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‘Preloved’ retail is a vital step on the Gulf’s path to sustainability

The Gulf's preference for brand new goods needs to change

Preloved pre-owned retail Gulf Dubai Tourism
Buying, selling and swapping go back to the traditions of the souq. But buying pre-owned 'preloved' goods such as clothes is more sustainable and reduces living costs

The Gulf is a region where little attention is paid to minimising waste, and buying or using only what is necessary. 

It’s a place where bigger, newer and generally “more expensive” has traditionally been seen as best.

But as consumers become more conscious of their buying habits and their environmental footprints, the pre-owned movement is coming to the fore. 

Witness the weekly flea markets in Dubai’s Times Square, or in parks across the emirate.

Initiatives like these are even more relevant in the run-up to Cop28.

For regional specialists, the 17 Sustainable Development Goals may concentrate on food security, energy and climate change. But there are two other priorities: commitments to sustainable cities and communities, and responsible consumption and production.

With these last two in mind, grassroots movements are promoting a more circular economy. This is starting to create a noticeable change in consumption in the Gulf among expatriates and locals alike.

Circularity increases the lifespan of products, particularly when it comes to pre-owned fashion, electronics, cars and furniture.

We can massively reduce the carbon footprint of any item by up to 86 percent purely by giving it a second life.

The latest Gumtree Circular Economy report estimates that half of us, 49 percent, want to buy more secondhand items in the future. It also shows that more than half of us are under more significant financial pressure than ever before. 

In October 2021, the Dubai Supreme Council of Energy launched the Circular Economy Committee, a body which aims to reduce the extraction of natural resources, minimise waste and regenerate natural systems.

This month, the UAE’s Year of Sustainability taskforce has released its own guide to encourage the public to be more eco-conscious. It aims to inspire the public to switch to slow fashion, and to make better buying choices. 

Traditionally here in the Gulf people have sought out opportunities to buy, swap and sell via physical opportunities in souqs. That has now been augmented by garage sales, pop-ups and night markets run by informal community groups.

Online resale platforms such as Dubizzle and Gumtree are popular choices in the Gulf. According to a 2021 survey by Indian consulting firm Redseer 85 percent of respondents preferred shopping this way for preloved retail goods.

Amazon has recognised the trend and is selling “like-new refurbished products” through its Amazon Renewed section. It has also launched the Amazon Warehouse online shopping platform in the UAE, offering pre-owned and open-box products at discounted prices.

The charitable impulse should not be ignored. Gumtree’s report also showed that nearly half of those who give away items do so because it helps them feel good to support someone locally, while 44 percent of respondents want to support their local community. 

Within the global secondhand market, the apparel segment rose 4.8 percent to hit $32 billion in 2021. It is projected to grow at a compound annual rate of 11.2 percent until 2031, according to a recent report from Future Market Insights.

The Gulf states can contribute by making a significant dent in the 21 billion tonnes of clothing sent globally to landfill each year.

Cars are another area where recycling and reconditioning are common.

With the easing of pandemic-related restrictions in 2021, consumers have showed a preference for used cars over new cars. Fewer vehicles were also being produced due to supply chain disruptions and shortage of some auto components.

Globally the used car market is projected to reach $403 billion by 2026 from $250 billion in 2020, according to Mordor Intelligence.

Over the longer term, cost and variety are expected to further boost used car demand. However, price discrepancies, lack of standardisation and other factors are expected to act as major restraints to the growth of the market.

Meanwhile, the rental economy has yet to gain traction. Middle Eastern consumers prefer to own items. But elsewhere in the world, household items and electronics are now increasingly rented rather than purchased outright.

As the cost of living rises around the world and the threat of environmental degradation becomes real, it makes more sense to purchase pre-owned, rent rather than to buy, or even to give items away.

Kate Hardcastle MBE is the founder of global sustainability platform Buy Smarter Buy Greener

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