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Goodwill Hunting #08: polarity mapping the fashion industry
Goodwill Hunting curates pre-loved fashion finds from across the web
Welcome to the 8th edition of Goodwill Hunting! This edition covers polarity mapping in the fashion industry, pre-loved fashion finds to shop, must-read articles, and an expanded section of 10 jobs in sustainable and circular fashion.
Making the $1 trillion fashion industry more circular is both a problem to solve and a polarity to balance.
In 2010, I was working at the U.S. State Department on anti-human trafficking policies, while shopping at fast fashion retailers on the weekends. One day, when I was working on a report about forced labor of female garment workers around the world, it suddenly “clicked.” I vowed to shop secondhand going forward and sold the 100+ dresses from Forever 21 and other fast fashion brands that I’d accumulated throughout college. This was a personal problem to solve.
When you buy a fast-fashion T-shirt for $4, or $2, you never ask, ‘How does the cotton get grown, ginned, spun, woven, dyed, printed, sewn, packed, shipped, all for $4?’ You’ve never realized how many lives you are touching, all because your payment doesn’t pay for their wages. – Fast Company
In 2014, I learned about polarity mapping (also called polarity thinking) as a Fellow at StartingBloc, a global community of social impact leaders and changemakers. At the time, I was leading corporate social responsibility and sustainability programs for the world’s largest aerospace and defense company. But just a few years prior, I was majoring in political science and minoring in peace and justice studies at Georgetown University. How did I end up working at a defense company then? This was a paradox—a polarity to balance.
Polarity mapping is a framework for complex decision-making.
Polarity mapping balances the inherent tension in both/and situations, rather than tries to solve problems with either/or binary thinking (source). The uncomfortable truth is that humans and systems are far more interconnected and interdependent than we’d like to admit. The past 2+ years of the pandemic taught us this harsh lesson.
A common analogy for a polarity is breathing: we must both inhale and exhale to breathe properly. If we were to either only inhale or only exhale, we would experience life-threatening symptoms within minutes (i.e., hyperoxia or hypoxia). Breathing is a polarity, not a problem to solve.
In contrast, teen cigarette smoking is a problem worth solving. In the early 2000s when I was a teen (Millennial here 👋), 33% of high school students were cigarette smokers. This rate dropped over 87% over the last 20 years to only 4% of current high school students (source). Reducing teen smoking is a problem to be solved, not a polarity to manage.
The key question is to ask: is this a problem or a polarity?
In either/or problem-solving, two competing ideologies are pitted against each other. Ideas are oversimplified to pros and cons to find the right or best answer. An over-reliance on this thinking—Left vs. Right, Us. vs. Them—has unfortunately contributed to the U.S. being more polarized than ever (Pew Research). The same thinking is repeated in debates about the fashion industry: Fast Fashion vs. Sustainable Fashion, Evil Brands vs. Ethical Brands, etc.
In both/and decision-making, the two ideas are interrelated and interdependent. There is no one, right answer to a paradox—only a balance of the two poles. It forces collaborative and iterative tradeoffs, rather than a one-time decision. The only way is through the loop, back and forth over and over again.
Millions of people earn their livelihoods making those clothes….In Bangladesh, over a third of manufacturing jobs and nearly 85% of exports come from the apparel industry. In a country where one-fifth of residents live below the national poverty line, the garment industry provides jobs to more than 4 million people. 6 out of 10 of them are women. – Fast Company
When it comes to making the fashion industry more circular, there is no one, right answer. It’s unfortunately not as simple as “boycott fast fashion”, as some might say. For example, Shein can offer rock-bottom prices in large part because of a tariff loophole: packages worth <$800 and shipped directly from China can enter the U.S. duty-free (source). It will take a both/and—both consumers shifting to buying less, buying better, wearing longer, repairing more and leaders at companies, governments, and NGOs making decisions for long-term, sustainable impact.
♻️ pre-loved fashion under $200
Alexander McQueen combat boots, size US6 (IT36) from The RealReal ($80). Use code
REALfor extra 20% off.
1980s gold vintage dress made in Italy, size M from 1stDibs ($108, 64% off)
Jean Paul Gaultier vintage leather jacket, size 38FR (US6) from Vestiaire Collective ($141)
📕 must-reads in fashion, tech & circularity
The Rich New York Women Who Love their Fake Birkins (The Cut). Fascinating deep dive on “RepLadies”, a subculture of wealthy women primarily in New York buying, selling, and trading superfake luxury handbags. Check out the “Map of Reddit” tool to understand how RepLadies intersect with r/Sneaker and r/Streetwear communities.
Scandinavian brand uses QR codes to simplify resale (Glossy). Copenhagen-based fashion brand Samsoe Samsoe sewed a QR code next to each care label. Once the QR code is scanned, a resale listing is automatically created on Facebook Marketplace and Instagram with the product’s style, price, size, picture, location, and date of purchase.
Why fashion hates repairs (Vogue Business). Many fashion brands consider repairs to be too costly, time-consuming, and logistically difficult to do at scale. However, critics believe that circular fashion cannot exist without care and repair.
✨ jobs in circular fashion
Fashion resale is growing 11x faster than retail fashion (source). Everyday, new companies and jobs are popping up to tackle the $130 billion secondhand fashion market (source). If you’re interested in opportunities in resale, recommerce, and the circular economy, check out the 10 new jobs below.
Business & Marketing
Archive — Head of Marketing. Lead and build the marketing team at resale-as-a-service startup that’s partnered with top brands on branded resale activations.
Basic.Space — Sr. Partnerships Manager. Manage new and existing partnerships at the curated commerce marketplace for influencers, tastemakers, and creatives.
Sotheby's — VP, Luxury Category. Lead and scale the auction house’s digital marketplace for art, luxury, and collectibles.
eBay — Sr. Category Manager, Streetwear. Lead the pre-owned streetwear apparel strategy to drive growth with apparel buyers and sellers.
Product & Tech
Cudoni — Product Owner. Program leader with experience in agile/scrum to lead tech, business, and product teams for the luxury resale platform.
Farfetch / Luxclusif – Principal Product Manager. Luxclusif is a preowned luxury fashion tech company that was recently acquired by Farfetch. Lead the vision and strategy for B2B resale-as-a-service and wholesale luxury resale.
Recurate — Lead Platform Engineer. Own data engineering, technical architecture, and big data tech for the resale-as-a-service startup.
REI — Sr. Product Manager, Recommerce. Scale and develop world-class services that allow REI members to buy, sell, and trade-in used outdoor gear and apparel.
Finance & Legal
Rent the Runway — Heap of FP&A. Executive leader of financial planning and analysis for the fashion rental company.
Trove — VP of Legal. Lead legal function at the resale-as-a-service company for enterprise sales and partner contracts.
Have a role you want to add in the next Goodwill Hunting? Email me or connect on Twitter.
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Disclaimer: My posts are my own and do not reflect the opinions of my current, past, or future employers. Goodwill Hunting is not affiliated with Goodwill Industries or the film Good Will Hunting.