With a greater and growing public awareness of our planet and the general global ecosystem, ‘sustainability’ has secured its place on the current hot topic list across many industries – and the retail sector is no exception. Driven by consumers’ compassionate behaviour and the need for transparency, the industry is on the cusp of major change. To imagine a utopian sustainable retail landscape is a hugely positive thing to strive towards, even if somewhat unrealistic.
In order to achieve a good level of sustainability in retail, there has to be a major shift in common practices from both retailers and consumers alike. For instance, the Global Fashion Agenda’s 2020 Circular Fashion System Commitment is encouraging initiatives from both big and small players and after only one year of launching has signed up over 90 retailers that represent over 200 brands. This includes the likes of Asos, Zara and H&M whose contribution to fashion’s carbon footprint is renowned.
Fashion retail, in particular, is gathering momentum on the sustainable front on a much wider scale than two or three years ago. However, this is juxtaposed with the rising demand for fast-fashion – a practice that can have a huge environmental impact, without the consumer even realising it. From a consumer perspective, fast-fashion is an incredibly affordable way of keeping up with the latest trends; which makes us question if the mass-consumer market will ever be ready and willing to pay more for goods when there is something much cheaper available elsewhere?
According to the World Resources Institute the “average consumer bought 60% more clothing in 2014 than in 2000, but kept each garment half as long”. Fast forward four years where the innovative tech generating fast-fashion has come on leaps and bounds, one can only assume that the figure must be even more staggering.
Bearing all of this in mind, what can the industry do to continue to strive towards a more sustainable approach, without isolating its customers?
The emotional ‘hook’ of sustainability in retail is certainly strong, but not yet weighty enough to override the temptation of brands that can offer cheap fast-fashion and zero fees on returns, for instance.
There needs to be a greater collective of retailers across sub-sectors and around the globe to have an impactful influence on the mindset of the consumer.
If the cost of a ‘sustainable’ product is greater and therefore off-putting for a customer, then the retailer must create an alternative with an incentive. The most obvious initiative that springs to mind is that of H&M where a customer can take a bag of old clothes to a selected H&M store and, in return, are given a £5 voucher towards their next shop.
Additionally, John Lewis has recently launched a partnership with Stuffstr, a social enterprise which is running the scheme through an app making it hugely accessible for consumers on the go. The premise is this: users upload items they want to recycle to the app, they are shown the amount they will receive in return and once the clothes are received they are emailed a John Lewis e-gift card.
These are both examples of simple yet effective methods to drive the recycling of clothing that are both appealing and easy to achieve for the consumer.
Introduce new materials
Technically, it is ‘old news’ that it can take a whopping 2,700 litres of water to produce one cotton t-shirt. This article published in January 2013 on the World Wildlife website rightly call it “the unseen or “virtual water” we consume every day”. And yet, in 2018, we have to ask ourselves why we are yet to see a big shift when it comes to eco-friendly materials on the market? Pinatex, for example, is a ‘new material’ that requires absolutely no additional water or chemicals because it is made from leftover leaves from pineapple trees that would otherwise be left to rot or be burned. This remarkable product is not only making use of waste, but is completely biodegradable too, making it a highly sustainable material.
Consumers would undoubtedly be attracted to such a product, if it was more widely available in mainstream shopping culture.
Consumers need to see that a retailer’s sustainability pledge is an honest one. Practice by example and there will be progress. Bottletop is a brand that creates accessories from sustainable materials and in December 2017 launched a flagship store on London’s prestigious Regent Street. Although the brand falls into the ‘luxury’ category, it has been through sheer perseverance and belief that it is as successful as it is now.
With fashion retail leading the way with its sustainability pledges and initiatives, it is clear that there is still a fair amount of groundwork to be covered in the retail industry as a whole. At this stage, total utopian sustainability is purely idealistic: But that is not to say we should not collectively continue to practice, encourage and educate one another. Let’s hope we don’t run out of time…
Save the date for the next Paris Retail Week show from 10 to 12 September 2018
For its 4th edition, Paris Retail Week, the biggest European trade event will take its full scope and will gather in Pavilion 1 of Paris expo Porte de Versailles the e-commerce sector, dedicated to solutions for e-retailers, ranging from digital marketing to logistics, and the Store / Equipmag sector, dedicated to physical commerce and distribution.
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Pour sa quatrième édition, Paris Retail Week, le plus grand événement retail européen de la rentrée prendra toute son envergure et réunira dans le Pavillion 1 de la Porte de Versailles le secteur E-Commerce, dédié aux solutions e-commerce, du digital marketing à la logistique et du secteur Store / Equipmag, dédié au commerce physique et à la distribution.
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