Fashion retailers leading sustainability trend by trialling new business models

The London Waste and Recycling Board (LWARB) and QSA Partners have today announced that they are working with a number of fashion retailers to develop and pilot a range of new circular economy business models such as clothes hire, product resale, repair and rental services. The retailers – including Ted Baker, Farfetch and FW – will be exploring more sustainable ways of operating through the Circular Fashion Fast Forward project.

Each retailer will explore its own bespoke approach to becoming a more circular business, developing new business models which will be trialled and ultimately, if successful, brought to market. Projects like this also create great opportunities for learning, so case studies will be created and shared once the project is complete to help other fashion retailers and brands develop and adopt their own circular business models. 

More and more businesses are realising the competitive advantage that circular business models can bring.  Consumers are increasingly demanding more sustainable options from the brands they love, and circular approaches offer companies a real opportunity to create more value and profit whilst reducing their environmental impact.

Resale is a particularly strong growth area for fashion businesses to consider: a recent report by thredUP1 puts the value of the second-hand market at $24 billion, a figure which is expected to double in the next five years. The Business of Fashion report, “The State of Fashion, 2019”2 highlights that resale is growing nine times faster than traditional retail and The Ellen MacArthur Foundation estimates that an industry-wide move towards circular fashion could add €160 billion in value by 2030.

Brands connected to the project are motivated by the chance to prove the benefits of circular business models. Thomas Berry, Director of Sustainable Business at Farfetch, says: “Circular models like resale or rental are big commercial opportunities for Farfetch. They are a very natural extension of our long-standing vintage offer, and we have started to pilot a few new models. Since 2018 our Browns retail store has been in partnership with rental platform Armarium, and we have just launched Farfetch Secondlife – a handbag resale service for our customers. We are excited to be working with LWARB and QSA to build the business case to accelerate our work in this area. 

Customers are also the main motivation for Kate Wakeling, Ted’s Conscience Manager at Ted Baker, who says: “Ted Baker are excited to be exploring opportunities within the circular economy and are pleased to have teamed up with QSA Partners and LWARB. Ted’s wholly unique way of looking at things means we look forward to delivering something very special and meaningful for our customers.

FW is an exciting new outdoor brand launching in Autumn 2019. Anna Smoothy, FW’s Senior Marketing Manager, emphasises that sustainability is at the core of what they want to achieve: “FW’s approach to sustainability is an open-ended conversation. We are constantly searching to refine our materials and reduce our impact. At FW, quality is sustainability. We make products to last while incorporating eco-materials that are proven to be durable like Oxford Recycled Yarn. We are not just making eco-friendly products destined for landfill – we would like to underline the fact that we are developing a Repair Program with QSA and LWARB so that our fans invest in FW for life.” 

Megan McGill, Programme Manager for the C&A Foundation, is pleased to see these important projects underway: “The fashion industry needs to rapidly adopt new business models that increase the use of clothing and stop the use of unsustainable materials. This is a critical step towards a circular fashion sector. The Circular Fashion Fast Forward project and the participating brands will demonstrate what can already be done today and inspire more industry players to follow.”