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Sustainability requires collaboration

by Paul Souber

The recent Extinction Rebellion protests and the debate around the sustainability of ‘fast fashion’ have put a growing number of retailers in the firing line for social activists.

H&M has a long track record of integrating ethics into its business notably with its ‘Conscious Collection’ line of clothing and also through its sustainable supply chain strategy. But during London Fashion Week one of its stores in the capital was the venue for a ‘Boycott Fashion’ protest.

The irony – and perhaps inappropriateness – of this was further emphasised shortly afterward when H&M announced the launch of a new clothing rental service aimed at making premium items available at an affordable price and extending the use and lifecycle of garments.

H&M isn’t the first retailer to announce this sort of initiative – Banana Republic, Urban Outfitters, Scotch and Soda, and Ann Taylor Loft have all launched subscription rental services this year –  but the negativity that the company is facing from the anti-fashion lobby has left its CEO, Karl-Johan Persson, exasperated. In an interview with Bloomberg, he warned that curtailing fashion retailing “may lead to a small environmental impact, but it will have terrible social consequences”. Perhaps not surprisingly, this only enraged his opponents further.

Britons buy more clothing than any other European country, and it’s estimated that £2.7bn is spent fashion that they only wear once so it’s not surprising that retailing is increasingly under scrutiny. And, of course, property has a similar challenge: the built environment is responsible for almost half of all carbon emissions in the UK.

So where property and retailing come together in the form shops it’s clear that we can make a difference in terms of how those spaces are created and operated. In London, major landlords such as Grosvenor, Shaftesbury and The Crown Estate are leading the way in this respect and retailers are responding to their lead.

In this context, it’s perhaps not surprising that streetwear brand Napapijri felt that Shaftesbury’s Carnaby Street was the right setting for its first London store. The brand recently launched ‘Infinity’: a 100% recyclable jacket that’s been made using recycled fishing nets and which you can ‘trade-in’ after two years of use.

Given changing attitudes in society there are tremendous opportunities for retail and property to collaborate on sustainable responses to what shoppers demand. Hopefully, this week’s MAPIC retail property exhibition will generate many ideas that can support this process.

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