Consumer Behaviour and the ‘Born Again’ pop-up…

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From where I sit (within a major clothing retailer), the trend for mass consumption doesn’t seem to be abating anytime soon. I like to think that as a passionate professional working in the field of sustainability I’ve (surely) changed my behaviour to play my small part in addressing this clearly alarming trend; but I confess, I still buy way too much stuff.

So, as I sit here feeling bad, surrounded by my new stuff (which I’ll admit, even with the guilt, makes me happy), I think about ‘end of life’ issues and how I could feel less bad about buying stuff without buying less of it…

It’s great that ever more companies are creating platforms for consumers to donate their unwanted products for re-sale, either indirectly through partnerships with charity shops (Oxfam and M&S, I:CO and H&M), or directly through their websites (Ikea, Patagonia).

In 2015 the BBC[1] reported that almost half of the unwanted clothes in the UK go to a new home rather being buried in landfill or incinerated, and the UK initiative ‘WRAP’ [2] note that this proportion is increasing. That’s good news (although it still means a lot of clothes are just thrown away).

However… disappointingly, it seems that the majority of unwanted clothes going to a new home will eventually be shipped off for recycling.[3] Whilst that’s better than land-fill, it’s surely not better than re-use. In short, supply for unwanted clothes seems to outstrip demand.

As high-street clothing retailers relentlessly innovate their business models to keep consumers walking into their stores (nail bars, hairdressers, cupcake stalls, coffee shops, organic food and a free laundrette service in American Eagle’s flagship New York store), is there an opportunity here to help boost the demand side of the re-used clothing equation?

Could/should high street retailers introduce a re-used clothing section, ‘Born Again!’ (pop-up), into their stores? The sale of these items could be at charity shop prices, with all proceeds going to a named charity. Operational costs could be borne by CSR budgets. With their slick advertising and vlogging/blogging brand ambassadors, brands could help break taboos around buying old clothing (if they still exist given today’s financially struggling masses – although possibly so, as 38% of consumers interviewed by WRAP[4] had never bought clothes in a charity shop). It would certainly bring new consumers to the market for re-used products and significantly raise the profile of a brand’s commitment to the circular economy. These pop-ups could also feature information about local government services and private initiatives geared towards those on a low income.

Or maybe a better model still is to franchise the pop-up to a high-street charity shop chain who would come in to run the operation; encouraging consumers to donate all unwanted clothes to the in-store charity shop concession, not just those from the brand.

However, this still leaves other concerns unsettled; the role of recycling ‘middle men’ who buy what charity shops can’t sell or what clothing retailers collect, and the implications of unwanted clothing ending up for sale in developing country markets. Definitely thorny issues for another blog…

Perhaps my biggest is concern is that this just fuels the root cause of mass-consumption; making us all feel better as we frantically scan the isles, buying too much stuff…

[1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-30227025

[2] http://www.wrap.org.uk/sites/files/wrap/valuing-our-clothes-the-cost-of-uk-fashion_WRAP.pdf

[3] http://www.clothingpoverty.com/clothing-poverty

[4] http://www.wrap.org.uk/sites/files/wrap/valuing-our-clothes-the-cost-of-uk-fashion_WRAP.pdf

 

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14 thoughts on “Consumer Behaviour and the ‘Born Again’ pop-up…

