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AI in the second-hand market: a sustainable alternative to fast fashion

In recent years, the use of artificial intelligence in different spheres of human life has grown exponentially. Day after day, AI continues to show its huge potential to take on complex or everyday tasks, helping to achieve goals that seemed almost impossible.

One of the sectors that has begun to make the most of the great potential artificial intelligence has to offer is the fashion industry. In this article we’ll be talking about how the second-hand clothing market is managing to expand, positioning itself as a sustainable alternative to fast fashion thanks to the use of AI.

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AI and sustainability in the second-hand market

The second-hand market has been gaining ground for years in terms of purchasing habits for thousands of consumers around the world in its bid become a sustainable alternative to fast fashion. Artificial Intelligence has provided it with the necessary tools to successfully tackle the sector’s inherent challenges.

Basically, the second-hand market intends to give another lease of life to products that seemed to have lost all their potential, at least in appearance. This is especially necessary and possible in the case of garments, whose useful life is very much longer than the life assigned to them by fast fashion.

That said, on its path to success the second-hand market faces two big challenges that threaten its sustainability:

  • Effective management of a huge, varied stock of unique garments;
  • The need to ensure that consumers have a pleasant purchasing experience.

It turns out that faced with these huge challenges, the second-hand market has found the ideal ally in artificial intelligence to keep growing as a sustainable business that may become a real alternative to fast fashion. In order to illustrate how this has been possible, we are going to talk about the case of Micolet and the use they have made of AI.

Micolet: challenges and solutions

Micolet is a company specialising in selling second-hand clothing over the Internet, created to unite a passion for fashion with environmental awareness. Only three years after being founded in 2015, they were already leaders in their sector in Europe, continuing their growth into other markets.

One of Micolet’s main characteristics as a company is that they take on the entire management of all the garments in their stock, which means picking up the clothes their customers want to sell from their homes, ironing and photographing each of the garments, and making them available in their online store for potential buyers.

Of course, just like any other business breaking into the second-hand market, it didn’t take long for Micolet to realise they had to overcome various challenges. On the one hand, they had to manage a permanent stock of over 600,000 unique items and receive some 120,000 garments a week that had to be checked and photographed, as well as describing each garment and putting a price on it.

This in turn gave rise to another big challenge for the second-hand clothes company: how to offer a pleasant, effective purchasing experience while enabling every customer to find the garment they are looking for in a seemingly infinite catalogue.

Being a shop for resale where people expect to find relatively low prices, any improvement in each product’s life-cycle has a positive impact on the business, especially in terms of sustainability and profitability.

Essential reading: Report on the circular economy in fashion by Micolet

The role of artificial intelligence in the second-hand market

Faced with these great challenges, Micolet has discovered that using artificial intelligence greatly helps manage huge volumes of products, which in turn forms the basis to ensure suppliers and consumers get a sales experience that is far more effective and pleasant—and far less overwhelming.

This is because one of the main characteristics of artificial intelligence is how well it handles big volumes of data and carries out repetitive tasks. Hence, it can give the second-hand clothes market all the support it needs to manage an enormous amount of unique items and prepare each garment for sale much faster.

Furthermore, letting artificial intelligence take care of repetitive tasks such as retouching a photograph of a garment and deleting the background from the image can mean great savings for resale businesses in terms of both time and money.

What’s more, a second-hand sales platform can take advantage of AI to personalise their website in keeping with each customer’s tastes and preferences so that they only receive offers and suggestions specifically suited to their sizes, purchasing history, budgets and preferences.

In the report on second-hand by Thred Up, we can see that the second-hand market is expected to double by 2025

AI and the second-hand market against fast fashion

By introducing artificial intelligence in managing and supplying their wide-ranging catalogue of products, at Micolet they have been able to successfully handle the growth in sales of 60% that they have experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, they now receive about 10,000 garments a day, which is double what they received before the pandemic, and every month they give a new lease of life to about 60,000 items of clothing.

Without a doubt, joining forces with AI gives the second-hand clothing market the chance to implement much more effective strategies to overcome the obstacles threatening its sustainability, in order to become a real alternative to fast fashion.

Micolet has managed to automate its procedures thanks to artificial intelligence.

The role of AI in reducing the environmental footprint

In order to understand the importance of using artificial intelligence in the management and sales strategies of the second-hand clothes market, it is worth reflecting on some data about the negative impact that the textile and fast fashion industry is having on the environment.

According to a report published in the website, the fashion industry produces 2% to 8% of global carbon emissions; in other words, more than all the international flights and maritime shipping together. Furthermore, 20% of all the planet’s water pollution is the result of wastewater from producing and dyeing textiles.

In the light of such data, it is easy to understand why a growing number of consumers, businesses and political heads are making a commitment to ecological initiatives that seek to put the brakes on the textile industry’s negative impact on the environment, with the second-hand market being a very notable example.

Today, far more people are ready to buy second-hand products than before. According to ThredUp’s 2021 Resale Report, the percentage of such consumers aged over 18 came to 86%, meaning about 223 million people. Without a doubt, the circular economy and resale are having a deep impact on consumer habits among the new generations.

Thanks to the advances in artificial intelligence, resale businesses can now find an effective solution to the sector’s typical problems, improving profitability and becoming one of the main possibilities for tackling the negative impact that traditional trade and big industries have on our planet.

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