Replacement as a Solution to Consumption

Written by
Annie Gullingsrud

Whenever I speak publicly or talk to companies, I typically start with sharing two pieces of a “data sandwich” about the fashion industry that almost speaks for itself:

These two pieces of data tell me:

  • Fashion production is causing holistic damage to people, society, the environment and all living things.

  • We don’t value our clothing.

  • We are not being entirely intelligent in how we are using the earth’s assets.

  • We must slow down new extraction of and flow of virgin resources through the fashion system and increase the use of existing resources in the fashion system.


I can’t tell you how many times I was speaking at or attending a conference when “activists” took the microphone and hailed “WE MUST STOP BUYING AND CONSUMING.” Oftentimes, these people had a shameful tone typically coupled with extraordinarily unfashionable attire. If buying less means sounding and looking like them, well, I think I’ll just turn my head and keep doing what I’m doing. I don’t like anyone telling me what to do, especially in a forceful, righteous, and shameful tone. That’s when I shut down, do nothing, turn away.

But, I too began to question and explore my owning buying habits. Throughout the years of personal research as a “consumer,” I noticed the literal clawing of my insides telling me to buy something new. When I went to malls, it was like I was being approached by racks and racks of knit and woven drug dealers enticing me to look skinnier, more on trend, cooler if I just bought this shirt for $22.99. A visceral affect where I was under the influence of something way more powerful than me, hypnotized by the shiny rack of sequined peddlers. Our economy is set up to make this appeal—selling new stuff is the way profit is made.


I’m all about finding effective and sustainable sources of joy. Buying this way, I found, was not effective or sustainable—it was temporary, the feeling was short-lived, and still left me wanting more, more, more. A vicious cycle of wanting, never satisfied. Overtime I learned to question that clawing, to investigate it when it arrived, and yes, to replace it with something more meaningful.


In August I wrote about how the fashion industry can look to spiritual concepts to heal and transition into a better way of working. I discuss a complete mindset shift, and also the need to make incremental change. Another concept we could borrow and learn from, as buyers and as an industry, is the concept of “replacement.”

What if, instead of buying more new, we buy what we want, and creatively source a large portion of our closets and our children’s closets from resellers, lenders and regivers (our friends!).

When I buy clothing for my family, 90% of our closets are sourced from reseller websites such as Poshmark, ThreadUp, The Real Real, Goodwill, Renewal Workshop, Eileen Fisher Renew and from our stylish friends. There are an extraordinary amount of platforms like this—resell platforms and shopping experiences that observe the importance of curation, design and function/technology (and a lot of them are tech companies launched here in the Bay Area).

More and more, companies are also launching rental models that allow us to continue to buy, and feed back into the system. Of course Rent the Runway leads the way, and even companies such as Filippa K, Express, Ann Taylor, and NY&CO now have leasing models. There are many additional companies I work with that are currently developing unique service models like this, too—finding the necessity in the positive contribution of this shift, realizing the potential in capitalizing off of existing garments, continuously.


The personal impact to this simple concept is far greater than one could imagine. It can lead to a creative explosion, positive and meaningful conversations with old and new friends, a learning of new hobby (such as mending, creative trading). It can lead to kindness and generosity (gifts to friends of cherished garments you want to pass on). It can lead to a source of joy, deeper meaning and emotionally durability in your garments and closet. It can connect you to a community. It can get rid of your shame and guilt. And, yes, It can lead to less buying overall, a byproduct that we didn’t need to shame you into.

Participating in these models also sends the message to brands for our desire for these types of models that support our need to get something new to us, without something newly extracted from our planet.

As a fashion industry circular design strategist consultant, I engage with companies to explore and develop a systems-based approach to update business models that support a renewed sense of engagement and loyalty with customers. As a sustainable materials specialist and lover, I do think there will always be a place for sustainably produced virgin and innovative materials, as well as new garments made from recycled materials. However, a bigger emphasis on the intelligent use of existing fashion assets is one way to heal our industry and bring it more in balance with our planet.

Annie Gullingsrud