From competition to collaboration: The skyrocketing sisterhood economy

You may have heard of “collaborative consumption” where people buy, sell, rent, and share the things they own. It’s always been around – think garage sales and consignment stores – but the internet has made it possible for everyone to join in, transforming how we shop in ways we never could have imagined in the olden days of, you know, 2007. Back then, fast fashion and big box stores ruled. We’d buy the stuff we wanted, toss or donate it when done, then hit up the mall for more. It was wasteful, but gratifying, if a little empty – kind of like junk food. 

Then, it started to get old. I noticed it around 2009, after the economy had crashed and I had to start questioning my spending habits. Like a lot of my friends, I had an overflowing closet but nothing to wear. I was drowning in fast fashion, but missing out on real, satisfying, lasting style. So I started frequenting consignment and thrift shops. It became an obsession, and I got really good at spotting deals. Before long, I was rocking Chanel blazers and Louboutin shoes – and spending less than ever on my wardrobe! I realised that every woman needed a way to access great pre-owned fashion, without having to spend countless hours foraging consignment stores like I did.

So I built a website called Tradesy, to connect women to buy and sell designer fashion, straight from their closets, in mere seconds. Today, millions of women use Tradesy, and the overall growth of online fashion resale is outpacing growth in fast fashion and traditional retail. This trend in the fashion category is just one example of how collaborative consumption can catch fire, transforming our economy into a more sustainable, human-centric system. People who shop and sell on the fashion resale market don’t just get better-quality, more stylish wardrobes for less. They also produce less fast-fashion waste, extend the lifecycle of clothing and accessories, and empower each other with access to high-end style that makes everyone look and feel great.

But, there’s a missing piece to the larger discussion about collaborative consumption – and it’s women. A whopping 85 per cent of all consumer purchases are made or influenced by us. For any real shift in consumer behavior to take root, we must be the pioneers and the leaders. And for resale to grow into the economic movement it can be, we’ll need to be powered by female collaboration – a revolutionary idea that’s gaining steam, but hasn’t quite gone fully mainstream yet. 

Historically, women have been encouraged to compete rather than collaborate, and those outdated messages can still be seen in our culture every day. Since the early 20th century, marketers have tried to create superficial competition between women so that we’ll spend more on everything from dish soap to dresses in a bid to “outdo” each other. While these issues remain, we have witnessed recent, progressive shifts in advertising media that celebrate a slightly more diverse range of beauty archetypes. We’re beginning to wake up from this particular type of competition, as the world moves in a direction that celebrates a broader definition of beauty.  

But as economic inequality increases, and women achieve more financial power, we’re now encouraged to compete on wealth and status. Of course, the concept of classism isn’t new, but with social media and traditional advertising infiltrating our every waking moment, there’s more fuel being added to the fire. Suddenly a stylish shoe costs north of $400 – and there’s social and professional pressure to meet that standard. Can’t afford that $2,000 designer handbag that every celebrity on Instagram has? Guess you’re not in the club. There’s an unsettling undercurrent of pitting women against each other based on the price of our purses. And it’s just as insidious as any other message that seeks to divide us.

I don’t believe that this mindset comes naturally to us as women, but we can unintentionally absorb and fuel it because it’s so pervasive. But what if we were encouraged to celebrate each other’s beauty and success, and to collaborate with each other to increase our power and access, instead of competing? If we felt completely inspired, rather than mildly threatened, by seeing other women with fulfilling lives and beautiful things. That philosophy would replace, “Who wore it better?” with, “We’re all inspiring and beautiful.” We might find that sense of sisterhood and unity even more rewarding than a $2,000 purse. And, hey, we could still get the purse if we want it! But for half price, from another human who loved carrying it, instead of a mall or store. We might even sell it again when we’re done, to another woman who it looks amazing on. 

All women win when we collaborate in this way. It’s one of the reasons I started Tradesy.

I envisioned a place where fashion would be sustainable and accessible, and where women would be united instead of divided. A collaborative consumption community built by women for women, based on the notion that we can all have more, for less – but only if we work together.

The world with female collaboration is a happier, healthier, better, and stronger one. And one of the most powerful ways we can express our desire to collaborate toward a more sustainable future is by participating in an alternative system of trade – one that serves us, instead of big corporations. As the driving force behind the future of collaborative consumption, we hold the power to directly impact the fashion industry and lessen the demand for waste-producing fast fashion that pollutes our landfills.

We want to see a world that produces fewer, better things. And when we collaborate, it sends a message that women won’t be divided or made to compete. That we insist on quality and sustainability. That we’re here for each other and the world. That collaborative consumption is more than an economic trend – it’s a women’s movement.

I’ve got your back, and I hope you have mine, too. Let’s do this, ladies.

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details. Thumbnail from gettyimages.

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