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Enter circular fashion

Exploring new business models and eco-conscious consumption in clothing

Fri Sep 13 10:15:00 EDT 2019

As we transition to a new era of eco-conscious consumption, the fashion industry is taking steps to transform the way we buy and experience clothing – whether it’s the growing number of sustainable materials now on offer, or Barclaycard partnerships with brands switching up the 'try on experience'. According to a 2019 McKinsey report, the lifespan of fashion products is shifting as pre-owned, refurbished, rental and subscription business models continue to evolve. With a growing demand for circular practices as reported by the World Economic Forum and consumers discovering a deeper connection with their clothing, brands are competing to stand out from the crowd while retaining strong ethical values.

Just four years ago in 2015, The Telegraph reported on the trend for ‘high-end payment wearables’. As part of an experiment to transform the retail experience, front-row audiences saw Henry Holland lead an urban safari-themed show with a contactless twist in with his House of Holland Spring/Summer collection. Providing A-listers with NFC-enabled insect rings, models sported large contactless leaf brooches allowing prospective buyers to ‘tap to purchase’ their favourite pieces (Alexa Chung chose a crop top). It didn’t stop there; from Lyle & Scott’s bPay jacket to Topshop’s range of contactless trinkets, a wave of similarly ‘fashionable/functional’ garments and accessories soon hit the high street – allowing wearers to refresh their wardrobes to meet the demands of everyday life.  These trends are still out there and evolving, but as another London Fashion Week approaches, there is also a growing consumer demand for clothes that work harder for the environment as well.

A stitch in time

We continue to be a nation obsessed with clothing; research from Lottoland found that Brits spend an average of £733 a year on clothes they’ll never wear. To help address clothing waste, earlier this year The Guardian reported that the UK government has pledged to introduce a 1p garment tax on every item of clothing sold. This will apply to retailers with a turnover of more than £36m and will be used to improve collection and recycling services across the nation. The cross-party environmental audit committee also aims to reduce VAT on repair services. What’s more, the reintroduction of basic darning and mending classes in school (reported by the BBC in early 2019) could help encourage the next generation to ‘make do and mend’ – fixing, rather than replacing, their clothing.

Threads of hope

While the UK’s penchant for on-trend outfits may have powered the ‘fast fashion’ movement, high street brands have been quick to respond to the growing demand for ‘fashion with a conscience’. From John Lewis to Primark, household names both online and off have since launched sustainable lines of clothing dedicated to the cause; the Conscious collection from H&M has featured a leather jacket and cowboy boots made from Piñatex, a leather-like material made from leaves normally discarded during the production of pineapples. Over online, fashion giant ASOS has enabled clickers to shop their favourite eco brands. Yet while other brands such as M&S continue to rank highly on the Ethical Consumer Guide – its Plan A scheme detailing 180 commitments to social and environmental changes – there’s still work to be done…

Fostering a ‘sharing economy’

As both the government and retailers strive to make changes for the better, fashion-hungry consumers are also transitioning away from the ‘demand for disposable’. With growth largely powered by start-ups, Verdict recently reported that subscription businesses have grown 5-9x faster than traditional businesses in recent years; by 2022 it is estimated that the UK market will be worth £1bn. According to the Royal Mail, at £160m, gifting accounts for a huge part of this market – with a further £423m spent on self-gifting subscription boxes. Offering convenience and flexibility is key to success in this market; more successful companies like Graze now stock their products in stores nationwide. Having found its feet in markets like travel and transport, rental clothing is another huge up-and-coming trend in the circular fashion space, with brands like Rent the Runway, Girl Meets Dress and even Urban Outfitters giving customers the experience of wearing fast-moving fashion trends without the higher costs and waste.

A new generation of consumers

The most-photographed demographic of consumers to date (having never known life without the internet), Generation Z express themselves through their clothing and share their everyday experiences online. Getting to grips with this up-and-coming generation of consumers will be key for brands looking to survive the difficulties currently being experienced on the high street; some reports suggest Generation Z could even save the high street. In the last two years, more than a quarter of retailers (26 per cent) have seen an increase in returns. However, while the ‘snap and send back’ trend continues to fuel the serial returner movement, these forward-thinking customers are also more likely to care about the impact their buying choices have on the environment. Whether it’s buying second-hand clothing from charity and vintage shops or renting high-end designer garments, we’re seeing a trend for giving our clothing a ‘second life’ that didn’t exist before. Despite wanting to look their best, Generation Z are far more environmentally conscious than their predecessors.

A new style of connection

While Gen Z have a good level of awareness, their ongoing demand for trendy, sustainable – yet affordable clothing can fuel indecision. From free delivery to Click-and-Collect, a recent Barclaycard study found that £228million worth of ‘clicked goods’ were clicked but not collected, resulting in a huge loss of revenue for brands – and a heavy cost to the environment. To respond to this, Barclaycard recently partnered with sportswear brand Decathlon to incentivise shoppers to road test their purchases, ensuring they are completely satisfied with them before they leave the store.  With a bespoke microclimate (complete with atmospheric mist, plants and terrain) built to simulate Mount Snowdon, we invited Click-and-Collect customers to the Surrey Quays store where they were challenged to really give their purchases a run for their money. Barclaycard Payment Solutions Director Kirsty Morris, said: “Click-and-Collect is a win-win for both retailers and consumers. Brands have the opportunity to not only increase the number of shoppers through their doors but also to reduce costs and returns.” 

With such innovations encouraging a more thoughtful connection with clothing, ‘circular fashion’ – the new industry buzz phrase – is also playing a vital role in futureproofing the industry. Stay tuned to follow this journey towards a more sustainable world of consumerism.