Founded in 2009 (two years prior to it’s competitor, Depop), ThredUp is an online platform of secondhand women’s and children’s clothing that the consumer can shop as they would a normal website. This differs from more recent thrifting apps such as Depop or Poshmark in that ThredUp acts as the middle-man between the seller and the buyer. The seller fills a “Clean Out” bag with unwanted clothes and sends them to ThredUp where they are photographed and put up on the site. Once a piece is sold, the seller gets a ThredUp credit or a payout.
I will say it plainly - I was blown away by ThredUp’s transparency around sustainability on their website. I recommend anyone reading this review to spend an hour going through all of their informational material, because there is so much of it and they make it so engaging. They include legitimate consumer and market survey reports, listed sources on all of their informational material, pages upon pages of transparency surrounding their own sustainable practices, as well as informational material educating the consumer on the environmental impacts of fashion in general. Obviously they do have gaps in transparency or could be doing a bit more - but at the same time, if I included absolutely every aspect of the sustainability efforts they do currently have, this review would be way too long for you to read - so keep that in mind. This is not the full picture! And I really encourage you to go to their website a read about it in full if you are interested.
In short, if you came to this review to see if ThredUp is reliable as a sustainable and ethical company - the answer is a resounding “YES'!”.
ThredUp asserts on their website that reselling already avoids 100% of pollution and environmental degradation that is created through the material production and manufacturing in the fashion industry. This is true - by not being involved in the actual creation of the products they are selling ThredUp is avoiding the responsibility of the carbon footprints of their garments. On average, one new garment uses 77 gallons of water to produce, and creates 17 lbs of CO2. Fashion production has been speeding up for the past 15 years - and we currently produce 100B garments annually, on average. Half of people throw their (resell-able!) clothes straight in the trash when they no longer use them, 73% of which ends up in landfills or incinerators. According to ThredUp, buying a garment secondhand not only extends the product’s life but also reduces its carbon, waste, and water footprints by 82%. In other words, the cost-per-wear (environmental cost of production / amount of wears) is decreasing because the garment is being worn more. ThredUp has also thought about the back-end of their business plan: what happens when a garment doesn’t meet the criteria for resale? Items in Clean Out bags are checked for resale once they arrive at the distribution center, and if they do not pass inspection then they are "diverted for reuse or recycling". Only 40% of clothes received from Clean Out bags are accepted - so what happens to the other 60%? ThredUp created programs focussed on upcycling rejected items to keep them out of landfills ("Rescues Auction" and "ReFashion" are two initiatives that turn old garments into new art for auction or resale). Furthermore, if garments don’t make the cut for upcycling they are sent one of two routes: heavily discounted "Rescue Boxes", or are "responsibly recycled" by ThredUp’s "vetted network of textile recylcers" - all who must adhere to their Aftermarket Partner Code of Conduct. I could not find any information backing up who these aftermarket recyclers are, or what the Code of Conduct entails. Overall, ThredUp is going above and beyond what any other large thrifting app or platform that I know of in terms of goods production and waste management. The only thing I am left wanting is a commitment to carbon neutrality - which is something that I would hope is factored in to ThredUp’s goals before 2030.
So, ThredUp doesn’t have any “material" costs in terms of the products it sells. Great! What about the transportation involved in the thrifting process? This is a great question. While they do not "produce" any of their own products, the packaging and shipment of consigned pieces - both from seller to warehouse and from warehouse to consumer - are definitely within the category of how ThredUp’s goods are "made". ThredUp uses FSC Certified (recycled) paper and 100% recycled and recyclable polymailers - additionally ensuring that all of the Clean Out bags they receive at their distribution centers are recycled. They state that they practice "responsible shipping", which includes encouraging customers to make one large purchase, instead of multiple smaller ones, to save unnecessary packaging and transportation resources. However, I could not find any sources to back up exactly how they "encourage" customers to do this. I also could not find any information on how they are mitigating the emissions produced through all of this transportation (from seller → distributor → customer). A lot of other companies offset their transportation emissions through monetary donation - this is something ThredUp could look into. In terms of operational impact, ThredUp has stopped steaming garments, switched all bulbs in their facilities to LED, and are continuously looking to improve the energy efficiency of their distribution center equipment (some of which they buy secondhand). In addition to tackling their sustainability internally, ThredUp also has many initiatives to promote thrifting and sustainability with the public. Through Retail-as-a-Service (RAAS) they partner with brands - such as Athleta, Reformation, and Madewell - to use the ThredUp infrastructure to ease the resale of products from those brands. For example, if you use a Clean Out kit for your Reformation pieces, you will receive store credit and a bonus payout when they are sold on ThredUp! In short, ThredUp is doing a lot more than other thrifting apps and platforms to make sure that their operational impact is as environmentally friendly as possible.
To round it off, ThredUp is also very transparent about its employees. Workers get flexible scheduling (Tuesdays are “Maker Day” - no meetings, and WFH), bi-annual business courses taught by the CEO and other executives, management workshops, wellness and creativity courses, yoga, etc. Salaried employees are allowed to take an 8-week sabattical for every three years of employment - for “recharging“ purposes. There are programs specifically for workers in the distribution centers surrounding leadership and career, as well as assurance of livable wages and flexible workweeks. They also state a dedication to DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) initiatives on their website, such as inclusive training, allyship training programs for the company, transparency surrounding compensation, parental leave for birthing and non-birthing parents, and specific programs to attract diverse skilled workers. When surveying their workforce, 71% identified as female and 69% identified as a minority.
For the brand as a whole, ThredUp appears to be an extremely transparent and advocacy-based brand. Aside from their personal sustainability efforts, ThredUp’s outreach to the larger fashion industry and their dedication to educating the consumer on sustainable shopping is impressive. They include a carbon footprint calculator on their website, all women’s items come with the eco impact of each garment on their website, and their Resale Report is very informative and engaging. The company partnered with fashion designer Christian Siriano to create the world’s first universal symbol for used clothing, later holding the first ever thrifted fashion show at New York Fashion Week. ThredUp seems like an up-and-coming leader in the fashion resale business.