Anyone who has suffered a mindless back and forth on Facebook Marketplace has likely been tempted to chuck their item out of the window, responsible (and profitable) disposal be damned.
So what if you could return to sender — and better yet, earn a few quid towards something new while you’re at it?
Buy-back schemes are a hot topic among fashion retailers, who are increasingly aware of the optics of fast textile turnover and the value still retained by vintage (read: secondhand) pieces.
Furniture brands, hampered by bulky items, have been slow to follow suit – though IKEA’s pioneering buy-back scheme, launched two years ago, has surely saved a few LÖVBACKENs from landfill.
More is coming; John Lewis trialed a clothing buy-back pilot at its Oxford store in 2019 and last year promised buy-back or take-back schemes for all product categories by 2025.
And next month fashion brand TOAST will unveil the latest addition to its ‘Circle’ initatives — a secondhand hub dubbed TOAST Reworn that will include home textiles.
Such schemes soften the blow of a high outlay and hopefully encourage consumers to invest in better.
Benchmark, a best-of-the-best British furniture maker founded by Sean Sutcliffe and Sir Terence Conran in 1984, runs a lifetime repair service, as well as a take-back scheme that offers customers up to 20 per cent of the item’s retail price against a new purchase.
One customer recently returned a kitchen table, purchased eight years ago and since outgrown. “We gave them a voucher for money off a new table, arranged collection of the old piece and then stripped back the top, re-touched and re-finished it,” says Head of Sustainability Laerke Sutcliffe.
“It was subsequently sold on to a local customer for a reduced price, which covered the cost of refurbishment and the reverse logistics of getting the table back to our workshops from the original owner.”
Mark Tremlett, the co-founder of eco-bedmaker Naturalmat, says such schemes often suffer from limited visibility.
“Refurbishment and take back schemes are growing in availability and popularity, but they are still rare and most people often don’t know they exist,” he says.
It’s little wonder that Naturalmat remain the only company who offers mattress refurbishment. “Mattresses specifically are big bulky things which are expensive to transport around. Being able to get it back from the customer, refurbish it, and deliver it back again, whilst still making money as any sustainable business needs to do, is very challenging.”
Still he expects their ‘Mattress for Life’ intiative, which offers customers three options when their mattress is past its best after a decade or so, to become a “significant part” of their business in the future. More than five million mattresses end up in landfill every year in the UK alone.
As Second Hand September draws to a close, here are ten of the best year-round schemes.
10 of the best buy-back and repair schemes
In October the fashion brand is due to launch TOAST Reworn, a secondhand platform that will encourage customers to bring in unwanted garments and home textiles. The brand already offers a free mending service and prides itself on creative repairs — think everything from contrast patches to Japanese sashiko running stitch techniques (toa.st).
Bored of your BILLY? Though there’s a chunky list of exclusions, IKEA’s credit notes can be generous. Items must be assembled, ‘unmodified’ — hackers, take note — and in resellable condition. The online calculator offered us £27.50 for a like-new BILLY and £76.60 for a gloss MALM chest of drawers with ‘minor scratches’ (ikea.com).
Its restored mid-century lights include some industrial gems, and this Cornwall-based company offers a comprehensive buy-back service as a sweetener. After a year, customers can trade in their light for 50 per cent credit towards a new purchase. Every piece also come with a lifetime guarantee, so repairs are free (skinflintdesign.com).
Trust the Scandinavians to get circularity right. This Fritz Hansen-owned Danish brand assesses images of unwanted furniture by email, setting a purchase offer of up to 50 per cent of today’s retail price. The piece is then restored and sold online under a ‘Reclassic’ moniker (skagerak.com).
Mattress lost its bounce? The Devon firm gives customers three options: donate it for free, have the salvaged materials recycled for credit towards a new one, or have it meticulously restored to like-new status. The latter costs roughly 50 per cent what a new mattress would, so a refurbished double starts around £600 (naturalmat.co.uk).
This London-based studio hand-stitches punchy patchwork cushions from vintage fabric – so far sourced from a community centre in Nice, a Paris car boot sale and charity shops closer to home. It offers a custom option for your own fabric and a lifetime of free repairs (recreationhomeware.co.uk)
Made to order by London-based artisans, newcomer MAIE’s sculptural stone coffee tables come with a lifetime guarantee for functional damage, so expect a repair kit or even a replacement should something go wrong. They also offer a polish and re-seal service for a fee (maieliving.com).
Solid timber and natural oil finishes are the key to easy refurbishment, says this British furniture maker. The credit offered for unwanted items is calculated using a sliding scale, based on factors like the condition of the piece being returned and the cost of the reverse logistics (benchmarkfurniture.com).
Wales-based recycled plastic firm Smile Plastics operate on a zero-waste basis, so it’s little surprise that they see off cuts as “opportunities”. They will buy back anything unwanted or leftover and re-work it into new materials at their micro-factory on the country’s southwest coast (smile-plastics.com).
A hub for returned and refurbished furniture rather than a service, eBay’s home outlet includes names like Swoon, Made.com and Ercol. Every piece is sold directly from the retailer, which quarantees a level of quality control. We spied a set of Ercol Windsor nest tables for £275 (ebay.co.uk).