Full Circle

The apparel and retail industries’ embrace of circular fashion—the reduction of waste by using materials for as long as possible, such as through reuse, recycling, and/or upcycling—has been a hot topic in the last couple of years. As time goes on, it seems more and more certain that these techniques are here to stay, one sign of a fundamental turning point within the industry when it comes to sustainability.

Adding to the evidence, four fashion brands, three of them retailers, announced significant circular fashion initiatives in the last month:

  • Urban Outfitters introduced a resale marketplace called Nuuly Thrift, which will launch this fall. (Nuuly debuted in 2019 as a subscription styling and clothing rental service, and Nuuly Thrift will be a sibling platform to Nuuly Rent.) Consumers will be able to use the marketplace to buy and sell clothing and accessories of any brand. When they sell an item, they can receive a cash transfer or “Nuuly Cash,” which comes with a 10% bonus in earnings but must be spent on Nuuly Thrift or on one of parent URBN’s brands. Those include Anthropologie, Free People, Terrain, and others, along with Urban Outfitters.
  • H&M Canada announced its Rewear resale marketplace for apparel, which will debut on September 7. The service starts in Canada only, but an eventual expansion into H&M’s other global markets is a possibility. As with Nuuly, consumers can buy and sell items from any brand. They can also receive either a direct deposit or an H&M Gift Card, which has a 20% added value and must be redeemed at H&M stores or on its e-commerce site. The Rewear platform features technology to make it easy for consumers to describe and price the items they sell, even with one click if they purchased the piece at H&M. The retailer already collects used garments in its bricks-and-mortar stores.
  • JCPenney joined the Jeans Redesign program, which has 94 members to date, including brands, mills, manufacturers, and retailers. The members share best practices on how to boost sustainability in their apparel programs. JCPenney plans to focus on increasing its use of organic and recycled fibers, as well as developing eco-friendly washes, improving sustainable packaging, and boosting durability. The Jeans Redesign organization, founded by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, is building a set of guidelines that will help its members align with the principles of a circular economy.
  • New Balance teamed with The Renewal Workshop to create an initiative called New Balance Renewed. The Workshop takes returned and flawed New Balance clothing and puts it through a proprietary, six-step process to ensure the items are “like new.” It then offers them for resale, with a New Balance guarantee of quality, through a white-label e-commerce site (or “re-commerce” site, as TRW calls it).

The growing list of initiatives such as these are indications that—unlike in the past—sustainability is not a “trend,” but rather a foundational business principle that guides everything a company does.

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