They’re making strides in the industry, but they could still do more. Here are 7 ways luxury brands should recycle, NOW. And we’re not just talking about binning plastic bottles in the right container!
By Robert Lockyer & Chere Di Boscio
Over recent years, we have seen some brands take the necessary steps to combat pollution. However, as the industry’s focus now turns to recovery after what has been an incredibly difficult year, now is not the time to be pressing the breaks on any efforts in an attempt to save money and resources, or to cut corners for ease of business.
Rather, it has never been more important for the industry as a whole to take collective action towards a more sustainable future for the planet, business and consumers.
While some businesses are taking the necessary steps, others are still falling behind. Here are 7 ways luxury fashion brands should be recycling. These measures will not only help the planet, but will help enhance their brand images with a younger market, too.
7 Ways Luxury Brands Should Recycle NOW
1. Rely on luxury resale
The resale market is thriving. And while it is already strong, holding an estimated value of $7 billion, it is on a path of growth and on track to reaching a predicted $36 billion by 2024.
This is down to a number of things, with changing consumer behaviours one, and greater investment in the market by an increasing number of industry players who, traditionally, have remained solely in ‘new in’ sections. Most recently, this has involved moves such as luxury conglomerate, Kering, taking a 5% stake in resale platform, Vestiaire Collective, who just weeks earlier, had revealed a new partnership with Alexander McQueen, one of the group’s key houses.
These investments are providing consumers who are increasingly looking for ways to maximise their purchases and shop more sustainably, with greater accessibility to the resale market, without any of the associated risks, such as buying fake or replica items that are being passed off as authentic at premium prices.
2. Offer restoration
Another of the ways luxury brands should recycle now is through restoration.
Restoration is another trend we are seeing in both consumer expectations and business models. The trend suggests a rise in demand for services which can restore old items in order to expand their lifespan and reduce the need for them to be replaced.
Such initiatives are welcome from customers, as they help them save money. It also helps the growing number of environmentally conscious consumers to reduce their carbon footprints. In fact, according to The Waste and Resources Action Programme’s (WRAP) Sustainable Clothing Guide, by extending a product’s life by just nine months can reduce its carbon footprint by 30%.
And brands are beginning to listen to demand for restoration. For example, we have seen Selfridges introduce a repairs concierge concession – The Restory – into its stores. The service covers colour, leather, cleaning and re-stitching, all of which can give a worn luxury item a new lease of life.
Similarly, Hermes has a sizable team of repair specialists based at ateliers across Europe, Asia and the U.S., who can restore anything from large leather luggage bags to a small silk carré. And for evidence of demand for such services, the brand recorded close to 100,000 enquiries in 2019.
In luxury jewellery, there is likely to be growing desirability for services which can repair and restore old pieces into items that suit today’s trends. This way, consumers are able to not only keep hold of sentimental jewellery items, but also give them new meaning and add to their story, before passing them down to the next generation.
3. Ponder better packaging
One of the most important ways luxury brands should recycle is through their packaging. No matter how sustainable a product may be, it takes significant steps backwards if it is not contained in materials that uphold those same values.
Following research we conducted in 2020, we found that 88% of local councils in the UK do not accept polythene plastic bags at recycling pickups. However, these bags are, by far, still the most popular materials used by brands to ship and deliver their online orders.
But as online shopping behaviours increase, the industry needs to rethink their practices. It is no longer acceptable for brands to turn a blind eye to the recycling issue just because they think they are doing their bit by using, what they assume, are recyclable bags. In doing so, they are simply passing the problem onto their customers, who unknowingly put bags into the recycling. This only causes delays and disruptions at recycling centres. And eventually, the packaging will be sent to landfill.
Instead, these businesses need to understand what is and is not permitted in terms of recycling in various countries.
4. Consider upcycling
Another of the ways luxury brands should recycle involves making their brand more circular.
Some high street brands, such as H&M, ASOS and Mango, have begun to accept old clothing back from customers. In return, customers receive a voucher for the store, and the old threads are upcycled into new.
While this model may not be on brand for luxury fashion houses, it would indeed work well with jewellers. Old metals could be melted down and gemstones could be reused to make new collections.
5. Work on product innovation
The issue of recyclability shouldn’t just lie in the post-purchase stage where it becomes the customer’s responsibility. In order to really reach the targets set out by governments, the industry needs to rethink its production of products.
Similarly, Hermes has recently revealed its lab-created mushroom-based leather which it will use to reimagine and increase the sustainability of its iconic Victoria travel bag.
Innovations such as these are a great reminder to others in the industry of the possibilities away from plastic. And while lessening the brands’ contribution to the climate crisis, they are also boosting their reputation among consumers who not only value sustainable offerings, but who are also compelled to such products due to their unique nature.
6. Inspect the supply chain
As well as material sourcing, innovations can also be used to improve recycling efforts in the rest of the supply chain too. For instance, by including activities which collect and manage waste, such as raw materials and fabric scraps that would otherwise end up on cutting room floors, and then landfill, processes can be optimised in order to reduce waste, or fed back into production lines to be used in other products.
Stuart Gannon, commercial director at Delta Global, explains: “Brands that are able to make use of waste materials during production stages are not only helping the planet, but also their own bottom lines.
“Ultimately, these activities will only help make processes more efficient by reducing the amount of resources required, which in turn saves the business money.
“If brands are able to collaborate with others in the market at these stages, there is even greater benefit. Utilizing waste packaging material within the network also offers further revenue streams and minimizes landfill.
“Recycling isn’t something that should just be left to consumers, but rather, a key focus for all steps within the supply chain.”
7. Get government support
As well as collaboration between businesses at the industry level, making the intended impact will only be possible with governmental backed initiatives.
For instance, the plastic bag charge that is now a worldwide legal requirement has encouraged retailers to take significant steps towards improving their in-store packaging for the planet. Now, the same must be done for online shopping, as only with this change will more businesses realise the importance of improving their shipping and delivery offerings.
Other initiatives could include the placement of recycling bins in fashion stores or shopping centres, or even a kerbside pick-up initiative that strictly handles clothing waste.
Whatever the initiatives may be, the focus should remain on improving knowledge and awareness among consumers. While industry level initiatives, such as reporting and transparency are a good step forward, one of the most significant contributing factors is still between the point of end customer and landfill. It isn’t until the customer’s role in the circular economy is made clear and easier, that the issue can be resolved.
Undeniably, the industry has improved its efforts in sustainability by leaps and bounds, and it is certainly clear that more are beginning to understand the urgency of the crisis. However, there is still significant ground to cover if we are to truly combat the issue before irreversible damage is caused.
Robert Lockyer is the CEO and founder of Delta Global, a sustainable packaging solutions provider for luxury fashion brands. This article was edited and adapted for Eluxe Magazine. Main image: Stella McCartney SS20. Image 2: Stella McCartney