible.

Recommerce vs. Upcycling vs. Resale vs. the Circular Economy – What’s the Difference, and How Do They Relate?

To sum it up, here are the definitions of…

  • Recommerce: the subset of e-commerce in which used items or parts of used items are sold again or recreated to be sold.
  • Upcycling: taking parts of used or unwanted materials to create something new. This is different from recycling, which requires mechanically or chemically altering the original material.
  • Resale: selling used or previously bought items for profit, as opposed to a nonprofit or donation-based thrift store.
  • Circular Economy: positive, regenerative model of production that aims to keep resources in use for as long as possible by creating new products from used materials.

And here is how these sustainable fashion e-commerce terms relate:

Resale and upcycling are both two different types of recommerce, which falls under the e-commerce category. Resale and upcycling can also be done outside of recommerce if they are listed and sold offline. Upcycling participates in and is part of the circular economy because it closes the loop on the regenerative creation of clothing.


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