Forget about it being the year of the rat. 2020 is the year of action. Climate action, to be precise. Last week world leaders convened at the World Economic Forum in Davos and the climate crisis conversation took centre stage. Prince Charles delivered a speech where he highlighted the importance of consumers in the urgent “paradigm shift” which is needed. “People around the world have the power to drive the transformation to sustainable markets. Yet, we cannot expect consumers to make sustainable choices if these choices are not clearly laid before them. For a transition to take place, being socially and environmentally conscious cannot only be for those who can afford it,” he said.
We can all agree that as consumers we play a vital role in this shift, but the solutions need to not only be visible, but more attractive as alternatives. At the recent Techstyler X Dai panel discussion held at the Dai Performance space in Spitalfields, London, we brought together experts sharing insights on how we can boost our environmental and financial sustainability in 2020–through our wardrobes.
John Atcheson, Founder and CEO of Stuffstr , explained how his buy-back platform works to divert unwanted clothing from landfill and add monetary value for both the customer and the brand partner. Leading from their mission statement “no unused stuff”, social enterprise Stuffstr partners with retailers (including Adidas) to provide an instant buy-back of every purchase, regardless of the state that the product is in (holey socks are welcome too, apparently). Customers can pull up the last five years of inventory, each piece with a buy-back price, and with a click of a button a courier is instantly dispatched to pick up the item and the customer is rewarded with a voucher to spend with that brand. The whole transaction can be done in one hour. Stuffstr then resells everything wearable and recycles items that cannot be worn. For Atcheson it is about changing perceptions of value amongst consumers and changing the way people make purchasing decisions. He wants people to look in their wardrobes and think “I’ve got an asset here and it’s got a value which is declining over time.” It encourages that mindset that it costs money to have stuff around that they’re not using. Stuffstr provides a frictionless way for consumers to move those unwanted items on to the next stage of their life cycle in a way that Atcheson says is actually easier than letting them accumulate, taking them to the charity shop or, worse, throwing it out. He jokes that the only part of the service they haven’t covered is physically carrying the item from the user’s wardrobe to the courier at their front door.
Victoria Prew, CEO and Co-Founder of the UK’s first peer-to-peer wardrobe rental platform HURR Collective, explained how renting provides consumers with a way to both maximise (by adding key fashion pieces as and when needed), and monetise (85% of the rental fee goes to the renter) their wardrobe. In the era of eco-anxiety, Victoria asserts that fashion should still be fun, and that renting can provide that feeling of getting something new and exciting without having to contribute to the over-production of more clothing, or spend money on a statement piece that may only be worn once.
HURR encourages people to see the value in their wardrobe and recognise the return on investment that their clothing can have. Prew shared how one dress produced a 350% return on investment as it was the dress that everyone wanted to be seen in last year. It was a win-win as the owner was happy to have made some money out of a dress she may only have worn a few times, and HURR was happy as rather than 20 dresses, say, being manufactured, used and discarded in landfill, multiple dresses have been ‘saved’ due to it being rented instead. It is this sharing mentality that will ultimately reduce the amount of clothing being produced. And if this solution looks and feels as much like the e-commerce we are all used to, then the transition from buying to renting is psychologically a little easier. Prew is on a mission to cut out fast-fashion, encouraging people to invest in capsule wardrobes of high-quality basics, which they really look after, and add to by renting special pieces. This not only reduces the wearer’s consumption, but also is more economical because they buy less, buy better and rent the rest.
Stylist and Head of Sustainability Communications at Swarovski, Rachele Gonzaga, lives by the quote “the most sustainable garment is the one already in your wardrobe.” Through her wardrobe “detox” service she helps clients identify which pieces they wear, those they could get more use from and advises what to do with pieces they no longer use at all. If you don’t wear something 100%, then why? Can you wear it in a different way? Are you able to tailor it to fit better? If not, then give it to charity or recycle it but don’t let it sit there. She advises people to invest in timeless pieces that truly suit their body type and colouring, which alone increases the wearer’s wardrobe sustainability and longevity, and over time saves money. When talking to her clients about sustainability, she notes the increasing confusion over sustainability amongst consumers and tries to reconcile that by asking clients what matters to them. She then finds brands that match those philosophies to propose to the client.
At the end of the talk, an audience member asked if the growth of rental and resell platforms would lead to revenue being diverted away from charity shops, and therefore the causes (for example Oxfam) that are currently benefiting from them. Atcheson replied by saying that such platforms could integrate charitable options, so in the case of Stuffstr, instead of users being paid with a gift card that money could be diverted to a charity–a concept that their brand partners are very supportive of developing. Prew added that there is an opportunity for charities to “go digital” and create online marketplaces where customers are already shopping, for example on eBay. Joanna Dai, Founder of Dai, shared details of their recent charity campaign during which customers were asked to choose between 15% off with a 5% donation to Smart Works, or 20% discount with no donation. Disappointingly for Dai, the vast majority of customers choose the higher discount for themselves rather than the charitable donation, which points to the need for attractive charitable options that resonate with consumers.
Another audience member asked the panel their opinion on when rental and clothes-sharing options would become more available for men. Prew answered that the future of menswear rental was a bit “uncertain”, but it was definitely on HURR’s radar. She did concede that if the understanding around the potential for rental and resell in the mens’ market evolves it absolutely has the potential to grow alongside female fashion.
The panellists all agreed that there is a lot of disruption in the industry so it’s not all doom and gloom, but the future of fashion has to be circular. Atcheson closed the discussion by saying, “it’s really encouraging to see that there are big players willing to make investments in this area and trying to truely move in that direction. If we can facilitate that by providing our service and building this consumer concept that starts to demand more and more of that innovation then I feel optimistic that we can get there”
Quick wins and takeaways from the panel were:
- Recognise the value that your clothing has and how you can use that value to your advantage
- Invest in a capsule wardrobe and consider renting or borrowing the more special one-time pieces
- Look after what you already own – look at the Clothes Doctor for tips or use eco dry cleaners like Blanc
- Stick to the 30-wear rule
- If you do want to get rid of something, think about how you can get some of its value back and continue its life, either in rental, re-sell, charity or recycling to avoid landfill