Published 1 year ago.
About a 4 minute read.
More brands seem to be taking a two-pronged approach to growth — continuing to sell new products while demonstrating their ‘care’ for the planet through circular initiatives and takeback schemes. When will companies truly commit to changing the products they sell and how
they sell them?
On a finite planet with finite resources, one thing should be clear to all: We
cannot go on producing new items, products and garments at the current rate. The
impact of our ever-growing consumption of brands and people is having a
detrimental impact on environments, ecosystems, biodiversity, communities and
the wider planet. We have only to look to the heavy increase of cotton growing
around the Aral Sea
once the world’s fourth-largest lake — which has been drained nearly dry — to
illustrate the cost of our rampant overconsumption.
In recent years, increased awareness of the negative impacts caused by the
has hit the mainstream media. As a result of increasing consumer expectations,
many well-known, large fashion
are creating sustainability strategies with stretching targets — opting for
more sustainable, alternative
stricter policies and innovation opportunities around
Yet the real root of the problem — the vast number of new products and garments
being created — is seemingly still missing from the conversation.
Many businesses today seem to be taking a two-pronged approach in order to
increase profits further — one, where they continue to drive for an increase in
sales and number of garments sold; while they, two, demonstrate how they ‘care’
for the planet through circular initiatives and takeback schemes. The question
is, when are we going to see businesses put a ceiling on the number of products
sold that don’t fit their sustainability criteria? When are we finally going to
have companies truly demonstrate that they are changing the products they sell
and how they sell them for the betterment of the planet?
High-end UK department store Selfridges has
been very public in its sustainability approach over recent years. Its
— that 45 percent of transactions (defined as a transaction that includes at
least one resale, rental, refill, repair or recycled product) will come from
circular products; and that everything it builds, buys and sells will meet its
environmental and ethical standards (but no details as to what they are) by 2030
— makes it one of the first companies to put a true percentage value against
ambitions to tackle textile waste.
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Selfridges’ ambition and public commitment demonstrates that businesses really
can see the value in the resale, rental, refill, repair and recycled product
space; and it is, of course, a great step in the right direction. Working to
extend the life of
and products instead of buying new is vital as we seek to change behaviours and
shift toward buying better and buying less. However, Selfridges’ new target
should not be heralded as a silver bullet.
Although the target is big and ambitious, Selfridges has failed to mention the
fact that consumption cannot keep growing at the same rate. This omission
suggests that the business still intends to grow and increase sales in the
non-sustainable product space — allowing and, in some ways, encouraging new
brands and products that may not be aligned to circularity or sustainability
credentials to continue to fly off the virtual and physical rails.
If Selfridges were committing to creating a ceiling on the numbers of sales
generated from non-sustainable and non-circular products that it stocks and
sells, then this would be a different conversation. In fact, if Selfridges truly
wanted to position circularity and innovation at the front of its strategy, we
would be talking about the reduction of non-circular products, with targets to
switch to better alternatives altogether.
The reality is though, this conversation doesn’t seem to be happening. At least
not in the public space.
When brands talk about growth, circularity and sustainability together, we need
to recognise that these commitments are more of a band-aid on an ever-increasing
cut. Although it will help a little, as we encourage extending the lives of the
products and clothes we already own, these half-measures won’t be anywhere near
useful enough in the long run.
Of course, Selfridges is not the only brand who need to be part of this
conversation. Many big household names — from John Lewis &
to Farfetch — all need to
be considering similar perspectives, moving from implementing circular products
and trying to work with customers to encourage these behaviours to more actively
switching the products they sell for the better.
Repair, resale and rental are all fantastic opportunities and much-needed
offerings as we look to encourage the purchasing of better-made, longer-lasting
products; but the potential for impact of these options is greatly diminished if
the original business model remains the same, still churning out high volumes of
products. We need a shift — we cannot have our cake and eat it, too.
Making retail and fashion truly environmentally sustainable requires long-term
thinking, recognition that we cannot go on producing at the current rates, and a
large culture shift — which is still a long way from taking
We need business to fully take a step beyond profit — to change how business is
fundamentally run, so that there is a future for all. Selfridges is on that
journey; but its commitments to date are equivalent to dipping a toe in the
Published Sep 26, 2022 8am EDT / 5am PDT / 1pm BST / 2pm CEST