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ReFashion: A Sustainable Trend

How clothing companies can do the right thing, smartly

Mario Crippa

Physical Experience Practice Head
Blog
  • Retail & Consumer

ReFashion refers to clothing and other textiles that are reused, resold or somehow completely reimagined into any garment we can don. It’s hardly a new concept. After all, we’ve been thrifting, mending, lending and embellishing our clothes for centuries. But climate change (in addition to the pandemic and global economic crunch) has focused the runway spotlight on circular fashion. 

ReFashion is big business and growing. The global resale (or secondhand) clothing industry is expected to grow from $96 billion in 2021 to $218 billion in 2026, far outpacing the growth trajectory of traditional retail apparel.

The Sustainability Imperative

While we all feel pretty good about donating last year’s jeans or jacket, in truth a whopping 87% of our threads end up in a landfill or incinerator. And fashion manufacturing accounts for 10% of global carbon emissions —more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined— while also using up some valuable water resources and polluting others, according to a World Economic Forum report

In 2019, the United Nations formed the UN Alliance for Sustainable Fashion to bring together member organizations to better coordinate projects and policies to make the fashion industry greener.

Across the globe, countries are contemplating ways to make fashion more Earth friendly. For example, the European Commission is proposing rules that are expected to force manufacturers to make clothes more durable, in the hopes of reducing the burden of fast fashion on the environment. In addition, the EU is considering a proposal that would make companies liable for human rights abuses, environmental damage and social impacts all along their global supply chains. 

The Early Adopters

Across the business landscape, companies are trying on different styles of ReFashion. UK-based designer Tom-O will take your old frocks and design a new top or dress. Patagonia’s Worn Wear will help you repair or trade in your old coats or pants, while also offering gently used garments for purchase at a discount. Allbirds offers ReRun, a resale site for its gently used shoes, and lululemon uses 100% of the profits from its Like New platform to fund sustainability initiatives. Additionally, a seemingly endless runway of online retailers has taken thrifting out of downtown cities and into any niche imaginable. Whether a consumer is looking for $5 sneakers or an almost-new Chanel bag, chances are they can find it with a few clicks on eBay, ThredUp or The RealReal.

In our report Consumers Unmasked: Stage 3, American and European consumers showed us that sustainability matters in buying decisions. Consumers talked about upcycling, repairing and buying used more than ever before. So much so that we recommended companies offer more rental, recycling and upcycling options and that manufacturers reconsider what quality means in terms of durability and the impact on the environment.

How to Find the Future

Change spells opportunity. It’s like a clean sketchpad for engineers, business strategists and developers, where we can imagine how to best leverage technology and design. Here’s what companies should consider as they develop or grow their ReFashion efforts:

Business Strategy: Whether eCommerce only or some combo of physical and digital, businesses must understand how the puzzle pieces fit together in this specific moment and going forward. We are at a tipping point, with consumers demanding change as the pace of concerning news about climate change quickens. Because there is no time to waste, looking for partnerships can enable a quick and efficient way to reimagine strategy and best practices.

Digital Touchpoints: Websites and apps should be designed (or re-designed) to streamline the customer journey and eliminate or minimize consumer pain points. Computer vision, for example, could help customers feel more confident about traditional pain points such as brand authenticity, clothing fit and quality. Smart tags are another digital tool to consider that could help track the lifecycle of a garment while providing more information to consumers who want to make informed shopping decisions.

Logistics/Operations: The behind-the-scenes work can make an enormous difference in your customer experience and bottom line. That’s why it’s critical to carefully consider how you 1) collect/recollect and deliver garments, 2) streamline the cleaning process 3) authenticate the brand, supported by blockchain technology, and 4) store items in warehouses specifically designed for ReFashion.

In-Store Experience: For non-digital or hybrid interactions, it’s crucial to understand and minimize any pain points for consumers. Whether repairing, recycling, trading or upcycling, customers must feel like they understand the process and are getting value for their efforts. For example, we know that transparency fosters trust. When customers can see some portion of the textile lifecycle (i.e., recollecting or recycling), they put more faith in the brand or company. That sort of thinking, human-centered design, is always part of how we create a seamless in-store experience.

Communication & Branding: There are many different target clients across the spectrum of ReFashion, and brands need to uncover how to appeal to their audience(s). ReFashion is also a way to communicate a company’s commitment to ESG —environmental, social and corporate governance priorities, which must be addressed to stay relevant.

Optimize Data: Data is your foundation. It’s vital to leverage data from all sources in one place so it can inform your strategy and help you understand your customers.  That can be a challenge when various departments or business units (i.e., eCommerce, brick-and-mortar locations) use different processes resulting in siloed data. Getting rid of such silos fosters better collaboration and coordination.

A Pattern of Success

Hemlines will always inch up and down but ReFashion is here to stay. From sourcing of materials to manufacturing all the way through to shopper experience, there are ways to support an improved clothing lifecycle. Companies must think about what’s next for business models, services and experiences in order to stay ahead of the competition.

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