Vestiaire Collective’s ‘Think first, buy second’ campaign is an example of great sustainability marketing

The second-hand marketplace gets it right by focusing blame on the fashion industry, bringing waste closer to home, and using trusted messengers to educate consumers on saying no to fast fashion.

Tabitha Whiting
6 min readNov 23, 2023

Vestiaire Collective’s latest marketing campaign — titled ‘Think first, buy second’ — brings light to the textile waste dumped on farflung streets as a result of the overconsumption driven by the fast fashion industry.

The campaign centres around a super short animated, AI-generated video which shows piles of discarded fast fashion littering Times Square, with the message: ‘what if fast fashion waste was on your doorstep’.

Which is also being shared across social media, both the video and static images of the messages within it — like this one on the Vestiaire Collective Instagram page:

It works nicely as a continuation of the video from their Black Friday campaign from last year (2022), when they began banning certain fast fashion brands from the Vestiaire Collective platform.

That video used footage from the actual locations where fast fashion waste is dumped, like the Kantamanto market in Ghana, where 15 million items arrive from the global North each week 🤯.

So, last year Vestiaire Collective showed the reality of where textile waste ends up, and this year they’re emphasising this through imagining a world where, instead of hidden away in Ghana, it ended up in world famous tourism spots like Times Square.

And, it’s not just a marketing campaign.

Vestiaire Collective are coupling the marketing with real action — they’ve banned an additional 30 fast fashion brands from being listed on their second hand marketplace, including serial greenwasher H&M, as well as the likes of Zara, Uniqlo, and Bershka.

It’s a great example of sustainability marketing done right.


Three key reasons:

  • Bringing climate impacts closer to home
  • Focusing blame on the fast fashion industry, not on individual consumers
  • Working with trusted messengers to deliver an educational message.

All of which are tactics which are proven to work when it comes to climate communications that really cut through.

Let’s explore these three elements a little closer.

Bringing climate impacts closer to home

The status quo is that climate change is seen as a faraway, abstract concept.

It will happen far in the future to people living on the other side of the world. That leads to a lack of urgency because, unfortunately, we humans aren’t great at planning for the long-term, we tend to respond only to what we see as immediate threats.

Because of this, it’s vital for climate communications campaigns to bring climate impacts closer to home — emphasising the impacts happening right now, to people like us, in places like this.

And that’s exactly what Vestiaire Collective do with their campaign.

They’ve picked up the piles of textile waste from the market stalls in Ghana that fast fashion brands use as a dumping ground, and placed them in Times Square — a location that is not only well-known amongst western consumers as a famous tourist spot, but also as an advertising hotspot.

Focusing blame on the fast fashion industry, not on individual consumers

The fossil fuel industry began a trend of blaming individual consumers for climate change a long time ago — emphasised nicely by BP creating the term ‘carbon footprint’ as a way to do just that.

Other climate change fuelling industries, like fast fashion, have been quick to follow suit.

They create ‘sustainable’ lines that represent 0.0001% of their overall stock, or they put the onus on individuals to donate or recycle their garments (*cough cough* and then don’t forget to buy more *cough cough*). H&M, we’re looking at you on both of these examples.

Even sustainable brands often focus their marketing on consumers making behavioural changes to cut carbon emissions. Replace your body wash with our soap bar. Subscribe to our plastic-free, organic veg box. And so on.

So, it’s refreshing to see Vestiaire Collective resist this narrative on two fronts.

First, and foremost, the blame is most certainly placed on the fast fashion companies in this campaign.

Nowhere do Vestiaire Collective suggest that the piles of textile waste are the fault of individuals buying fast fashion. No, they are absolutely the fault of fast fashion brands for overproducing and driving overconsumption.

Secondly, the campaign is also pleasingly self aware.

Whilst Vestiaire Collective is not a fast fashion brand itself, it is a business and it does, therefore, have significantly more influencing power than an individual when it comes to cutting carbon emissions and driving systemic change.

And the campaign doesn’t shy away from that. The main action of the campaign is that Vestiaire Collective is removing fast fashion brands from the marketplace. The brand is using its own power to take action against fast fashion itself.

Of course, there is a secondary ask within the campaign, which is for consumers to buy second-hand (as good as it is, it’s still an advert for the marketplace). The name of the campaign focuses on this: ‘Think first, buy second’. In fact, if I had one note for Vestiaire Collective on the campaign it would be to change the overall campaign name to keep that primary focus of blame on the fast fashion industry.

Working with trusted messengers to deliver an educational message

Historically, the least trusted voices have been those producing most of the messages on climate change.

From politicians, to journalists, to economists and business owners, there are a whole host of prominent, public-facing people out there who have made the climate crisis seem like a debate, rather than a lived reality.

And on the other side of the coin, communications to raise awareness about climate change and its impacts and solutions have been predominantly led by scientists and researchers.

They may sound like a trustworthy group of messengers, but actually the public have fairly low trust in science, fuelled by the fact that scientists often don’t communicate in an accessible manner for a generalist audience

This has all led to an overall lack of understanding on the topic of climate change, and a lack of action to drive change.

As part of the ‘Think first, buy second’ campaign, Vestiaire Collective have produced a 5 step framework to define what ‘fast fashion’ actually is.

This is great because it both increases understanding about a climate-related topic, and gives consumers a practical guide for taking action — a useful checklist that they can use when evaluating a brand to buy from.

And, to top it off, Vestiaire Collective also worked with ‘an international committee of activists and fashion sustainability experts’ to answer the question.

These are trusted messengers. They’re the researchers who really understand sustainability in fashion. And they’re the sustainable fashion influencers that consumers know and trust from their social media timelines.

They’re tagged on the educational Instagram post to add that trust to Vestiaire Collective’s communications:

And they’re amplifying and reinforcing the message through their own channels too:

Whilst in the comments of Vestiaire Collective’s posts other trusted messengers are showing their support — sustainability influencers like Brett Staniland, Venetia La Manna, and Isaias Hernandez who have all been incredibly vocal to their audiences about greenwashing by fast fashion brands.

In working with, and gaining the respect of, these trusted messengers, the trust that their audience have in them gets transferred to Vestiaire Collective.

Which is a superb brand building exercise for them. I, for one, clicked that ‘follow’ button immediately — and I doubt I’m the only one.



Tabitha Whiting

Exploring the good and the bad of climate change communication and sustainability marketing 🌱