It’s no secret that fashion e-commerce carries with it an environmental toll. From the manufacturing of the products to their transportation and handling, no online purchase is without impact. In fact, some analysis show that the fashion industry is responsible for 2-10% of carbon emissions worldwide.
So, what happens when consumers don’t want to keep the product they’ve ordered or have grown tired of the item after a time?
If these products are left to go to waste, they only become more harmful – sent to landfills to become pollutants. That’s why it’s essential for brands and retailers to consider and invest in after sales operations. The purpose is to secure a more sustainable returns flow that keeps products within a lifecycle of use – preventing waste and promoting circularity and reuse.
Returns do not have to be the end of the road for unwanted items. They can instead be embraced, and new end destinations can be found for these products where their value and use is upkept.
1. Resell returns
- There are multiple resale opportunities for returned items, old and new.
If a new item is immediately returned by a consumer, still in grade-A quality, then this product can be placed quickly back in stock. This often applies to in-season and desirable items that brands want to make re-available at the earliest opportunity. By encouraging consumers to return unwanted items as soon as possible, they can ensure that stock they know will resell gets the opportunity to do so.
However, when items are older, worn or in a less than perfect condition, direct resale is no longer a viable option. This is where brands can embrace the rise in popularity of the secondhand market, a space that is expected to grow 10x faster than the average retail channel over the next few years.
Brands can establish or partner with existing resale platforms to ensure that their consumers’ used items can find new homes. In a recent study of over 2500 consumers globally, 70% of those questioned indicated that they would like the option to return items to brands for resale on the secondhand market as a more sustainable way of discarding clothing that is no longer used. Therefore, a solution that is both greener and customer friendly.
2. Recycling and Repurposing Opportunities
The option to recycle used clothing is popular among consumers, with 78% indicating that this would be an end of use option that appealed to them. It is also a great solution for clothes of a very worn quality than can no longer be sold through secondhand channels as a result.
Yet, the recycling process is not always easy and certainly not a perfect solution to the rising rate of fabric pollution. Recycling can be difficult for several reasons, such as if the clothing is made up of mixed materials or is manufactured with virgin materials. Both of which make the recycling process more difficult than with materials comprised of a synthetic substance.
However exciting innovations are happening which makes responsible recycling ever more an option for brands that wish to retrieve items from their consumers as a source for new products. Yet despite these advancements, insights suggest that currently less than 1% of clothing is recycled into new fashion items. Despite there being a high interest in this from a consumer side.
Therefore, although not a perfect solution, with the appetite and investment this sphere can continue to evolve and make advancements. Making landfill less of an easy option going forwards. From which brands, consumers and the environment can benefit from.
3. Charity and Goodwill Donations
For worn items that remain in good condition there is also another option available – donation to charity or goodwill. Studies show that only a maximum of 20% of clothes donated for secondhand resale are sold. Therefore leaving 80% of these donations to go to waste, despite their quality remaining good.
Not only does donating to charity or goodwill keep high quality clothing items from reaching landfill, but it is also a socially responsible option. In our recent study, 74% of consumers questioned indicated that they would like donation to be an option for their returns. Brands could achieve this through their returns process by providing charity donation bags within their packaging, or by setting this channel up within their own reverse logistics network.
Donation is yet another end-of-use stream that is not only more environmentally conscious by supporting a circular model for clothing, but also customer friendly.
At Cycleon, we're focused on making returns more sustainable and are constantly innovating to find new and unique ways to achieve this. Within our own organization, as well as through collaboration with partners, suppliers, and others in the industry.
As a leader in returns management, we’re always looking into smart ways to handle returns in a greener way – including end of use options that avoid products reaching landfills.
To read more about our approach to sustainability, check out our website. Plus, download our recent whitepaper to discover more insights from our recent global market study into consumer preferences for sustainability.