  1. I really enjoyed your post and I think you raise some really valid points – how to get others excited about items you previously thought were fantastic but not so now. A small example I have seen in Australia is where a charity which has previously run a second hand clothes shop without any great success handed it over to a private company which obviously has a fun marketing team. They rebranded the store, provide you with a discount token for future purchases if you donate good quality items to them in the first place and have priced the items appropriately. It still won’t solve the issue of the $3 t-shirts that you may wear once for a specific event but it goes some of the way to getting others to wear pre-loved clothes.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. That is a good read. I just wonder what you think, is the best policy and education wise to get consumers change of believer toward re-use / recycle clothing produce? How do you compare pros and cons between the return to retailer reuse / recycle and charity shop reuse models?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Good idea! I would personally love more second hand stores in HK where I live. I always make sure I give my clothes to the charity bin, but as I dispose I do have that thought, will they actually get reused? As I walk the street and see people that have ripped clothes and can no doubt not afford clothes themselves, it also feels such a travesty to think that many of my clothes will not only not end up in a charity store but also to landfill when peoples badly need them.
    I think it’s a fantastic idea for clothing brand to fund this activity! Maybe another way would be to partner with a charity shop – allow them to co-brand with the high street brand and then get some advice from the brand on how to better fit out the store. Sometimes when you go into these charity stores they are a bit depressing to be in and getting some brand pizazz might help them be more popular in the eyes of shoppers.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Another idea to throw in the mix – I saw on BBC news just now the set up of “food fridges” around the country. Spots where people can deposit food and anyone can come pick it up. Again a shame that so much good food goes to waste, while people are still going hungry. This would be so great for clothes!!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I really like your ideas to encourage reuse, recycle through donation. However, do you think this is may have a rebound effect they will at the end of the day consume more as they feel better through a more responsible way of disposal. When I watched the “True Cost” movie, the quantity of donated clothes is actually more than the need of the underdeveloped countries. Maybe it is time for us to really look at the root cause of the issue with the fast fashion business model. Should the businesses continue to create something not to last and not being cherished by consumers and have the products last for short cycle with low cost that are not factoring environmental costs? I really feel angry when I watched TV ads showing that the jacket is so cheap that consumers can wear like disposable.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Thank you for all your great comments and questions. I don’t have the answers of course!

    But writing this post did inspire me to actually sit down and read the book Clothing Poverty by Andrew Brooks which I reference in my post. Whilst I don’t agree with everything he says, it’s a great read, especially his reporting on the second hand clothing industry – quite an eye opener. I think his broader message resonates well with our Masters course; looking deeply within ourselves to understand what it really means to be a ‘leader’ in sustainability. Not just tinkering around the edges to make ourselves feel better – but making ourselves question the deeply unequal and entrenched systems that we are part of. A recommended read!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Really thought provoking blog Lindsey, it has certainly got me considering what drives us to buy new stuff. It’s almost as though we are conditioned to want “shiny” new items, and that we need to “keep up with the Joneses”.

    I like your idea about the re-used clothing sections within stores – in fact, many other sectors already follow this approach. I remember as a teenager popping into my local “GAME” store to trade in a completed computer game and buying a second-hand copy of the latest release for a discount price. However, I wonder whether funding from the CSR budget would really tackle the root cause? It would be a good way of getting it set up and running, but what we really need is for companies to adapt their business models so this becomes central to how they work. The problem is – I can imagine this is pretty much the opposite of why fashion exists!

    It’s a tricky one, and I resonate with your comment about looking deeply within ourselves to understand what it really means to be a leader in sustainability. By building our awareness of and familiarity with our own views, it can act as a “compass” within our daily roles and help to guide us. And who knows – with enough people thinking the same way, it may just be enough to lead to some systematic change!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. The fashion industry really needs a big push in becoming more sustainable and the consumer has a large role to play.

    It’s driven on consumerism and currently is unsustainable. Even when you don’t need to buy any new clothes, you still find yourself walking into the store or going online to ‘have a look’. Then you find something you want (not need) and somehow it gets into your wardrobe.

    Over the past few years the clothes sold in high street stores are poorly made (probably intentionally) because if the item falls apart, the consumer would buy another. Knowing that it won’t last long, they may bulk buy. If you buy an item that’s ‘on trend’, a few weeks later that trend is over.

    Environmental repercussions include impact on the land, workers health and pollution during the production and manufacturing processes. Then you have the waste that’s produced when the items are inevitably thrown away. Most of which is plastics and is non-biodegradable and causes micro-plastic pollution (which we don’t yet know the unintended and negative consequences).

    It’s a great idea to re-use clothing and have special sections in high street stores. With clever and the right type of marketing (more sustainably focused instead of money making), this can be made into a success and break down the stigma of “someone else’s old clothes”. Second-hand can be seen as ‘vintage’ and is sometimes just as expensive, if not more, than other items in the store – I’ve come across some stores that specialise in expensive vintage sections. I agree there needs to be clever advertising and ambassadors to break taboos.

