Fashion retailers are finding new ways to negotiate the desire for sustainability by creating a new language/aesthetic around recycling. They are recognising that they are complicit in the problem, and are creating new marketing campaigns that aim to assert otherwise.
There are several key drivers for this shift in industry attitudes, and it’s an inclusive approach for a number of major players. Fast fashion brands are promoting different ways consumers can be encouraged to participate in the recycling process; latest advertising campaigns encourage consumers to take ownership of recycling their own clothes or be mindful of longevity of garments; retail spaces and services are showcasing a transparent approach to closing the loop on fashion manufacturing.
Extending the life of clothes is the obvious first choice says senior research fellow, textiles environment design, Kate Goldsworthy. ‘The trouble is that we think of materials in a ‘human timeframe’, when actually they might take hundreds of years to decompose. Some longer term-thinking is required.’
‘For Life Not Landfill’ is the latest campaign from UK fashion retailer Jigsaw that focuses on the timeless appeal of clothes built for long term wear, by styling its new autumn/winter collection with vintage pieces donated by customers.
‘We don’t want to get lost in the generic chat about sustainability issues, we just want to talk about the real truths behind how we make our clothes for longevity,’ says Peter Ruis, CEO of Jigsaw. ‘We want our customers to keep everything we make for life. We go out of our way to prove that our polo neck jumper will stand the test of time and it should be the last one you need to buy. The easiest sustainability message to talk about is: don’t throw away stuff.’
Closing the loop
H&M has done much to promote its closed loop positioning on fast fashion: the Swedish retail giant live-streamed its sustainability report conference on YouTube at the same time as launching its first Conscious Exclusive collection in April 2015.
This was followed by a pop-up Conscious Lounge at the London flagship store that showcased the manufacturing processes behind H&M’s #ClosedLoop campaign. ‘Closed loop materials are a big focus for H&M,’ says Catarina Midby, sustainability manager UK. ‘The main goal of our garment collecting programme is to create new clothes out of old unwanted ones. We also want to inspire change in our industry, improving on every level and finding ways to collaborate with customers, suppliers, brands and organisations for a more sustainable future in fashion.’
H&M’s latest video campaign promotes fresh thinking around irreverent style choices and also aims to close the loop on fashion.
Marks & Spencer has launched a sustainability-focused edit of its autumn/winter collections, curated by Livia Firth an industry spokesperson and creative director at Eco-Age.
The collaborative campaign sees Firth modeling and selecting key items that represent examples of how M&S manufactures clothes with integrity – from being made in a specifically accredited factory, to being produced from sustainably sourced fabrics. ‘Its not about being worthy, but being focused on the issues that matter,’ Adam Elman, M&S’s head of Plan A global delivery tells me. ‘We want to concentrate on the manufacturing process, and increasingly our customers are interested in this discussion, they have an expectation to be informed about each step.’
Elman says M&S chose to work with Livia Firth to help its customers understand the M&S point of difference, which is to reduce the impact of manufacturing clothes on the environment. ‘She’s a well known face for sustainability issues and adds a real voice to our overall Plan A communications strategy. These clothes are made to last, that’s the number one message, and they happen to be fashionable too.’
Retail Planner takeouts:
- Fashion retailers need to take an inclusive approach to sustainability messaging to consumers. Join M&S, H&M and Reformation by providing customers with a recycling service.
- Be transparent. Consumers expect retailers to tell the whole story with detailed explanations of the processes behind recycling and closing the manufacturing loop on fashion
- Promote ethical aesthetics. Consumers want to see real life examples and hear from spokespeople they can relate to.
- Make sustainability an easy choice. Truthful campaigns about hanging onto your wardrobe for longer or styling old clothes with a fresh perspective, will drive new attitudes.
- Be philanthropic. H&M has launched a $1m recycling Global Challenge Award ‘to catalyse green, truly groundbreaking ideas that will protect the earth’s natural resources by closing the loop on fashion’ and is open to anyone with an early stage idea. ‘We need to change the way we work now from linear to circular,’ Hanna Hallin, H&M’s social sustainability manager told me at the Conscious Collection range launch. ‘By 2020, we want all our cotton to come from sustainable resources – and that’s just the start for our most commonly used textile.’ She added that H&M’s ClosedLoop campaign is targeting young people, ‘sustainability can be cool – the next generation need us (retailers) to care about how fashion is produced.’
An edited version of this article first appeared on LSN Global.