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Sustainable and Trustworthy Luxury? Exploring the Re-Selling World of The RealReal

is the realreal trustworthy

This article was written by The Zillennial Zine’s summer editorial intern PJ Cunningham. Find him on Instagram at @peachycunningham. If you would like to share an article with The Zillennial, send us an email at

Move over Milan, the new luxury fashion capital of the world is… right on your phone?

While brick-and-mortar retail was once central to high-end fashion, technology and digital shopping has changed the game when it comes to both casual, ready-to-order ‘fast fashion’ as well as luxury fashion. 

This growing digitalization of retail fashion is now enveloping the world of thrifty, second-hand clothing and accessory shopping as well. Many of you will be familiar with the popular Depop and Poshmark, however, one of the oldest sites for high-end fashion reselling is The RealReal, which has grown from its roots as a digital startup in 2011 to both an online and brick-and-mortar consignment empire. Besides hosting resale for a ton of big-name lux brands, The RealReal prides itself on sustainability and trustworthiness. The company’s site features everything from sustainability statements and social impact data sheets to info on how sellers can earn up to 85% commission on second hand product sales.

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However, with a large business model and increased scrutiny on e-commerce in general, it is time to ask a big question: is The RealReal trustworthy and sustainable?

The RealReal is not your neighborhood secondhand store. It also is not the average digital fashion retail startup. It is a publicly traded company, which, at its peak, was valued at about $2 billion. That’s a lotta cash, to put it mildly. Unfortunately, that peak valuation was over three years ago, with the company’s valuation now sitting at about $290 million. Why?

While finance may seem like an odd avenue to go down in a fashion-centric story, it tells a story. In the case of The RealReal, the lack of trust in the company’s stock led to its depreciation, which is ironic when one examines why investors lost trust in the first place: The RealReal itself was not deemed trustworthy by its own clientele.

From Tiktok to the courthouse, authentication issues have dogged The RealReal. Customer complaints about the lack of oversight on product classification, shipping issues and even counterfeit items hurt the company’s reputation, which only got worse when the company was served with lawsuits. Remember those investors? While apparently, some of them felt misled by the company’s claims that they would ensure complete authenticity in light of the counterfeit controversies and sued. The RealReal eventually settled with them, to the tune of $11 million dollars in damages.

In other words, it would appear that TheRealReal isn’t trustworthy. However, the case is not closed. Despite the bad publicity and downturn in investment that accompanied it, The RealReal appear to have upped their legitimacy. For starters, there appears to be more actual expert authenticators involved. Dominik Halás, an Ivy-League educated authenticator scouted out and brought into The RealReal to help verify products submitted by re-sellers, is one such examining expert whose story was detailed in The New York Times. According to the Times story, there is now a ranking system for the likelihood of authenticity of pieces presented to the company for consignment, alongside a clearer structure in which expert authenticators like Halás are at the head, verifying the most expensive luxury brands and pieces sent in by resellers.

The company’s site also gives off a tone of seriousness. Before one can even click on any brands or items for sale, they have to sign in and make a free account. While this does not do anything to ensure legitimacy on the selling end of things, at the very least, I did feel like I was engaging with a very serious, trustworthy operation. Furthermore, information was easily accessible for would-be sellers, which speaks again to at least the appearance of legitimacy and trustworthiness.

However, while the lines of trustworthiness are blurred, The RealReal scores much higher in my book when it comes to sustainability. By simply promoting a secondhand luxury model, The RealReal is inherently more sustainable than most other fashion outlets, physical or digital, as it allows for clothes and products already in circulation to be re-sold. To put the sustainability of secondhand clothing into perspective, if every consumer bought just one secondhand piece of clothing rather than a new one, it would lower C02 emissions by nearly 2 billion pounds while also saving about 23 billion gallons of water.

Furthermore, The RealReal seems to be for real when it comes to sustainability commitments. In addition to partnering with Stella McCartney, a well-known environmentally conscious designer, The RealReal also uses a first-of-its kind sustainability calculator that estimates how much water, CO2 emissions and more could be saved if certain fashion products were sold secondhand instead of newly manufactured. While none of this is saving the world, it represents forward thinking progress outside the admittedly low-bar norms of the fashion industry. When it comes to their sustainability mission, there needn’t be any experts to authenticate them. They’re as real as can be.

So, all in all, is The RealReal trustworthy? Lame answer, but sort of. In relation to rivals who have encountered less controversy, no they are not, but in light of the inherent perils of reselling and the difficulty of legitimate high-level authentication, they are hardly a scam either. I believe that if you are aware of the potential pitfalls and can afford the high prices, The RealReal is still a reasonable choice in terms of trustworthiness, albeit one you should not make lightly. In terms of sustainability, The RealReal is indeed sustainable. Therefore, if you are looking for an environmentally conscious fashion marketplace, The RealReal is a high quality option with a clear, stated sustainability mission.

All in all, The RealReal is a company that appears to be on a continuing positive evolution after a controversial past few years. It has its drawbacks, but it also has its pros. But let’s be real, the choice is not mine, it is yours. Shop responsibly, for REAL!

Is The RealReal Trustworthy? What do you think? Let us know in the comment section below!

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