Recycle Boutique makes the move to online; drastic goals for textile waste reduction

Second hand clothing reseller Recycle Boutique says its shift to online operations means fewer garments will end up in landfill.

Currently, 220,000 tonnes of textile waste is dumped in landfill in New Zealand each year, but the 10-store retail chain hopes its latest move will cut that by a third.

In November last year Recycle Boutique moved online after two years developing its own software and e-commerce site. In just three months it has seen a 10 per cent increase in sales compared to the same period in 2019. It also received over 7000 clothing drop-offs.

General manager Mark Cowle said 30 per cent of the clothing donations the retailer received each week were coming via Recycle Boutique’s express drop-off option on its website.

He said early figures were encouraging signs that a significant reduction in the country’s annual textile waste output was possible.

Over 380,000 tonnes of fibre, fabric, and textile products are imported into the country every year. But just 7000 tonnes is repurposed through second hand stores and charities.

“We look at America as a real indication for the retail market and where it is going. Research done by Thread Up predicts that the second-hand resale market will be bigger than fast fashion by 2029,” Cowle told the Herald.

“We’re still seeing really good growth in our stores, and we’ve had really good year-on-year growth, but online is the next stage of growth for us as we’re not in cities like Nelson, New Plymouth and Napier, regional New Zealand, and we want to give people that offering.”

Online is growing a lot faster in the second-hand market compared to bricks and mortar.

Recycle Boutique wants to be the “circular solution for fashion” in New Zealand. The business operates two models: selling second-hand clothes on behalf of customers and importing its own second-hand and vintage goods from America.

The retailer imports two tonnes of second-hand clothing each month, the equivalent to 24 tonnes annually, and is looking to ramp up that figure significantly.

Cowle said international research had found that extending the life of clothing from one to two years meant global emissions could be reduced by approximately 25 per cent.

Recycle Boutique was founded in 2005 and over the past 15 years had grown to a business with 10 stores and over 100 staff, recycling more than 700,000 pieces of clothing annually across the country.

In addition to expanding its e-commerce operations over the next year, Recycle Boutique is looking to expand overseas. It has its eye on Britain and setting up retail stores there.

It is also not ruling out more physical stores in New Zealand, and plans to double its customer seller base from 80,000 at present, said Cowle.

“As a business we’re in such a fast-growing market that you have to be agile and grow with it, and the company is at a level now where it can do that. Whether it is more stores in New Zealand or stores overseas, online overseas … we need to be looking at everything now and we’re ready to do that.”

Recycle Boutique is owned by Nicholas Harvey, who is also a director and remains involved in the operations of the business.

“We want to get as many people in New Zealand recycling their clothing as possible.

“A lot more businesses are clued up about the second-hand market now, you’ve got Trade Me, Facebook Marketplace, Designer Wardrobe, but also the likes of Kate Sylvester who has an e-commerce platform based around resale, even Hallensteins and Glassons are doing vintage clothing, and other businesses and designers around New Zealand are doing made-to-order; there’s a shift happening at the moment in all fashion.”

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