John Lewis to reduce waste by buying back unwanted clothing

Retail chain John Lewis is piloting a new app-based service in which it buys back unwanted clothes, regardless of quality, with the aim of reducing the 300,000 tonnes of clothing sent to landfill every year in the UK.

The scheme – developed by John Lewis with social enterprise Stuffstr – will see customers' unwanted clothing bought from the chain’s shops or website collected from their home. It is currently being tested by approximately 100 John Lewis customers.

Customers will be able to use an app to select unwanted clothing they are looking to sell, and the service will use their data collected from the past five years’ transactions to instantly value the items. After the customer reaches £50 worth of clothing, a courier will collect the clothing within three hours. The customer will then be emailed a John Lewis e-gift card for the value of the items they have sold. Items bought back will then either be resold, mended so that they can be resold, or recycled into new products.John Lewis to reduce waste by buying back unwanted clothing

John Lewis’ Sustainability Manager, Martyn White, said: “It’s estimated that the average UK household owns around £4,000 worth of clothes, but around 30 per cent of that clothing has not been worn for at least a year, most commonly because it no longer fits.

“We hope that by making it as easy as we possibly can for customers to pass on clothing that they’re no longer wearing we can ensure that the maximum life is extracted from items bought from us. If the concept proves successful the next stage will be to offer an option for customers to donate the money to charity.”

Francois Souchet, Make Fashion Circular Lead at the Ellen MacArthur Foundation (EMF), commented: “Every second the equivalent of one truck full of clothes is sent to landfill or incineration. Creating a circular economy for fashion requires unprecedented levels of collaboration and new business models harnessing the power of digital technology. We hope that this collaboration between Suffstr and John Lewis will encourage other innovators to design out waste."

The initiative comes on the coattails of others focused on the sustainability of fashion. Last year, a report by the EMF and fashion designer Stella McCartney addressed the issues created by ‘fast fashion’ - the quick turnaround of fashion styles, giving many clothes a short shelf and house life. It reported that, while production of clothes has doubled in the last 15 years alone, utilisation of the clothing has decreased dramatically. Even if the clothes are returned and resold, the process is far less environmentally efficient than the original purchaser making more sustained use of the clothing.  The report also stated that currently less than one per cent of material used to produce clothing is recycled into new clothing.

The app, while the first of its kind from a high street retailer, follows in the footsteps of the reGAIN app, launched in April to coincide with Fashion Revolution Week. Both apps aim to reduce the amount of clothing going to landfill, but this one does so by organising collections of unwanted clothing, again by offering a financial incentive, in this case discount coupons for retailers and lifestyle brands such as Superdry, Asics, boohoo and Expedia.

When launching the app, Jack Ostrowski, its creator stressed that, as well as providing the immediate benefit of reducing waste to landfill, it also aims to change people’s behaviour and perceptions regarding clothing, encouraging reflection on its value of clothing and bringing to attention the final destination for unwanted items.

Ostroski commented that: “The reGAIN app turns commercial sustainability into action and provides a modern solution for fast fashion lovers by rewarding sustainable behaviour. Stopping clothes from going to landfill is the first step towards a circular economy.”

There have also been some movements in the fashion industry towards a more circular economy. In 2016 five major brands and retailers – Bobo Choses, OVS, Peak Performance, Primark, and Star Stock – became the first to commit to the European Clothing Action Plan, a strategy aiming to improve sustainability by reducing carbon, water and waste footprints, while also encouraging the re-use of old clothes.

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