    Charity shops and the second hand market cannot be the solution for consumerism and its environmental impacts. Yes it can make you feel slightly better but in the end, the vast majority of the bin bags of clothes given to charity shops simply pass through and end up in developing countries.

    Thought provoking blog and there’s much more to discuss.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. This made me think about a clothes recycling business I met recently. The business was preventing landfill by sorting and “bailing” used clothes, sourced from charity shops (which fail to sell the majority of them), and then ship them abroad by the tonne. The “premium” ones go to Eastern Europe, the rest to Africa. The top five destinations are apparently Poland, Ghana, Pakistan, Ukraine and Benin. There is an argument made in these situations (similar to with refuse derived fuel) that the shipping is often in containers that would otherwise be empty … so the point I’m about to make is not a criticism of the environmental argument that is often made, although that in itself is worthy of further investigation. However, the point is that this can have a significant and often quite negative impact on the economies of the destination countries. This trade can prevent local economies developing and lead to dependency on the West. And then there’s just the moral argument … why should the 5 countries I listed have seconds from the West, when they could develop their own industries? Lots has been written about this and I’m not saying anything new, but I just wanted to highlight the social impact of the “rag trade” on an international level as we so often focus on the environmental aspects when it comes to recycling.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I actually couldn’t agree with you more. After writing my post I did a bit more research into the link between the clothes recycling industry in the north and the second hand clothing trade in the south. This is a major issue. Of course there are complexities around the debate but regardless I think there should be a lot more transparency and open conversation about this link.

      Like

  10. Yes, having a new piece of clothing is so exciting!! I don’t think there is anything bad about shopping as long as you are committed to the piece that you have just selected and decided to bring home with you.

    The problem is the speed, the price, the quality and the amount of clothes that high street labels produce. Unlimited amount of products available all year around, it is hard to think who would need that many clothes. So many teenage ‘haulers’ are on YouTube showing off how much clothes they bought paying so little, calling binge shopping ‘accessible fashion’.

    As to your thought, can there be a solution to feel less guilty without buying less of… I think it depends on the quality of the product.

    There are some good examples of the ideas you have mentioned to have repair or return functions in stores (as below). However the most important point here is that the clothes need to be of certain quality / value for it to be repairable or desirable to pass on to the next owner.

    Also, there are many ways of extending life of clothes. For example, making it strong enough to live through years of washings or design and produce without influences of trend which again moves away from the nature of high street labels.

    The most convincing solution for me has always been the emotional durability, loving and taking care of your items.

    Ultimately, like any other products, if each item is carefully selected before buying and then looked after well, there is no need to worry about throwing away. By the time you decide to let go of it, it has probably served its purpose to full and if you genuinely believe that it will be appreciated by someone else, there will be a good place to take it to.

    Eileen Fisher
    https://www.eileenfisher.com/renew

    Nudie Jeans
    https://www.nudiejeans.com/page/this-is-nudie-jeans

    Pataginia
    http://eu.patagonia.com/gb/en/worn-wear.html

    Fashion Revolution #haulternative campaign
    http://fashion.telegraph.co.uk/columns/tamsin-blanchard/TMG11536174/Fashion-Revolution-Day-Youtube-haulers-get-ethical-with-haulternative-campaign.html

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Hubbub has been exploring ways of changing addictions to fast fashion – I think you’ll find their blog really interesting and inspiring.

    They’re aware that more needs to be done to encourage people to make more sustainable fashion choices but their campaigns (mentioned in this blog) are a great start in changing the mainstream fashion culture by provoking conversations and demonstrating that you don’t need to trash the planet or your bank account!

    https://www.hubbub.org.uk/Blog/nudging-people-away-from-fast-fashion?utm_source=HUBBUB_Business+Address+Book&utm_campaign=19cfcc7af9-Nudging+people+away+from+fast+fashion&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_669e46000a-19cfcc7af9-284081725

    Liked by 1 person

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