eCommerce Tricks of Transformation—Part 5

The Vanishing Waste of eCommerce

Artwork created in collaboration with Tim Straver.

In the final trick of the series, I deep dive into overconsumption, and how, whilst seemingly magical, waste out of sight can overlook an important truth: waste is waste, regardless of smell or visibility. If we do not learn to confront our waste, we will not learn to stop magically wasting.

Trick 5

The Vanishing Waste of eCommerce

While trying on hundreds of Shein outfits boasts endless possibilities, stacked boxes of hardly worn clothes brings their climate footprints and our physical finiteness on stage. No appearing coin act is complete without its vanishing counterpart. eCommerce’s magic show, too, needs a disappearing act to sustain its glamor… introducing re-commerce.

Re-commerce refers to the selling and buying of previously owned products. In this final segment of magic commerce, “re-commerce” doubles as both a climate hero and a consumption enabler. While promoting “reusing” and “recycling,” re-commerce platforms like Depop and Vinted can also inadvertently help drain the residue of overconsumption and dispose buyers’ of their guilt.

To pulse-check this claim, I quickly searched for the 15 most loved brands by Gen-Z on Depop USA. Of the 15 brands mentioned, Shein is ranked as the 9th most loved brand but simultaneously has the 3rd most listings on Depop as of writing, just after Nike and Adidas.

While some Nike and Adidas items are an asset class, the proliferation of Shein on the secondhand market is better explained by its trend-based overproduction. In her interview with The Atlantic, fashion influencer Tricia Panlaqui also cited Depop as one of her main ways to get rid of clothes when she has more garments than she knows what to do with—this sentiment echos in my primary research.

Source: Primary research. Of the 10 most beloved brands by GenZ (according to YPulse), Shein has the third most listing on Depop USA as of February 5th, 2023.

This enabling relationship between re-commerce and overconsumption is also discussed in Jennifer Le Zotte’s book From Goodwill to Grunge: A History of Secondhand Styles and Alternative Economies. There she wrote, “The impetus to get rid of clothing is often charitable, but the more clothing that is contributed and viable, the more fashion cycles speed up.”

While sometimes, romanticized as a business that operates above the wheel of consumption, re-commerce can still operate within the logic of buying trends. This paradoxical nature can be seen in how resale platforms use the language of social media to promote trend-driven transactions.

Like Instagram, Depop features a content feed which allows shoppers to explore trends and top sellers. Similar to Twitter, top sellers on Depop earn a blue check mark which gives them algorithmic favor.

To maintain this status, these sellers must also relate to trends in their listings. On Depop, an old jumper is an "Emo alt grunge dark Academia skater goth Vintage y2k Argyle Sweater," while a pair of old jeans is a "Vintage low rise black jeans with pink rhinestones y2k 2000s miss sixty morgan bella hadid dkny baby phat 90s mall goth.”

Listing Image Source: Depop

It is important to acknowledge that resale platforms and re-commerce at large are a positive development. However, to reach their full potential, we must recognize how these platforms' success can sometimes hinge on the tropes of hopping through trends and hiding their waste.

A way in which tech-enabled commerce puts waste out of our sight and mind is through products that promise renewal without decay. Last year, Pela, the company that produces biodegradable phone cases, announced the launch of the Lomi Composter. According to their website, Lomi can turn anything from food scraps to their iPhone cases into plant-friendly dirt. “Impress your friends! Lomi makes your food waste disappear in under four hours. Can you say magic?” the Lomi website stated.

Source: Lomi

For those who can afford up to $549, Lomi and their 2-year supply of filters and Pods provide the illusion of saving the planet and reducing footprints without facing the stench of their consumption or investing time in regenerative composting.

Reviews from a soil scientist and a published gardener have pointed out false and misleading claims from Lomi around its climate footprint and whether its dirt is truly soil-friendly. Lomi themselves explained that two of their three types of dirt still belong in the trash, a green bin, or a compost pile. They are waste.

While Lomi's vanishing trick works wonders in sparking the imagination of change, it does little to transform the world where we truly need it. As poignantly criticized by journalist Tynan Stewart, Lomi—and, or similar tech promises—“dilute the radical potential of reorganizing society so that it works with natural systems rather than attempting to dominate or subvert them.” The point of composting is to force one to slow down and participate in a cycle of transformation that is set by the organic process of decay, not the demands of profit.”

While seemingly a magical proposition, products like Lomi or re-commerce technologies can overlook an important truth: consumption produces waste, and regardless of its smell or visibility, waste is still waste. If we, as consumers, will not learn to confront our waste and recognize its lasting life, we will not stop conveniently shopping; and magically wasting.


eCommerce Tricks of Transformation discusses five magic tricks that eCommerce uses to capture our attention and participation:

Trick 1: The Mysterious Hat of Algorithm ->
Along the way of mirroring and giving us "For You" content, algorithmic commerce tends towards a flattening of culture, conflating followings with fandom, casting prediction as precision, and, to a growing extent, removing human agency.

Trick 2: The Telepathic Trick of TeleCommerce ->
TeleCommerce enables consumers to enter someone else's space and purchase their way into altering their reality. While gaining status and control through shopping isn't new, the way we financially reward the broadcast of everything is worthy of further scrutiny and investigation.

Trick 3: The Magician’s Assistant ->
eCommerce and its assistants (influencers and creators) create an ecosystem where buyers can be entertained while buying into the promises of goods and the influencing career. This system can sometimes reduce creativity and community to the logic of virality and monetization.

Trick 4: The Next-Day Manifestation ->
In pairing the spiritual allure of manifesting ideology with labor-masking technology like next-day delivery, modern commerce dissociates the middle class from the working class and deepens our reliance on "Amazon-fulfilled" goods for self-fulfillment.

Trick 5: The Vanishing Waste of eCommerce ->
While seemingly a magical proposition, products and services that put our overconsumption waste out of sight can overlook an important truth: waste is waste, regardless of smell or visibility. If we do not learn to confront our waste, we will not learn to stop magically wasting.

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Việt Hoàng, Strategy Director