What does the “Nike Refurbished” program entail, and why could this be a real game-changer for the circular economy?
As the Nike website‘s opening statement reads:
“Some products come back to life. We hand-inspect items that are like new, slightly used, and with minor imperfections and give them a refresh.”
Nike has ventured into the refurbished product market, which first undergoes scrutiny by a team of experts who inspect the item, which is then meticulously cleaned and sanitized. The Nike team then classifies each product based on its condition: like new, slightly used, or with minor imperfections.
Refurbished products are then sold at some stores at highly competitive prices, featuring the Nike Refurbished labeling. Currently, the Refurbished program is taking place only in selected stores in Italy, Spain, Germany, the Netherlands, France, Belgium, and Hungary, gathering curiosity and approval, especially from Gen Z.
How is the industry changing?
You don’t have to be a fashion insider to notice a shift in consumer choices and habits regarding purchases. Especially the younger generations, inclined towards a more sustainable lifestyle, choose to buy refurbished, vintage, or second-hand clothing. The reason, needless to say, is a structural collapse of fast fashion overproduction, which is often ten times greater than demand, and an excessive obsession with compulsive buying fueled by low-cost and low-quality items. There has been ample discussion about the vast landfills created by mountains of clothing dumped by global industries in certain areas of the planet and the urgent need for conscious and sustainable clothing choices.
What hasn’t been discussed enough, and what we’ll address in this editorial, relates to what is emerging as a lasting choice, not a temporary trend; here are the reasons.
The last explosion of vintage fashion occurred in the 1990s when we enjoyed browsing through second-hand markets in search of Levi’s denim, leather jackets, and military jackets from East Germany. At that time, mainstream fashion had embraced a style heavily inspired by the 1970s, which brands like Hysteric Glamour, Miss Sixteen, Diesel, Sisley, and Fiorucci reinterpreted according to their own stylistic codes. However, they were not accessible to everyone, especially in terms of price alternatives at the time, which we later found with the widespread proliferation of fast fashion. This led a dedicated group of young people to seek the same models, or rather, their original 1970s versions, in local markets and charity shops.
Vintage fashion exploded with all the power it could muster. Flea markets and second-hand stores were overrun, while others opened up in Europe and the United States. Some survived the enormous bubble, while others were forced to close their doors once the powerful trend wave had passed, lasting for at least ten years.
During the 2000s, the Y2K fashion imposed new ideals and inspirational models that left no room for nostalgia for the past. Style was projected forward into the digital age, and all those references to 1970s and 1980s styles were considered outdated. It wasn’t until the mid-2010s and the early 2020s that we witnessed the return of second-hand fashion, this time not for frivolous reasons related to passing trends and styles but to try to save the environment.
In fact, it was on April 23, 2013, when the Rana Plaza, an eight-story commercial building located in Savar, Bangladesh, tragically collapsed. Inside, it housed textile factories for renowned international brands, including Mango, Primark, H&M, Zara, Berska, Oysho, Stradivarius, Pull and Bear, and many others.
This tragedy resulted in the loss of over a thousand lives and shed light on the extreme economic and working conditions to which workers in the so-called “fast fashion” industry were subjected, sparking a global debate on the fast fashion industry and its business model.
This unsustainable consumption model continues to have a significant impact on the environment, contributing to greenhouse gas emissions, land use, excessive water consumption, and pollution of groundwater and oceans (due to the widespread use of synthetic fabrics that release microplastics during washing). Furthermore, the majority of production takes place in developing countries where strict labor laws are not always enforced.
This issue has become so significant that the European Union, as part of its circular economy action plan, has taken steps to address critical aspects of fast fashion. This strategy aims to reduce the destruction of thousands of unsold garments, which are often burned, and to ensure that production takes place in full compliance with social rights.
To counteract this type of production and align with a conscious shopping model, several brands have adapted to circular economies and environmentally-conscious production, either out of genuine ideals or market necessity. We have witnessed companies recycling waste materials from factories to create new shoes, brands redesigning models on existing vintage clothing, customizations of second-hand accessories, and new productions fully traceable by consumers.
Brands like Bode, Garment Workshop, Patagonia, Stella McCartney, adidas, Nike, to name a few, have based their core business on this model, some more impactfully than others, recognizing that the second-hand market will continue to gain ground in the coming years. This is evident in the success of the Vinted app, which boasts impressive figures, challenging many fashion companies, especially those in the fast fashion industry.
Returning to Nike, the “Nike Refurbished” initiative represents a bold step toward a more sustainable future for the fashion industry. It’s not just about selling refurbished sneakers; it’s about embracing a circular economy mindset that challenges the traditional model of production and consumption. As the world grapples with increasingly urgent environmental challenges, Nike has demonstrated its leadership in the clothing and footwear industry by recognizing that sustainability goes beyond using recycled materials. Nike’s decision to invest in refurbished sneakers sets an enlightening example for other global multinational corporations. It’s a call for reflection on how we can all contribute to reducing environmental impact through more conscious choices. While “Nike Refurbished” may seem like a small step, it’s a step in the right direction, a signal that companies can and should adopt more sustainable practices.
Nike’s Refurbished program has latent revolutionary potential, ready to serve as a case study for all other global clothing and footwear companies. It’s no longer enough to produce with recycled materials, as we have come to realize.