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Could Forever 21 Do Clothing Take-Backs?

CCA LiveE | Thursday December 20th, 2012 | 0 Comments

This is part of a series of articles by MBA students at California College of the Arts dMBA program. Follow along here.

By Cielo Rios

Do you ever wonder what happens to your clothes and shoes once you’re done with them?  Does that shirt you gave to the thrift store now live in a new closet or did it make its way into a shredder where it now lives as filler in a padded mailer envelope?  Maybe that old shirt got the scissor treatment and now lives under the sink with all the other rags you use to clean your house.  Those old sneakers… did they find their way into the trashcan or incinerator?  What if, instead of sending your old clothes and shoes to the landfill, thrift store, or to the dark caverns under your sink, you could take the clothes back to the place where you bought them, where they would turn your waste into something usable?

In 2011, Nike sold about $24.1 billion worth of shoes, apparel, and accessories.  And while that number is pretty remarkable (especially for their stockholders), what is even more remarkable is that Nike has afterlife plans for all of the shoes they’ve sold through their Reuse-A-Shoe program.  Since launching the program in 1990, they’ve collected 28,000,000 pairs of shoes that have made their way back into pairs of new Nikes, or as surfaces and supports for sport courts, tracks, and playgrounds.  What may make this program even better is their acceptance of virtually any shoe from any brand.  They are the only footwear company in the world to have a model like this.

Patagonia is another company that rises above the traditional model of apparel manufacturing by taking into account everything they use and actually push the idea of consuming less.  A pretty unique approach in a world obsessed with quick fashion and bargain pricing.  Through their Common Threads program, they promote (in order of efficiency) reducing, repairing, reusing, and recycling their products.  In a move that seemingly goes against Consumerism 101, the company took out a full page ad in the New York Times on Black Friday in 2011 letting the world know that they understand that the environmental cost of their products exceeds the retail price of their goods.  In the ad, which features an image a jacket and the headline, “Don’t buy this Jacket,” they encouraged people to buy less, repair more, and recycle and reimagine once it is no longer useful.  The company accepts any Patagonia products that have reached the end of their useful life as well and will either recycle or repurpose the item.

This type of recycle and reuse model requires thinking about products not necessarily from the outside in, but more from the inside out.  Taking the time to think through the entire lifecycle of a product at the start leads to greater sustainable strides that can be taken after initial development.  Patagonia is best able to address their goals in sustainability because their process begins with the product’s inception… it’s not an afterthought.  The materials in the company’s supply chain have each undergone scrutiny to determine the impact they will have on the environment.  And further, they’ve also taken into account what happens to what they’ve made after you’re done with the product.  In addition to using sustainable materials, Nike has also made strides in the development of their products and much of their line is starting to be made with minimal patterning so there is less time and waste on the assembly line.

It’s a different process to think about making things from the inside out versus the outside in—but by thinking about products not just in the moment of consumption but in the time leading up to the sale and afterwards, some companies may find that their responsibilities extend beyond just the point of sale.  How could other companies use the Patagonia or Nike models to innovate their business and think about how to make their products differently?  Could this model of responsibility change the face of fast fashion?

What if Forever 21 or Inditex (parent company of Zara) took this approach?  H&M has already started the process with their partnership with I:Collect—they will take back clothing from any brand, in any condition for recycling. Imagine if those trendy harem pants had a destiny other than a landfill.

[Image credit: antwerpenR, Flickr]

Cielo Rios is a busy bee at Magic Spoon and dMBA student at California College of the Arts. Tweet her @mrsrioki.


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