Four friends who met whilst studying at The University of Warwick are working with Selfridges and Depop to transform the second-hand clothing market through artificial intelligence (AI).

Each new t-shirt made uses up to 20,000 litres of water alone. So, each item of second-hand clothing bought instead of new is far more sustainable and environmentally friendly.

The group have started a business – TRUSS - which has won a £1.2 million grant to use AI algorithms to revolutionise how people and businesses buy and sell pre-loved clothes. The algorithms will scour the internet to help automate the sale of second-hand clothes, with sellers on Depop eventually receiving suggested pricing, product recommendations and a better customer experience.

Those buying second hand clothes can expect more professional, standardised listings and more relevant search results. "The second-hand fashion market presents immense opportunities, but also significant challenges," said Woody Lello, CEO of TRUSS and Warwick Global Sustainable Development alumni.

"Every item holds a story but unlocking its value is a laborious process marked by online research and manual data entry. Our mission is to empower resale businesses with instant access to rich, actionable data.

“We’re looking forward to a future where buying and selling second hand clothes is just as easy and convenient as buying from new.” For businesses like Selfridges, the algorithm will avoid having to manually evaluate every piece of clothing, allowing data like price and listing details to be gathered from just a picture.

Selfridges has strong resale ambitions, aiming for 45% of transactions to be circular by 2030, but understand the current challenges associated with evaluating every item of clothing individually. Ella Gould, Head of Sustainability and Innovation at Selfridges said: “We’re excited to be working with TRUSS as part of the Innovate UK AI Grant on this research project as we collectively work to find solutions that will create meaningful, long-term change for the fashion industry.”

Alice Jacques, Director of Machine Learning at Depop said: “At Depop, we believe that 'everything you want already exists'. We want to encourage more people to choose second-hand instead of new - and with tens of millions of circular items on our marketplace, you're sure to find a second-hand item you love, whatever your style."

The same AI based technology that will be used by Selfridges and DEPOP could be used in other industries in the future. Markets like second hand watches or furniture could be standardised, with the buyer experience made much more seamless through the power of AI.