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Retailers are Betting on Sustainable Fashion to Drive Sales

Maggie Kohn headshotWords by Maggie Kohn
Consumer Trends
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At this year’s Academy Awards, celebrities such as BlacKkKlansman’s Laura Harrier donned sustainable Louis Vuitton gowns as they walked the red carpet. It was all part of the Red-Carpet Green Dress Initiative, a 10-year project pushing for more sustainable practices in fashion.

But you don’t have to be a celebrity to be sustainable. A growing number of retailers are betting on sustainable fashion as the newest way to differentiate themselves among more environmentally and socially conscious shoppers. This includes younger millennials, who according to market research firm Mintel, are looking for more eco-friendly clothing when they hit the mall.

“Normalizing sustainable and circular fashion will be essential to brand longevity and customer engagement,” said Edward K. Brenninkmeijer, CEO of C&A, the Swiss-based clothing retailer.

Sustainable fashion can be affordable

With stores in 18 countries, C&A is one of a growing number of apparel companies including H&M, Levi’s and Eileen Fisher that seek to provide shoppers with “fashion with a positive impact.” Consumers, according to C&A, should be able to “look and feel good every day, while supporting a good quality of life for those who make our clothes and a healthy planet.”

The company’s #WearTheChange campaign, launched last year, empowers consumers to “shop for clothes without feeling guilty.” To date, the company says it has brought almost 4 million pieces of Cradle to Cradle-certified apparel to market for men, women and kids.

In 2017, the company launched the world’s first Gold-level Cradle to Cradle-certified t-shirts made of 100 percent organic cotton with safe materials and chemicals. One year later, C&A was the first retailer to introduce Gold-level Cradle to Cradle-certified jeans. The company says it is striving to make its sustainable line available at reasonable prices: In Europe, C&A sustainable jeans are 36 Euro ($41), a Cradle to Cradle Certified t-shirt for toddlers is only 5 euros ($6), and a vest made out of 100 percent recycled plastic bottles is 19 euros ($21).

A responsible and sustainable apparel supply chain

And lest you are concerned that the clothing is being made on the backs of low-paid workers in its supply chain, C&A was one of the founding members of ACT (Action, Collaboration, Transformation), which works to ensure living wages for garment workers.

The company is also working to source more sustainable materials locally, such as in Brazil, where 80 percent of what C&A sells in its local stores there is produced within the country. “Being able to produce certified apparel domestically supports local growers and producers, and prevents overburdening a small number of overseas suppliers,” the company says on its website.

Rounding out its WearTheChange campaign is the company’s in-store and online take-back program,  part of its vision for restorative circular fashion, “where nothing is wasted in the creation or disposal of our clothing.”

In its latest sustainability report, the company says that its global sustainable materials strategy has helped the company avoid 116,000 tons of CO2 emissions (mtCO2e), equivalent to the yearly CO2 emissions of over 70,000 passenger cars, and  1 billion m3 of water – the equivalent of 400,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

Sharing C&A’s roadmap  

C&A says it wants to make environmentally and socially responsible fashion the industry norm. To help others in the industry, it worked with Fashion for Good to develop a comprehensive toolkit for developing Cradle to Cradle-certified apparel. It covers all the elements of the Cradle to Cradle program, from chemicals to social fairness. Fashion for Good also offers a self-assessment tool for suppliers.

How are your brands doing?

Want to know if your favorite brand is sustainable? Check out the app Good on You. It ranks brands by their impact on workers in their supply chain; their resource use and disposal, energy use and carbon emissions; impacts on water, including chemical use and disposal; and their use of animal products.

Image credits: C&A/Facebook

Maggie Kohn headshotMaggie Kohn

Maggie Kohn is excited to be a contributor to Triple Pundit to illustrate how business can achieve positive change in the world while supporting long-term growth. Maggie worked for more than 20 years at the biopharma giant Merck & Co., Inc., leading corporate responsibility and social business initiatives. She currently writes, speaks and consults on corporate responsibility and social impact when she is not busy fostering kittens for her local animal shelter. Click here to learn more.

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