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Selfridges vows to make almost half its fashion products sustainable by 2030

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“Our fragile planet is hanging by a thread,’’ United Nations secretary-general Antonio Guterres warned at last year’s COP26 climate change summit. Thread by thread, retailers are encouraging shoppers to reduce their impact on the world.

One is department store chain Selfridges, which has announced that 45 per cent of transactions will come from circular products by 2030 in a bid to tackle textile waste.

A circular transaction, the company says, translates to “at least one resale, rental, refill, repair or recycled product” from the fashion arm of the business.

The move follows from the launch of Selfridges’ Project Earth initiative in 2020, at which Selfridges committed to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2040.

The retailer has also focused on reselling pre-owned goods via its “Reselfridges” label. Customers also have the option of renting designer pieces or having repairs done to extend the life of products.

Andrew Keith, Selfridges managing director, said: “We recognise we need to challenge ourselves to accelerate change. We don’t have all the answers, but we are committed to finding solutions, through a continued imaginative approach to retail innovation. The scale of our ambitions cannot be underestimated but we are inspired by what lies ahead and how we bring this to life for our customers.”

‘My wedding dress was from eBay’

Jane Olsen is a sustainable fashion advocate

Jane Olsen, 46, is a business owner and mother-of-three based in Nottinghamshire

“I have been buying sustainable clothing for around a decade now. The way in which we “consume” fashion I feel has become unsustainable, given the current climate emergency and the huge drain on natural resources. Fashion has almost become as throw away as single-use plastics.

“When it came to buying used clothing, originally it was just a few items in my wardrobe. Now I rarely buy new and when I do I chose sustainable items from natural fibres.

“There is an excellent vintage wear shop locally (Vintage Vixen) where I source T-shirts, sweatshirts, converse trainers, dresses and all other stock wardrobe items come from White Rose charity shop.

“I have a work jacket from Berties of the Bay which is new. My wedding dress was from Ebay! My two sons and daughter have survived quite well on age-appropriate bundles of clothes from Ebay. They don’t really mind what they wear and don’t feel any pet pressure to be particularly on trend.”

‘If it’s broke, fix it’

Natalie Berg, retail analyst at NBK Retail,said Selfridges’ sustainable pledge is in line with changing consumer tastes.

She said: “For the past century, Western culture has been defined by consumerism. But we’ve now hit peak stuff. The days of throwaway fashion are coming to an end. We are entering an era where products are becoming services, where values are just as important as value and where longevity trumps fashionability. We are shifting from mindless to mindful consumption.”

Some brands paving the way towards sustainability include US outdoor brand Patagonia. The California-headquartered firm has been advocating repairing clothing pretty much since its inception in the 1970s and the motto ‘If it’s broke, fix it’ remains a core company value.

Since 2005 it has operated a free repair program and during the 2017 fiscal year it carried out 50,295 clothing repairs.

Swedish clothing label Nudie Jeans, which is also stocked in Selfridges, is another clothing label offering free repairs. In 2019 the company repaired 63,281 pairs of jeans, which it says is the equivalent of prolonging the life of 50,000kg of clothes.

While repair programs are a great idea, it can take a while to repair goods and Patagonia’s repair turnaround is currently at the 20-week mark. Londoner Michael O’Nion waited 16 weeks without his jeans after taking them to get patched up at a Nudie Jeans outlet.

The move follows from the launch of Selfridges’ Project Earth initiative in 2020, at which Selfridges committed to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2040

‘Customers won’t see genuinely ethically made products at ‘fast fashion’ prices’

Felice Langkamp, 26, is the founder of London-based cashmere women’s label MyCashmere

“I think that its crucial for the entire industry – retailers and customers to begin supporting and lifting up fashion brands who integrate sustainability into their DNA.  At MyCashmere we live and breathe sustainability as the most central element of our business.

“Our pieces are extremely high quality and naturally made to last a lifetime being cashmere, so our customers can truly buy less and buy better.  In addition to this our collections have been created with sustainably sourced or recycled yarns, produced in incredible Italian artisan houses with the celebrated generational craftsmanship, good work life balance and living wages. 

“Being sustainable and doing things in an ethical way both to the environment and artisans means incurring high costs, which is why customers won’t see genuinely ethically made products at ‘fast fashion’ prices.”

Rise of greenwashing?

A study of online shops and traders by the EU and national consumer protection authorities revealed that many of the green claims on companies’ websites were exaggerated, false and potentially illegal.

Looking into green claims, mostly made on online stores and traders’ websites in November 2020, the investigation found the problem was rife.

The study assessed 344 “seemingly dubious” sustainability claims made online by companies, which were not named and most of which were in the clothing and textiles, cosmetics and personal care, and household equipment sectors.

In 42 per cent of cases, national authorities had reason to believe the claim was false, deceptive, and potentially an unfair commercial practice under EU law, while 37 per cent of cases used vague terms without substantiating them.

“Terms such as ecological, organic, and environmentally friendly were used frequently and without substantiation,” the Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) said. The ACM can fine businesses that make false or misleading sustainability claims, it said.

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When it comes to how consumers think, a recent study also revealed a “clear gap” between ideals and practice among the Gen Z population.

Research conducted by Sheffield Business School, Sheffield Hallam University, showed young generations say they want their clothes to be sustainable but still regularly buy fast fashion.

Researcher Dr Marc Duffy concluded: “Generation z are increasingly concerned for the planet, with 94 per cent believing that action is needed relative to sustainability, and that we need to come together to solve important issues. But the large proportion who admitted buying fast fashion demonstrates a clear gap between pro-sustainability ideologies and observed behaviour.”

Maria Chenoweth, chief executive of Traid, a UK charity working to stop unwanted, wearable clothes from going to waste by reselling them via charity outlets, says consumers sghouldn’t be blamed for the choices they make.

“We shouldn’t blame and shame the consumer – change within the fashion industry needs to come from businesses and their behaviour. The fashion industry is the fourth biggest textile waste polluter in Europe and the industry’s business models are built on growth, profit and cutting costs. We need to redefine what it is for a business to be satisfied; we need to redefine business full stop.”

‘My friends and I sometimes have clothing swaps’

Margot Peppers, 32, a consumers trends editor based in London

“I love clothes and fashion, but there’s no doubt in my mind that the fashion industry has a sustainability problem. Global supply chains lead to outsized carbon emissions; people are often exploited to produce clothes quickly and cheaply; affordable clothes are poorly made but because they are cheap, consumers don’t hesitate to throw them out and buy new, creating an endless cycle of waste.

“It doesn’t help that the industry is built on the idea of seasonal trends, making people feel under pressure to stay up to date by constantly changing up their wardrobe. 

“I’m guilty of buying more than I need, but I do choose second-hand as much as possible, something I’ve been doing for the past five years or so. Where I live, there are lots of great charity shops so that’s always my first port of call.

“Sometimes I use resale platforms like depop, though I prefer to buy in-store so I can feel the quality of the clothes and try them on before committing to buy. My friends and I also sometimes have clothing swaps where I’ve acquired some great dresses and jumpsuits.”

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