Waste not, want not: can the J-beauty resale trend create an opportunity for beauty?

Waste not, want not: can the J-beauty resale trend create an opportunity for beauty?

Mottainai is the latest buzz word in J-beauty – and while it may be good news for the planet, it presents a challenge for the beauty industry. Oft translated as ‘what a waste’, it’s a tradition that runs deep, informing thoughtful consumption and careful conservation of existing possessions. And, according to a widely reported article published by Business of Fashion, it is now said to be behind the growing popularity of pre-owned make-up in Japan.  

Indeed, Japanese millennials are actively purchasing second-hand make-up via peer-to-peer selling sites such as Mercari. And while this trend isn’t isolated to Japan, (Depop and Glambot are big in Europe and the US respectively, while sharing booths are a ‘thing’ in China), it is all the more surprising given that Japan is notoriously hygiene-conscious. And let’s face it, given the scandals surrounding the resale of returns in Ulta and the recent Sephora case over the transmission of disease via samples in the US, used make-up has its cleanliness issues.

The motivation? It’s thought that the decision to buy second-hand is part and parcel of this generation’s frugal approach to spending. That they are prepared to compromise on sanitation in order to prioritise price is important and should not be ignored by brands marketing to this cohort of consumers. Shiseido knows this, launching a lower-price range in 2010 named Senka, specifically aimed at cash-strapped shoppers. But while Japanese consumers are undoubtedly still cautious, the sudden surge in popularity of second hand beauty this year can’t be explained away by penny pinching alone. After all, the economy has been recovering (albeit gradually) since 2013 – employment is up, businesses are reporting record profits and wages have returned to a trend of moderate increase.

No, planet is important too. Used make-up, after all, is as much an environmentally friendly choice as second hand clothing – and the resale market for apparel is now worth US$20 billion and counting. From a zero-to-landfill perspective, preloved beauty is a win, especially if you’re only using said compact to look pretty on Instagram (also a thing, says Business of Fashion).

“I think there’s really been a rise in the more conscious consumer, and people are not just shopping second-hand because they have to; they’re shopping second-hand because they want to,” Sam Blumenthal, Marketing and Communications Manager at Thredup told Fashionista at the end of last year.

So what can beauty do? Well, sure, cheaper diffusion ranges are an option. Or, if we look at the fashion industry for inspiration, we could take the ‘if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em’ approach; apparel has taken the rapid growth of the second-hand industry as an opportunity (it kinda has to given secondhand is set to be larger than fast fashion by 2028). Stella McCartney has openly pursued partnerships with resale sites, offering customers who sell her designs via TheRealReal US$100 credit to spend in store, for example.

The beauty industry can, and should, replicate this. If we look at product design with resale value in mind, and consider resale value part of a brand’s worth, then this trend can indeed be an opportunity for beauty – hygiene concerns aside.