Britons waste £6 billion on 'regretted' fast fashion purchases every year

An Asian woman stands in a shopping mall with a frustrated look on her face as she looks inside her empty purse, while carrying several shopping bags
A third of purchases made off the back of shopping alerts sent by fast fashion brands are regretted, research finds. (Getty Images) (Getty Images)

British shoppers waste an estimated £6.1 billion on fast fashion trends every year, as nearly half (46%) of consumers think London Fashion Week is fuelling overconsumption.

New research by reselling platform Gumtree has found that Britons are feeling pressure to shop more frequently, particularly during events like London Fashion Week, which began on 15 September.

The impulse to buy is further exacerbated by an overwhelming number of shopping alerts sent by fast fashion brands to prompt customers into buying trend-based clothing and accessories.

The research found that the average UK shopper is “bombarded” with an average of 10 alerts every week from fast fashion brands. The notifications come in the form of WhatsApp messages, emails and text messages.

Read more: This Is How Many Items Of ClothIng You Really Need In A Lifetime (Huffpost UK, 3-min read)

However, Gumtree’s survey revealed that more than a third (37%) of purchases made off the back of such alerts are regretted. In addition, 41% of young shoppers say the pressure to buy new clothes from fast fashion brands is in direct conflict with their growing climate anxiety.

On average, Britons are set to spend £304 per person on new fashion items over the course of this year. According to Gumtree, this puts the country on track to waste £6.1 billion on cyclical trend buys.

Three clear plastic bags stuffed with unwanted clothing
Hundreds of thousands of items of clothing end up going into the bin every year. (Getty Images) (Getty Images)

Clothing charity Clothes Aid estimates that around 350,000 tonnes - equivalent to around £140 million - of used, but still wearable clothing goes to landfill in the UK every year. Meanwhile, more than 60% of householders in the UK say they have unwanted clothes and textiles laying around their homes.

Hannah Rouch, chief marketing officer at Gumtree, explains that cyclical fashion is "the process of a trend or style being repeated". For example, the recent 90s trend that has been dominating stores and catwalks has seen high street brands encouraging consumers to buy new 90s-inspired clothing.

"Cyclical fashion is trends based, with major fashion houses tending to 'set the trends' a couple of times a year aligned to major fashion weeks. These styles then trickle down into fast fashion brands creating copies," she says.

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"This practice has a huge impact on waste. As a consumer, it’s hard not to feel pressure to constantly buy and try out the latest trends. From our research, we know the average Brit receives ten alerts from fast fashion brands across notifications, emails - even WhatsApp notifications, but 37% admit to regretting these purchases - hence the buy/regret/waste cycle that needs to be broken."

In order to help shoppers avoid the temptation to give into these shopping alerts, Rouch advises consumers to "always ask 'why' before you buy".

She adds: "Shopping alerts are designed to make you feel you 'need' an item instantly... Take a moment to consider whether the item fits with your natural style and compliments your existing wardrobe. Avoiding 'fast' fashion which can quickly date and investing in classic items that can be worn for multiple seasons is one way to try to steer clear of impulse purchases."

Rouch also recommends shopping on secondhand or "circular economy platforms" to avoid buying brand new items.

In a statement, she said: “This Fashion Week, we’re staging a consumption rebellion. The endless daily promotion of cyclical style and transient trends simply isn’t compatible with the growing climate crisis.

“That’s why we are calling on the fashion industry - from fast fashion brands to the world’s leading designers - to give more space to repurposed and pre-loved fashion as well as to classics that stand the test of time.”

Rouch added: “With imagination, style and sustainability can be compatible. There are literally millions of unique pieces, fashion classics and one-off gems just waiting to be picked up on circular economy platforms like Gumtree and they’re all available for a fraction of the price of the spontaneous trend-driven purchases that so many of us come to regret.”

Gumtree’s new data comes amid Second Hand September, a campaign started by Oxfam that promotes donating, reusing, rewearing and restyling clothes instead of buying new items. The charity urges people to consider the fashion industry’s impact on climate change and to extend the life of clothes in order to reduce waste and pollution created by manufacturing and production.

Read more: Best online second-hand shops for clothes, tech and furniture (Yahoo Life UK, 8-min read)