The eBay and Love Island partnership: what sustainable fashion brands should have done, but didn’t

Without better control over SEO, many pre-loved brands - Vinted, Depop, Oxfam, Beyond Retro et al - risk losing a well-fought share of search.

Innovation isn’t enough - any business growing a market must pay more attention to SEO to defend its share from the larger copycat brands.

Louis Venter, CEO at MediaVison brings us round the firepit to tell a cautionary tale for SMEs.

In the last year, searches on eBay for ‘pre-loved clothes’ multiplied eightfold, and it’s little wonder; we’re in the midst of a cost of living crisis and a climate emergency, the latter of which has placed a spotlight on the environmental impact of fast-fashion.

Indeed, according to its own figures, eBay UK has seen one ‘pre-loved’ fashion sale every second so far in 2022. And this summer that led to the online marketplace partnering with TV juggernaut Love Island to - in the words of its UK CMO - “flip the conversation” around fashion.

The commercial partnership was certainly well timed and conceived, with eBay securing a presence on and Love Island’s social media channels. Viewers were also able to explore eBay’s ‘Pre-loved Fashion’ via the ‘Shop the Show’ tab on the official Love Island app and get access to Islanders through eBay’s social content, direct from the villa.

So far so good. But what happened in the wake of this high-profile tie-up? And did ethical and pre-loved fashion brands and retainers harness the opportunity to own the conversation?

Big brands swoop in on the trend... and take the traffic

Sadly, our evidence suggests they missed a trick, allowing fast fashion brands - stock rooms brimming with replicas of the pre-loved designer outfits featured in the show - to sweep in and take over.

For example, our digital demand tracker shows that fast fashion brand Missguided recorded more than 2.25m searches during the period Love Island was broadcast (6th June to 1st August), Boohoo almost 4.9m, and Pretty Little Thing almost 3.3m. However, pre-loved brand Beyond Retro saw a 25.8% decrease on last year, down to 33,371 searches. Vestiaire Collective bucked the downward trend, and was up 18.28% to 40,253, while Thrift+ only amassed 6,408 searches in this period.

Meanwhile, although eBay snapped up Tasha Ghouri as their ‘pre-loved ambassador’, fashion brand Oh Polly also snapped up winner Ekin-Su in a record-breaking £1 million deal while taking criticism over its sustainability credentials, and runner-up Gemma Owen, has signed with Love Islander favourite, Pretty Little Thing.

Furthermore, a keyword analysis for search terms shows that without better control over SEO, many pre-loved brands - Vinted, Depop, Oxfam, Beyond Retro et al - risk losing a well-fought share of search.

This is because pre-loved brands have helped create a fast-growth category, and have done well in the short-term, but now growth is coming from High Street brands that have started integrating pre-loved fashion into their own offerings.

And the sheer weight of those High Street brands’ proposition drives SEO because they have high domain authority and lots of backlinks. In turn, Google rewards these brands and drowns out the smaller brands that helped start the market.

Consequently, there are a few lessons to learn. Firstly, if a business is innovating and growing a market, it must pay more attention to SEO to defend its share from the larger copycat brands that will happily skirt the edges waiting for the right time to pounce. Or have that clout to partner with major “cultural” events such as Love Island.

Second, it’s important that innovator brands make the most of early growth - with an eye on integrating their offer with larger players as a longer-term strategy. This might seem a competitively unsavoury choice for smaller brands, but it is the reality of how fast-growth markets work, so why not integrate properly?

It also presents a case for ongoing innovation and new-market generation as a survival strategy, incrementally growing a brand in multiple fast-growth markets until the required scale for dominant stability is met. Afterall, one trick ponies are not going to win many races.

Finally, it really hammers home the importance of investing in SEO, particularly at a time when costs are rising, consumer spend tightening, and markets - even fast-growth ones like pre-loved fashion - are at risk of contraction.

The very definition for success under such conditions has to be market share; if you can't grow a market, you must take share from competitors.

But if your competitors are larger, eager and capable of mimicking your product range, and already have the backlinks and high domain authority, then it’s a tough battle to fight.

By Louis Venter